Yangon (fka Rangoon)
Upon arriving in Yangon, we were greeted by tree-lined avenues, fine Victorian architecture, bustling markets and picturesque waterfront.
We saw pagodas and vintage World War Two buses everywhere amongst the local people who were dressed in sarongs and had their faces covered with tree bark cream. We were told that the cream is used to reduce oiliness and acne in the skin. Apparently everyone we met believed it because everyone was wearing it.
This pagoda located smack in the center of the city is reputed to date back over 2,000 years. It enshrines a hair relic of the Buddha brought over by two missionaries from India and presented to Dagon minister Maha Sura. Its name means “the pagoda enshrining the sacred hair.” Its octagonal shape architecturally thematizes the eight planetary posts of the Myanmar zodiac. Among the many sights, there are numerous monks paying homage, shrines designed in “amusement park” form, golden Buddha statues and a giant golden stupa.
This amazing shrine has 8,600 one-ounce slabs of gold used to tile the stupa and thousands of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones that sparkle in the rays of the sun. The compound is covered with hundreds of images, statues, and endless processions of bare-footed worshippers all paying their respects.
This pagoda literally means “six story pagoda”. It contains an enormous 70m long reclining Buddha and has very ornate footprints that contain the distinguishing marks of Buddha. Kyaukhatgyi also lends its namesake to a famous monastery attached to the pagoda. Over 600 monks study Buddhist scriptures and the Pali language and literatures.
Propaganda / Political Environment
Since 1962, Myanmar has been governed by a brutal military regime. Although there have been resistance movements and pro-democracy demonstrations, these initiatives have generally been swiftly crushed by the military government. Even in 1990, when democratic elections were held and the National League for Democracy (NLD) won almost 90% of the vote, the military rounded up all of the leaders and placed them under house arrest. Needless to say, the regime has little care for the views of its people.
During our excursions in Yangon, we actually tried to visit the house of the leader of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi. Upon arriving at the street where her house was located, we were surrounded by plain clothes policemen and asked to leave. Although they did not threaten us, they scared the #%$@! out of our cab driver who was told never to bring anyone else there if he wanted to live a happy and fruitful life.