We are now staying with our expat friends in Yangon, Myanmar, where we are witnessing a culture undergoing change at warp speed. Our friends have been coming here for nine years and finally moved their family of four here permanently last year. They have witnessed the “before and after” of the EU and U.S. lifted sanctions in 2012, and through their eyes, we too are seeing how a country once shut out from the rest of the world is being stretched to accommodate the influx of people, cars, ideas, trends and multinational corporations from all over the world. I have the sense of beauty and freedom colliding with pollution and greed.
Common knowledge here on the ground is that Aung San Suu Kyi, the political activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her struggle for freedom and human rights in Myanmar, was disappointed by the rushed lifting of sanctions because the sanctions were the only card the international community had to play that could force the Myanmar government to put human and ecological rights into law. Without the sanctions in place, the Myanmar government could do what they wanted. Apparently the U.S. and the EU were competing for who would get into Myanmar first. When the EU unexpectedly and prematurely lifted sanctions, the U.S. quickly followed suit so they wouldn’t lose out. Now the natural resources are under even more threat than they were before. It’s a sad element to this complex story. I found an interesting New York Times article from September 2012 stating that Aung San Suu Kyi agreed with lifting some of the sanctions but not all. It’s interesting to see how international politics-as-usual are playing themselves out in Myanmar.
Our first morning in Yangon, Scott and I awoke with the sun to walk to the nearby Shwedagon pagoda with our expat friend, Damon.
The Shwedagon pagoda is believed to be 2600 years old and to contain the relics of the Buddha. It is a majestic sight, standing 325 feet tall and covered in gold.
The central pagoda is surrounded by many smaller pagodas and Buddha statues. It is very popular for Burmese to pray to shrines that are devoted to the day of the week on which they were born. This is said to bring good luck, health and long life.
We did three circumambulations and made offerings at the shrines that honored the day of the week we were born, Sunday for me and Thursday for Scott. We then meditated next to a large reclining Buddha statue, which mirrored my deep feeling of needing to rest after so much travel.
The feeling of the place is spectacular. The devotion of those who come to pray is palpable. It’s supposedly the most popular place to bring a date as well. The feeling is of a Buddhist Disneyland, a heavenly realm of thousands of gilded statues of the Buddha in various forms.
Did you miss Chandra’s first post Around the World in One Semester? It explains her family’s adventure.