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Archive for the ‘Myanmar’ Category

29 Apr 2000: Pyin U Lwin, Myanmar

On Monday morning, I landed on Yangon. After a two-day brisk stay, I flew off to Mandalay and today is my fourth day in this ancient capital of Burma. With me on this trip are my colleagues from Yangon – Cho Cho Minang and Papa. This morning, they are bringing me to a scenic hilly town called Pyin U Lwin.   

Pyin U Lwin

Pyin U Lwin is located in the Shan highland, about 67 kilometers east of Mandalay. Since it was once the summer capital of the Raj in Burma and military center of the Indian Army during British times, it has naturally a large Indian population and a significant Anglo-Burmese and Anglo-Indian communities. There are also many Chinese people settling down in this pleasant hill town, given it close proximity to the China borders.

  

Pyin Taw Pyan Pagoda 

It was close an hour of bumpy road journey but fortunately, the weather was kind. Our first stop is the  Pyin Taw Pyah Pagoda. 

 

Pyeik Chin Myaung Caves    

Further along the road to Lashio are the Pyeik Chin Myaung Caves. These deep caves are stalactites, containing many small Buddha statutes. The cave is easily reached but in times slippery. As always, shoes must be taken off inside the caves. 

 

Myanmar women and sometimes men use a special yellow-white powder called tanakha on their faces. It serves both as make-up and sunscreen. Today, I seen they applying tanakha on a baby.   

Pwe Kauk Waterfall

Pwe Kauk Falls is a not a stunning waterfall by the standards of other great falls elsewhere, but this is a popular picnic spot for the Burmese families.

     

The rough road and bumpy journey had made Papa dizzy. We had a quick lunch at a Chinese restaurant before heading back to Mandalay. Heavy rain followed us to the hotel’s door step. I was so weary that I took an afternoon nap. Half in doze, my bed shook!

Earthquake? I asked my room-mate Rick, who shook his head. Then I realized the entire bumpy journey to Pyin U Lwin had left me “shaken”, even still on my bed. Worse still, I had a diarrhoea that night.  

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Mandalay

30 Apr 2000: Mandalay, Myanmar

On the east bank of the Irrawaddy River lies Mandalay, the last royal capital of Burma. It is the centre of Buddhist learning for nearly 150 years. Mandalay was founded by King Mindon in 1857 in Myanmar traditional architectural style after the capital moved from Amarapura to Mandalay. The design of the city was a similar copy of Amarapura, a perfect square at the foot of the Mandalay Hill. Mandalay Hill was regarded as a holy mount as the legend goes: During when Buddha was alive, he and his disciple Ananda climbed Mandalay hill, on one of his visits to Myanmar and made a prophecy while pointing the place of that future city that a great city would be founded at the foot of this hill. King Mindon fulfilled the prophecy by establishing a new kingdom (i.e., the Royal Palace) during his reign.

Today, we are exploring this great city.

Mandalay International Airport

Mandalay International Airport is a new airport, the largest and most modern in the country (wait till you see Yangon Airport).

Paleik Snake Pagoda 

It was said that three pythons came into the Paleik Snake Pagoda in the 1970s and curled up next to the Buddha image. They never left and were specially taken care of. I was told that the snakes were “vegetarians” and they were fed with milk. Personally, I felt uneasy about the “commercial” aspects with donation boxes and myanmar kyats lying around them.

Oo-Pein Bridge 

Out in the country lies a 1.2 km long teak bridge across the shallow Thaungthaman Lake. It was built by U Bein, the mayor, salvaging material from the deserted Innwa Palace to build this long footbridge for people who want to take a leisure walk under the shade of the trees along the bridge. 

There was one lady peddling self-painted postcards on the bridge. I bought a few cards from her and she gave me this as “my present”…

 

Not sure you have a strong stomach for the sugar cane drink and pan cakes that they are cooking. Obviously, I did not.

