At the Sule Pagoda, we met this nice man. Haha, that’s what’s good when you’re a foreigner in a foreign land, there are always friendly locals who would want to strike a friendship with you:
He explained that he works for the government as a woodcarving teacher, whose hometown was situated in Mandalay (Myanmar’s 2nd largest city). When I asked him about the current situation of his countrymen, he said that though things are better now than before, the people are still very poor and miserable. He himself earn around 10,000 jiat (or US$10), while a learned professional (e.g. doctors, lawyers, etc.) would earn 20,000 jiat (or US$20) a month.
Holy freaking shoot!
US$20 a MONTH?!
Who can survive on that? Our domestic flight alone from Yangon to Bagan already cost US$150++!!!
It’s hard to imagine that there’s any place poorer than the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand, but yes, Myanmar so far is right on top of the charts of the poorest places in the world (though my friend said I should go to India to see how poorer people can still be).
It really made my heart break.
Anyway, knowing the local salary range, it gives a dire picture on how life in Myanmar is like. And no matter how much I say money isn’t important, it’s still necessary, and people are just scraping by. It was really sad, and a definite eye-opener.
After the Sule Pagoda, he offered to take us to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, which we did — on foot. Haha, and in the background, my friends were laughing because they know how much I like to walk. But seriously, it wasn’t as good to walk in Myanmar as everywhere you go, you see evidences on how poor people are, and it just made my steps as heavy as my heart.
On our way, we stopped at the Diamond Temple, which glistened in the after-rain.
The name was very fitting as its walls were bright and shiny. It was only later that I realized that the walls were made of glass and mirrors, which made the temple sparkle. My friend said that in Thailand, similar walls were made in the same way, however, they would use colored glass and it’s his first time to see a temple using clear mirrors all the way:
After a few minutes of walking, and coming upon the market which closed promptly at 5PM, we finally came upon the Shwedagon pagoda, which was guarded by beautiful, large lions on both sides of the entrance:
The place was so freaking big with at least 4 major entrances (North, South, East, West) that it’s just SO easy to get lost there. However, the place is indeed a majestic as you can see in looking at just one of the entrances and steps leading towards the grand pagoda:
It was indeed a magnificent experience, especially since there was a magical feeling left by the wet marble floors (it rained lightly earlier as it’s rainy season in Myanmar) and you can feel your feet squishing and squashing as you walk around the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Situated in the highest hill of Yangon, the Shwedagon was said to be built around 2,500 long years ago, and holds some religious relics — eight strands of Buddha hairs — that is placed under a vault inside the pagoda. It was said that during that time it was placed on the vault, people miraculously were healed of their ailments. It rises around 99 meters, and is a hulk of a structure, and it took me at least 30 minutes to make a turn around the whole area.
The cone itself is made out of gold, and is replenished every 5 years from gold bought from the collective US$5 entrance fee we foreigners pay each time we visit the pagoda (Believe it or not, only foreigners get charged, locals go in for free). The upper cone is made out of pure gold, and on the very tip of a pagoda is a genuine diamond which shines in different colors at night depending on where you stand.
I myself saw the colors of green, blue and yellow. While my friend, who said it was one of the most beautiful things in the world, had even seen other colors such as red and purple.
Though it made me wonder how a pagoda so full of gold to feed villages for years, could be situated in such a poor country. Even at nighttime, Yangon had dozens of devout believers kneeling and praying to their gods. Makes you admire the tenacity of these people, as despite the adversity, their faith in Buddha still remains strong:
There are also at least 64 pagodas surrounding the main pagoda, each of which contains a small Buddha statue (at least, giving you a choice of Buddhas to worship).
Hehe, my companion fanned the Buddha and asked me to take a picture of him doing it, and then gave the local 500 jiat (or US$ 50 cents) for the “service.“
After the guy walked away, we both realized that the local wasn’t working on the temple, and anybody could fan the head for free!!!
Boy, that was a hoot! 😀
Captions to come for these pictures later: