Day 1 (Officially) – Burny, burny, taxi, taxi (In Yangon)

12 Mar

A relaxed morning resulted in a rush to breakfast at 9:45am – still only 3:15am UK time.  Four other members of group were sitting there – Gail & John has been joined by their son, Tom, who was travelling the world (heading to New Zealand) and their friend, Ethna.

I managed to find chicken, fish and some kind of thick noodle, whilst avoiding the fried eggs or anything else that looked western.  My only concession was toast & strawberry jam.  Who could resist?

After we compared itineraries, we went our seperate ways, only to meet up again at the National Museum – a short walk from the hotel.  Unfortunately for all of us, the museum was closed.  So said the sign on the gate.  But you could also walk in, and I discovered a uniformed man sitting in the shade outside telling folks like me that the museum was closed because of the full moon.  So, let’s run that through once again – they are paying you to turn up to tell people to go away, when they could have just locked the gate?  Hmmm!

I tagged on to the family group as we headed north towards the “People’s Park” – an area of some trees, either dead or over watered grass and lots of locals hogging the only shade available.  Ethna was a bit displeased about this – bearing in mind that her home in Montreal, Canada was currently at -16°C, and we were at 36°, feels like 45°C!

We parted shortly afterwards – they went to investigate an inflatable Santa Claus, whilst I headed to the House of Memories.  Now a piano bar and restaurant, that formerly housed the office of Major General Aung San – the father of Aung San Su Kyi and also known as the father of modern Burma. He was assassinated on 19th July 1947 – 6 months before independence was gained from Britain in 1948.  He was pretty much the Prime Minister at the time (but that wasn’t his title).

I tried hard not to sweat on the menu as I made my choice of pork and mango pickle curry, with some refreshing ginger ale. The ice in the drink and the air conditioned old house finally did their trick – helped on by an ice cream.  Thankfully just finished as the large tour groups started to arrive on their buses.  Very decent at £9 (including two drinks) – 15,000 khats.

Afterwards, I toured the historical colonial style villa with its genuine antique furniture and many old pictures of the Aung San family.  His wife was Khin Kyi.  Or so he said.

I decided against a long walk in the afternoon sun, and instead a taxi delivered me to a point furthest from the hotel – the Botataung Pagoda.  Outside was a throng of locals and an open entrance.  I headed towards the door, but the Tourist Police ushered me instead into an air conditioned building next door.  Apparently foreigners have to buy tickets.  Hey ho.  Some very nice ladies insisted on taking my photo – for the ticket – and laughed loudly as I spent time wiping the sweat from my brow and fixing my hair.  You’ve got to look good for any photo.  The final ticket was a masterpiece, with my very fine photo, even if I do say so myself!

Heading back to the entrance, I was robbed of my shoes and socks and ushered through airport style security.  Well, it was there – I just nodded at the guard and walked around the gate anyway.  He wasn’t at all bothered.  All the locals were religiously having their handbags searched though.  There are some perks of being a recognisable tourist!

I joined a single file queue until I had sight of Buddha’s first sacred hair relic.  It was surrounded by gold and many jewels.  There was a bit of jostling at this, and it was the only point in the day when I had to reach down and check my wallet was still there.  Personal space please.

I then followed others through a minor maze of gold plated corridors, laid out in triangles, with doorways halfway along the wall, and people praying (or using their mobiles) in the corners.  On the small outside wall of each pie slice, was a cabinet displaying various gold or other precious items.  All had large grills seperating you from seeing them properly.  One had a further cage and padlock on top of that.  Not really sure what was behind, but most people walked quickly past.  At the end of the maze, I headed out of the stupa and into the grounds of the pagoda.

With bear feet, the ground was incredibly hot and I headed towards the shade.  I was met there by a man who started chatting.  He was called Tin, and was obviously wanting to be my guide.  He said that his [–insert random family member here–] had been trained by Scottish Police and that POLICE stood for Polite, Obedient, Loyal, Intelligent, Courageous and Efficient.  I immediately doubted that any relation of his had been trained in Scotland.

