Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Myanmar- Yangon, full of surprises and my hero

Aung San Suu Kyi's house
Aung San Suu Kyi's house
Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagone Pagoda

Yangon National Park
Textiles made here 

Dominant in the landscape is the huge Shwedagone Pagoda. It is the perfect symbol of a country where Buddhism pervades every aspect of life. The physical presence of the golden stupa dominates Yangon and its spiritual magnetism in turn dominates Myanmar, attracting tens of thousands of pilgrims each year. The pagoda dates back 2500 years and was build to house 8 sacred hairs of the Buddha.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero of mine. She returned to Burma in 1988 to tend to her ailing mother, after years of living and studying abroad, only to find widespread slaughter of protesters rallying against the brutal rule of dictator U Ne Win. She spoke out against him and initiated a nonviolent movement toward achieving democracy and human rights. In 1989, the government placed her under house arrest. She spent 15 of the next 21 years in custody. In 1991, her ongoing efforts won her the Nobel Prize for Peace. She was finally released from house arrest in November 2010. We rode by her house and took pictures. I was hoping to see her. She is brave and courageous like her father who was killed at the age of 31 fighting for independence of his country. The people love her and, if there are free elections there, I predict she will one day be president.

The Bogyoke (Scott) Market is filled with many handicrafts and gorgeous things to buy. I especially loved the wide range of textiles available in so many colors and textures. Traditionally worn by men and women, the  “Longyi” and the “Hta Mein” dress with a shirt or blouse looks so special in every situation.

Yangon National Park  provides a magnificent oasis the the city for people to enjoy at no expense. Beautifully landscaped to be peaceful and sere, the park has a lake, pagodas, walkways and park areas for strolling, sitting and meditating as well as playing. Away from the hustle, bustle, noise and grime of the city, the park was a true departure. Many people come to eat their lunch or dinner there.

It has been cut off from the world, yet it is worldly. It is modern, yet it is archaic. It is a dictatorship, yet has a fantastic democratic hero!! It is not what I expected. Yes, Yangon is a city of surprises!!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Myanmar- Yangon- A Capital of Surprises

Shwedagone Pagoda

Shwedagone Pagoda
Yangon Harbor
Yangon Harbor
Commuter Ferry
Yangon lies in the fertile delta country of Southern Myanmar on the wide Yangon River. The city gives the impression of being full of trees and shade and shimmering stupas (spires) float above the treetops. The city only became the capital in 1885 when the British completed the conquest of Upper Myanmar and Mandalay's brief Burmese Kingdom ended.

Yangon is a modern city of glass and steel. Unlike in other Asian cities, there are no motorbikes here because the government banned them within the city limits! Therefore, there are only cars and buses. When you go into the alleyways and passed the main avenues, you see the poor areas and find the people who are struggling to make ends meet, living in very poor conditions. Many people cannot afford to live in the city and commute to the city for work by bus or ferry to villages.

We visited a short time after Hillary Clinton's visit. It was difficult to get a visa and their economy is cash only- no credit cards. Even in our 5 star hotel which was lovely and had businessmen galore from other countries (everyone wants in on the action as things open up in Myanmar), you had to have "pretty money." That is, they only wanted new, clean bills that were not too wrinkled or faded!! Out of about $300, the money changer only took $165 so we were on a strict budget since we  had no idea of the restrictions. We later found other changers who gave us a lower rate for our money. Later our guide told us that things will be changing and they will be taking credit cards in the future as tourism grows which they really want to happen.

More about Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) in my next post...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Myanmar- Capturing Your Imagination

There is so much to capture the imagination and win your heart in Myanmar. The scenery is beautiful, the culture interesting and the people warm and friendly. Many images stay with you forever. When we went in February 2012, Hillary Clinton had just visited and tourism was on the verge of opening up. It was still difficult to get a visa and was a cash only society- no checks or credit cards. Of course, we did not know this before we left. Beside that, they did not like our cash- not pretty enough . Some of it wasn't new and pristine so the money changers rejected it. Therefore, we were on a limited budget while we were there!

Over the next several posts, I will be sharing photographs and stories about my trip. I look forward to sharing it with you. I has taken me a while to go through the photographs and organize them. I have several ideas for art projects based on this trip. One involves Aung San Suu Kyi whom I have been following for years. Coincidentally she is currently in the US receiving the Congressional medal she was awarded 4 years ago but could not receive because she was on house arrest. We did ride by her house is Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and I will show you pictures of it in future posts.