 

Mandalay Royal Palace (Mingdon) 

The Mandalay Royal Palace was built in the form of a square in 1857, protected by four solid walls measuring 8 metres high and 3 metres thick. Unfortunately, this magnificent palace was destroyed by a fire during World War II.  The fort was reconstructed with elegant buildings made of teak wood and decorated with beautiful Myanmar traditional fine carvings.

 

Mandalay Hill 

The Mandalay Hill is 230 metres in elevation and commands a breathtaking view of Mandalay city, the Royal Palace, Fortress and the Ayeyarwaddy River. At the bottom of the hill entrance are two immense statue of Lions are guarding the holy hill.

 

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2 May 2000: Meikhtila, Myanmar

I am relieved that we are only spending one night at a unknown town in central Myanmar called Meikhtila. Located at the  banks of Lake Meikhtila, it is better known as the home to the Myanmar Air Force. It is natural that the country’s main aerospace engineering university is located here.

Accordingly to CCM, we checked into the “best hotel” in the town – Wun Zin Hotel. Here comes the problem: there is only one suite room in the hotel. After looking at the normal room, Rick and I decided to share the suite room for the night. The room is half-led by yelllow fluorescent lamp and had faint traces of cigarette scent. The cement floor was cold and sleazy; and the hot shower was luke warm. I did my bathe in record time. The bedsheet was tainted with yellow stains; I decided to sleep with my T shirt and jeans. No air-con; just the ceiling swirling round and round above my head as I dozed off…FINALLY.  

Things did not turn for the better on the following day. It was hot summer and there was no air-conditioning in the office. While I was trying to concentrate on my work, dozen of houseflies hovered around me, buzzing faintly at me. No offence, but I was highly motivated to finish my assignment ASAP and get out of this town.

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Yangon

6 May 2000: Yangon, Myanmar

After one week of traveling, I am back to Yangon again.  Located just a bit north of downtown is one of the most famous Buddhist monuments. Cho Cho and Papa have invited me to join them in visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda at very early morning.  

Shwedagon Pagoda        

The myths and legends of the Pagoda tell that it was built 2,500 years ago, before Lord Buddha died in 486 BC. It was said that two merchant brothers, Taphussa and Bhallika met Lord Buddha and received eight of the Buddha’s hairs to be enshrined in Burma. The Shwedagon Pagoda was reconstructed and rebuilt several times until it reached the current height of 98 meters in the 15th century. By the beginning of the sixteenth century the pagoda had become the most famous place for pilgrims in Burma.  

  

  

  

  

  

The stupa is about 100 m height and is covered with gold with valuable gems at the top.  

  

  

The stairways leading to the stupa are all lined with small shops, selling mainly religious items used for worshipping. Cho Cho suggested that I buy some gold leaves and paste them over the Buddha statute for worshipping.      

   

Although most Myanmar people are Buddhist, they also have strong belief in astrology which originated from Hindu Brahmanism. In their calendar, there are 8 days in a week (Wednesday is split in two, am and pm) a person is born, determining their planetary post. Each day is marked by an animal: galon (garuda) for Sunday, tiger for Monday, lion for Tuesday, tusked elephant for Wednesday a.m., tuskless elephant for Wednesday p.m., mouse for Thursday, guinea pig for Friday and mythical dragon cum serpent for Saturday. It is very important for every Myanmar Buddhist people to recognize the day of their birth so they can go to the respective pagoda to make offering and prayer. 

 

 

  

It was still early morning when I left the pagoda. As I turned back and see the rising sun, I felt a great sense of serenity and peace.  

  

Inya Lake    

Inya Lake is the largest lake in Yangon and a famous location for lovers. The area surrounding Inya Lake is one of the most exclusive and expensive neighborhoods in Yangon. Lakefront properties include residences of Aung San Suu Kyi.  

   

Scott Market   

For those who love shopping, you have to visit the Scott Market. You can find various kinds of gems and jewellery, traditional fabrics, lacquer wares and souvenirs here. I bought a colcourful longyi (Myanmar version of sarong) for Joyce.   

