Yangon, Bago: "A Rich Country"

February 2, 2005

At breakfast at the Queens Park hotel, I chatted up a lovely woman (or was it the other way around?). Our instincts told us that we would be compatible traveling companions. We decided on a quiet day in Yangon before heading north to Bago.

Teresa and I spend the day at the zoo and at the Bogyoke Aung San Museum.

"Located in the Bahan Township, this quiet and secluded house-museum is the former home of General Aung San and his wife Daw Kin Kyi, and contains remnants of another era. The house itself dates from the 1920's and the rooms, stairways, railings and furniture are fairly intact. There are several old family photos, which of course include daughter Suu Kyi as a little girl."

Aung San, modern and democratically-prone, was a leader in the independence movement. Unfortunately, in 1947, he was assassinated by a group of reactionary military officers. Groups of generals have ruled Myanmar ever since.

Teresa and I hired a taxi to take us to Bago. Teresa was headed further north as she began her Myanmar journey. The next day, I would take the bus back to Yangon.

Just outside of Yangon, we stopped at the Htaukkyant War Cemetery. With the help of the groundskeepers, I found the Star of David inscribed on many memorial plaques of young Jewish-British soldiers: R. Simpson, A. Cohen, H. Samberg, N. Rosewood, P. Schul, C. Laine, M. Pavlotsky. All buried beside their Christian, Hindu, and Muslim British-Empire brothers-in-arms who fought and died in the Burma and Assam campaigns of World War II. At this one cemetery, more than 27,000 graves in all!

I felt angry. A shocking and immediate reminder of the enormous costs, past and present, of miscalculation, arrogance, belligerence, misplaced ideology and misbegotten adventurism.

In Bago, Teresa and I visited many excellent temples and monasteries. My favorite is the Shwethalyaung Buddha. The image is a huge reclining Buddha measuring 55m long and 16m high. It is a good 9m longer than the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok but still 19m short of the Buddha in Dawei (a great reason to return to Myanmar). The little finger alone extends 3.05m.

The bus ride back to Yangon was a sardine tin transportation adventure. OK. I am exaggerating a little. Everything in this country is so big. Pardon me.

And as I said before, "splendid." I had a splendid month. Not only was the journey splendid, each day was splendid as well. I never had a bad moment.

Except if you count the instant I realized that I hadn't brought enough cash with me and that there are no ATM's ( I knew that) and no credit cards accepted, and that my traveler's checks were worthless...well, almost.

I was referred to a hotel in Yangon with a home office in Singapore. I gave them my credit card numbers and travelers checks. A few hours later they supplied me with enough US dollars to last the month. Their commission? Don't ask.

Hey, it's all part of the adventure.

I love Myanmar. I hope they can sort out their problems. This is a rich country. Rich in resources. Rich in culture. Rich in beauty. The Burmese deserve no less than a rich life.

I will return soon. To find my princess?

Safe travels to all,

Jan

PS " Full Circle" was my choice for the title since my itinerary was a sort of circle around southern Myanmar.

It occurs to me now that the artistically pleasing Burmese alphabet and script is also based on the circle...even the numbers. See www.Omniglot.com/writing/burmese.htm.

"Burmese Alphabet - Notable Features"

"Like many other Indian and South East Asian alphabets, the Myanmar script is a syllabic alphabet: each letter has an inherent vowel [a]. Other vowels sounds are indicated using separate letters or diacritics which appear above, below, in front of, after or around the consonant.

The rounded appearance of letters is a result of the use of palm leaves as the traditional writing material. Straight lines would have torn the leaves. The Myanmar name for the script is ca-lonh 'round script'."

And Finally....

"MANDALAY"  by Rudyard Kipling

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea, There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me; For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say: "Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!" Come you back to Mandalay, Where the old Flotilla lay: Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay? On the road to Mandalay, Where the flyin'-fishes play, An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green, An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat -- jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen, An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot, An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o'mud --
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd --
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow, She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "~Kulla-lo-lo!~" With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin' my cheek We useter watch the steamers an' the ~hathis~ pilin' teak.
Elephints a-pilin' teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago an' fur away,
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and --
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be --
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

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