After spending 3 full days in Kuala Lumpur, including a very sick day that bonded me and my dorm bed, I flew to Yangon, Burma (Myanmar) on the 4th day of the journey.
My cold has subsided but I still felt the razorblades scratching my esophagus. Fearing for a relapse, I tried to sleep in the airplane that carried a lot of curious Chinese passengers and an aggressive fly that handled the altitude very well. But I couldn’t sleep. Not when I was about to see a country that I’ve been dreaming of for the past two years.
Two hours and a glass of Berocca later, I finally landed at the Yangon International Airport. For a country known to be the poorest in Southeast Asia, I was surprised that the Yangon airport looked more presentable and BEARABLE than the abominable interior and chaos of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport 1 in Manila. After going through immigration, I hastily went to the arrival area where I was greeted by my inn guide who was dressed in a longyi (pronounced as Long Gee), a traditional Burmese long skirt worn by men and women alike. I smiled at him when he offered to carry my rucksack. All I could say to myself was, “this is gonna be so %#@$! cool”.
And it was just the start. The other travelers, who also booked at Motherland Inn 2 (my preferred accommodation in Yangon), and I were led by the men in longyi to the parking area where our “pickup” vehicle was waiting for us. It was none other than a classic, rundown, non-aircondition Hino Bus. Ahh, loving Burma already…
It was about 630 pm and we were on our way to the inn. As we drove through the quiet roads of Yangon with the eeriness of the orange full moon above us, I noticed alot of candles lit and displayed outside homes and establishments. The inn guide told us that a festival was about to take place that night in celebration of the full moon. “It’s the festival of lights,” he said, explaining all the glowing candles in the dark. He also told us that if we want to celebrate, we should go to the Shwedagon Pagoda.
I thought of my throat and nose for a moment. They both told me to take a hot bath and sleep early. Then I thought of the reason why I was traveling in the first place: to gain alot of great experiences and cherish all the good memories forever. I wasn’t about to obey the two annoying scumbags.
Besides, the Shwedagon is best seen at night (most Burmese would agree) and attending a Festival in a foreign country is a backpacker’s wet dream. So it was just too impossible to miss.
And because it was a celebration, I didn’t want to go alone. So I introduced myself to the two friendly Sarahs, fellow travelers from Scotland and England, who also stayed at the inn.
The moment we arrived at the inn about an hour later, we immediately settled our dues and went off to the Pagoda in another rundown, non-aircondition taxi cab that I haven’t seen since the 1980s.
In the middle of the ride, I started to feel weak. England Sarah noticed my expression and told me that I didn’t look well. I didn’t want to tell them that I might go back to the inn as soon as I can to rest. I felt like fainting at that time – probably because I haven’t eaten – but I held on to the excitement and the fact that we were going to one of the most historic places in all of Burma (Hello! Aung San Suu Kyi!).
I wrapped myself in my red jacket and prayed for a miracle that I would survive the night. 30 minutes later, the two Sarahs and I arrived at the Shwedagon and made our way through a very crowded area full of vendors and visitors. When we reached the foot of the Pagoda where the staircase was, a group of children approached us and gave us plastic bags for our shoes. The Shwedagon, being a sacred ground, has a no-shoe policy, and you can’t enter it too if you’re in a beach fashion mood. I wanted to hold on to my shoe but the child insisted on giving me the bag. I knew that taking it would mean giving him money, but there was something about Burma that would make you think of one thing: the Burmese need it more than you do. So I got the bag, gave him an amount that could buy him food, and climbed the hundred (or more) steps of the Pagoda with a nose that started to wreak havoc on my immune system.
I was gasping for air on the last few steps but when I finally reached the very top and saw the Pagoda in all its glittering gold glory, my body felt re-energized. It was such a splendid sight that my fear of having a relapse was slowly overpowered by the enigmatic force that was right in front of me.
I had no words to describe it at that time. I was just in awe of its presence.
But there was another sight that caught my attention. The Burmese consider the Shwedagon as the most sacred of all Buddhist stupas and seeing them in prayer was a moment that I just had to capture and cherish.
Children and adults were on their knees, their palms together and eyes closed, fervently praying and chanting. I come from a predominantly Christian / religious country, but I have never seen and felt such devotion in my entire life.
At one point, I was brought to tears when I saw two young girls kneeling and praying intensely right in front of the Pagoda. I then remembered the times when I’d wake up complaining about my life that had a bed, a TV set, enough money, enough food, lots of free time to slack off… Duh. Right then and there, I felt like screaming “you ungrateful bitch” to myself while hitting my head with a stick. How can I even complain? And if you’re actually reading this blog, do you really think your life’s that bad? (tsk tsk)
I don’t know exactly what those girls prayed for, but I do hope that one day, the people of Burma will get all the blessings they deserve.
PS: The following day, after the visit to the Shewadagon, I woke up without a hint of runny nose or painful throat. I was completely healed.
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