 

Tea Shop    

After the shopping, we settled into a tea shop for some traditional Myanmar tea.   

     
  
Cho Cho cordially invited us to her home. A very cosy place and great hospitality as always (though language communication was still very challenging)
 
 

We stayed at the Ramada Hotel in Yangon. Today, it is time to say goodbye…   

  
  
Well, this is the Yangon Airport. Very basic and functional… 
  
   

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True Life of Myanmar

12 May 2000: Yangon, Myanmar

My colleague, Lang, has been working in Yangon for several years. Lang is a Malaysian who spent most of his career outside the peninsular. He would sometimes get heated up when he’s relating to us about the political situation in Myanmar. “There is absolutely no democracy here; the military juntas govern everything. They are everywhere – don’t be surprised that they are tailing you, taking note of where you have gone to and whom you have spoken to. And for your info, most of our phone conversations are tapped.”  While I wasn’t sure how real these allegations were; but the road to democracy for the Burmese was certainly a long and rough one.

Myanmar is the second largest country in Southeast Asia and is bordered by the People’s Republic of China on the northeast, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast and India on the northwest.

“Burma” was the name of this country in use since the time of the British colonial rule. In 1989, the military government officially changed the name of the country to “Myanmar”. This was part of the junta’s top-down “Myanmarification” programme of political and cultural reform. Today, the newspapers and magazines still widely published these government’s political, economical and social objectives. I thought that the “people’s desire” was rather radical, especially its emphasis on “crush all intenal and external destructive elements as the common enemy“…

 

Burma was a province of British India until it became a separate, self-governing colony in 1937. In the 1940s, Aung San (the father of Aung San Suu Kyi) who commanded the Thirty Comrades, founded the Burma Independence Army. He was the Deputy Chairman of the transitional government but was assassinated by political rivals in 1947 before Myanmar became an independent republic (named as Union of Burma) in the following year.  But the democratic rule ended in 1962 when General Ne Win led a military coup that toppled the civilian government. He remained in power for more than a quarter century, ruling the country like a military state. It was during this period, Myanmar declined as one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

“In order to crack down on the rebelling university students,” Lang said emotionally, “they closed down the universities most of the time. These schools are open only for a few days in a year to allow the students to take exams.”

One day, as we were passing by the neighbourhood near the Inya Lake, Cho Cho pointed at a dilapidated residence and said to me: “That’s the house which they kept Aung San Suu Kyi; inside her own house”.  Aung San Suu Kyi is the only daughter of Aung San, who was widely considered to be the father of modern-day Myanamar. She has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford. Shortly after graduation, she lived in New York City, where she met and married Dr. Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture.

In 1988, Suu Kyi first returned to Myanmar to take care of her ailing mother. However, after witnessing the political state of her country, she stepped out to lead the pro-democracy movement. Her representing opposition party, National League for Democracy, won the national votes in the 1990 General Election. However, the Burmese dictator denied the victory and detained her under house arrest. Today, she is still kept her in the lakeside residence.  

 

The heart breaking stories did not end here. The tragic of the house arrest affected Aung San Suu Kyi in several folds. Her husband’s visit in Christmas 1995 turned out to be the last time that he and Suu Kyi met. The Burmese government denied him any further entry visas after that. Michael Aris was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 1997. Despite appeals from prominent figures and organizations, the Burmese government refused to grant him a visa and urged Aung San Suu Kyi to leave the country to visit him instead. Suu Kyi was unwilling to leave Myanmar. She could not trust the military junta’s assurance that she could return if she left. Michael Aris died in March 1999. Since then, she remained separated from her children, who currently lived in the United Kingdom.

 

My sincere hope that one day, Myanmar would gain its real democracy and the country could prosper and strengthen politically, socially and economically.

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Bought these colourful and beautiful post cards from Myanmar …Enjoy!

 

 

 

  

 

 

   

 

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