Yangon, Myanmar is the former capital of Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar). The military government officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw in March 2006. Yangon Myanmar is not the original name. The city and country was renamed by the military government in 1989 when they took over. The original name of Yangon was known as Rangoon, and Myanmar was Burma. Many of the Burmese people ( and me too) reject the new name and feel the military has no right to rename the cities or country. I still refer to Myanmar as Burma. Can you imagine if that happened in the United States? I learned that the United States and United Kingdom still refer to Myanmar as Burma and don’t refer to the change either.
Free drinking water (sometimes poor quality or tap water) is available to everyone in Burma. There are water stations set up everywhere for people to drink from. Some of them have cups attached to the container and some are large terra-cotta water jugs to pour from. At the Shwedagon Pagoda there are huge silver containers of water with cups attached to each of them. Each cup attached is used by various people. I would have to be dying of thirst to drink out of a community cup.
Stores and small vendors also have smaller containers for the public to use. In the rural areas a traditional terra-cotta water jug is set out.
It is advised (like a flashing skull and crossbones) that tourists never drink water from the tap in Burma. Water from the tap has so many dangerous contaminants in it from living microorganisms to human waste. Drinking tap water here can cause extreme diarrhea and sometimes death. Many homes and schools have no system of water supply at all. Unfortunately this is a big problem for the local people that live in Burma. Most of the locals cannot afford bottled water. Local people have died from drinking the water here. Restaurants use boiled water or mineral water to clean fruit and vegetables. We have been using bottled water this entire journey (except in Singapore) to brush our teeth and rinse our mouths. We also keep our mouths sealed shut while taking showers.
Paan is the native chewing tobacco in Burma. There are many vendors who make the paan by hand and sell it. The ingredients of paan are areca nut and a sprinkle of tobacco wrapped in a betel leaf.
The areca nut turns the users teeth and mouth red. Chewing paan causes the gums and teeth to rot and stains the mouth red. It also causes the mouth to unnaturally salivate even when they are not using it at that time. Many of the users have red stained mouths and terrible teeth, some teeth are even missing. There are red spit marks along the sidewalks and streets from the paan. It is used like chewing tobacco. The user spits constantly. It looks like they are spitting blood.
Thanaka is used by most Burmese women in Burma. It is a light yellowish paste used as a sunscreen. The paste is made from ground bark, coumarin and marmesin. It smells like sandalwood and gives a cooling sensation. Its anti-fungal and also helps remove acne. The women I’ve seen have it on their cheeks mostly but use on the nose and arms are common too. All of the kids wear it but most men don’t. Some of the applications are in designs on their faces and some are just smeared on the face. I’m thinking about trying it myself. I love seeing it on the women’s faces, it reminds me that I am very far away from home.
The monks in Burma wear dark maroon robes and the nuns wear pink robes. This is different from Thailand. The monks in Thailand and Cambodia wore orange robes and the nuns wore white. They all have one thing in common, they practice Theravada Buddhism.
What really stood out were the sila-rhans. A sila-rhan is a female Buddhist nun in Burma (a.k.a. pink monks). The females who chose to live in the nunnery must shave their heads just like the monks do. We saw a group of very young sila-rhans going around to different businesses asking for offerings. They were so cute. The good news is they don’t have to be a nun forever. It’s their choice to join and they can decide to leave at any time. It’s considered a right of passage. Becoming a sila-rhan at a young age can offer the girls an education and a place in society when they are older.
Shwedagon Pagoda was my favorite part of this visit. This is the largest temple in Burma and by far the most impressive I’ve seen of all the temples on this trip. The area is large and sprawling. The Shwedagon, which means, “golden hills” is made out of gold and jewels all over. Each one is specially detailed. This temple contains real relics of a Buddha named Siddharta Guatama. The relics are 8 strands of his hair. The hairs can only be seen by monks, nuns and high religious leaders. The areas of the relics are closed off to the public.