Anyway, he walked me through the Buddhist customs when visiting a pagoda.  Based on my birth day (Monday), I had to use a specific shrine (facing East) and he asked me to pour 5 cups of water on the Buddha (as a Christian) – once for Jesus, once for the bible, once for the bishop, once for your parents, and once for a teacher.  As a Monday child, I also had a small statue of a tiger at my feet which got the same treatment.  The cooling effect of the water splashing on my feet was fantastic.  I could have done this all day.  And it began to look like I would … as Tin asked me the birth days of my parents and siblings (he had a book to look up the days).  We visited each appropriate shine and watered them all.  Thankfully, after 4, he gave up.  They obviously can’t cope with large families.

He then showed me a Buddha with LED lights incorporated into the gold shrine.  Also, Buddha’s footprint. And 4 divas(?) representing East, West, South and North.  I had to have my picture taken with them all several times – for each member of the family.  Next time, I’m saying I’m an only child.

Did I mention that the entire surface of this pagoda is made of heat reflecting tiles.  They stole my shoes at the entrance and now expect me to literally burn the soles of my feet whilst contemplating Buddha’s work.  What kind of religion is this?  The Catholics would have had some place selling you feet shaped ice packs.

He wrote out “horoscopes” for my family members listing their planet, animal, good direction, lucky number, amulet and sleeping bed head direction.  Quite specific.  Thankfully my parents had the same bed direction, or that could have proved tricky.  Now I’ve just got to make sure the bed faces west.  As we walked away, the burning surface of the tiles got the better of me, and a water patch and my big toe had a disagreement as to direction, leaving my toe the worse off.  It hurts!

Another large Buddha showed Knowledge and Awareness – the example he gave where these traits were necessary was crossing the road.  Having seen the traffic in Yangon, I get his point.  It also applies to walking on hot tiles.  I discovered that the pathway tiles were not so reflective, but keeping up with Tin required not using the pathways.

Whilst I was almost Googling for an ambulance, he finally found some shade – admittedly in the middle of a building site – but at least it was cool.  The feet were now black.

He showed me a WWII tank track left over by the British.  It was in the shade, so I was genuinely interested.  Also a few statues of Buddha standing under a tree (he was a smart guy!) and passing on his wisdom to a former king and some monks.

Last on the list of the pagoda tour was a trip to the turtle pool.  Lots of the blighters not doing much.  Cute though.  And cool.

Tin and I parted ways, having insisted that in Buddhism he would normally get [– insert double the amount I gave him –].  I caved in.  He had been very good.  But it cost more than a meal!

Retreiving my shoes, I briefly wandered down the waterfront – almost as nice as Dundee’s! – until the thundering trucks from the industrial port made me change my mind.  I found the main post office, British Embassy and the Strand Hotel – 12 blocks down.  By this point, with 38 blocks to go, I found a taxi and appreciated the speedy return to the hotel for a shower and freshen up.  Sun tan started.  Sweating in cold rooms commenced.

At 5pm we met the Explore group in the hotel foyer.  As well as the tour guide, known as George, the group now consists of [John, Gail, Ethna, Tom], [Karen, John], [Graham, Claire, Rosemary], Cassandra, Julia, Manny, Albery (?) and me.

George managed to pad a 20 minute intro into a 50 minute marathon.  At least 3 people nodded off.  But they all had partners who were doing the listening anyway.  Considering that some of them were just off a plane, I think they did very well!

We then almost all headed to a local restaurant for dinner.  Missing the “Class” restaurant, we headed to a greasy spoon across the road.  Food was cheap and cheerful, with picture menus.  Not the best so far.  I did manage a Yangon speciality – hot and spicy noodles with chicken (easy on the spicy).  The prawn and pork that came with it were obvious extras.  And a banana smoothie.  Karen had travelled extensively and had brought John along for the first time in their 7 months of dating.  He was staggered to hear that the only hotel pool was several days away and that he wouldn’t see a beach for weeks.  He also doesn’t like rice.  Karen must be really special!  Great couple though!

Making my excuses early, I headed back to the hotel and starting preparing for the early start tomorrow.

I saying preparing, but that did include Haribo …

(WiFi not liking photos, so they may be added later)

 

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