One thing that stood out were the planetary post. This signifies Burmese and Hindu astrology, the Burmese name the seven days of their week after the seven planets. Planetary post were set up for each day of the week. There are eight planetary posts (Wednesday is split in two (a.m and p.m.)). The weekday of your birth is considered your planetary post. Mine is Friday. Each planetary post has a Buddha statue and people pour water on Buddha while saying a prayer or making a wish. At the base of the post behind the Buddha is a guardian angel, and underneath the angel is the animal representing that particular day. My animal sign is the guinea pig . Some people buy flowers and hang them around the Buddha’s neck. Doing this is considered an act of giving.
Since tourism hasn’t really hit Burma yet, the locals were just as intrigued by us as we were of them. Several people stopped us and asked if they could take their picture with us. They asked us questions about America and welcomed us to Burma. It got to the point where I was doing more people watching than admiring the temple. The locals were so excited to talk to us and we were really happy to talk to them too. They were excited to speak English and most of them knew enough to have a small conversation.
Naha Bandoola Garden Park is a beautiful park where locals chill out, meet friends and use the free wifi offered by the park. There are rows of people sitting and viewing their smartphones in the shade. I’ve never seen a park that had free wifi. Maybe America should take notice of this and try it. I think it would get more people outside of their homes and in touch with nature and fresh air.
When dining at a restaurant in Burma, the way to get the server’s attention is to make a kissing sound out loud. At first I was offended when I heard a man doing it to get the waitress’s attention but then I kept hearing it from everyone else whether they were calling a man or woman server. In America doing this will get you put out of a place or ignored. I’ve done this many times in the past to my dogs at home but the thought of doing it in public or to get someone’s attention never crossed my mind.
The circular train is used by locals to get from the city into he suburbs. Tourists use it as a way to see the area of Yangon. The train is very old and has no air-conditioning or glass in the windows. Going to buy our tickets was like being pushed back in time. The station resembled something from the 1940s. One ticket cost .23 cents and we rode the entire route without getting off.
When it pulled up to the station I saw people with their heads popped out of the windows for air. Little did I know I would be riding that way later in the day.
The entire loop took 3 hours. It was the best people watching and sightseeing. There were three rules for riding the train. Rule number one, no smoking, rule number two, no littering and rule number 3 no kissing. In the beginning of the ride we witnessed a local breaking all three rules during his ride.
People were selling things on the train to passengers. The vendors would walk through the carts selling ice cream, paan (chewing tobacco), fried tofu, fruit and various snacks. Paan (chewing tobacco) was the most popular item sold to riders. The vendor would make the paan right there for the buyers.
I met a little girl on the train. She was very small and very curious about Doug and I. She kept bothering her mother to look at us. Finally her mom told her to just go sit with us.
Even though there was a language barrier, we communicated through smiling and giving each other the thumbs up sign. She loved my iPhone. She took pictures of everyone on the train, herself and even showed everyone the phone. After worrying about the phone being dropped out of the window, I played cartoons on YouTube and she became entranced. We had 14 stops until we had to get off, and she watched cartoons the whole time giving me the thumbs up. She was so happy and stayed close to me the entire ride.
This train ride was a great way to see Burmese life. Even though most of the homes had no electricity or water supply, they found a way to make it comfortable. Some of the locals in the villages used the train tracks to dry their clothes. Some people had farms and some just lived in small tin huts.
There were many apartment buildings along the way. The apartments here made the welfare apartments in America look like million dollar condos. It made me really grateful for the things I have, and I also realized none of my broke friends were as poor as they thought.
Thanks to President Obama lifting the sanctions on Burma, Americans can visit and invest in this beautiful country. Some of the people we spoke to really like Obama. I didn’t realize how much of an impact Obama had on Southeast Asia until I spoke personally with a few locals. When I was in Indonesia they spoke very highly of him also.
Obama came to visit Yangon in 2012, he toured the temples and met with Aung San Suu Kyi, [Her father, founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated Burma’s independence from the British in 1947. He was assassinated that same year.]. She spoke out against the country being renamed and taken over by the military government in 1989. Because of her protest against the military government, they have kept her on house arrest for the past 20 years off and on. Recently she was elected President. We will see how that goes over with the military government. I wish her the best.
Even though Yangon was the first stop in Burma, I’ve fallen in love with this country. The people of Yangon have been kind and genuine. They are so happy to have visitors and proud of their country. They openly treat each other with respect. The landscaping is beautiful and peaceful. I can’t wait to see the rest of this beautiful land.