The Shwedagon Pagoda dominants Yangon’s skyline and the city’s exotic and sleepy vibrations. Trinh and I could see the Pagoda in-full from the rooftop of the Lavender Hotel
. The first time we rode our impatient elevator to the rooftop and rounded the corner to view the Pagoda was awe inspiring. Its perfect golden spire totally captures the imagination. The jungle trees growing between the cracks in the city’s decrepit pavement, made me wonder how magnificent the Pagoda looked for ancient travelers who would’ve emerged from the jungle trails to see the magnificent ancient city of Rangoon built under the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Trinh and I would spend that night staring at the Pagoda’s golden tower illuminated in the night lights. Its golden surface shining on to the city. It was the most impressive structure I’ve seen in Southeast Asia yet. It begs me to wonder how people could build something so symmetrical and grand before electricity. Trinh said it made her believe in Buddhism, “it must be true if the people built that”
Impatient for the anticipated development coming to Yangon, the city awaits in poverty. Trinh and I briefly rode the railway system, built by the British and operated by surplus Japanese trains, with their faded Japanese destinations still written on the sides. While moving along the tracks we saw Yangon’s poor people living on very little. I was struck by one sight, a very poor young man seated under a train bridge staring at his smartphone. I imagined that the smartphone, held in front of his eyes was a blindfold to his own poverty. All the distractions, entertainments and learning available to him on the internet were successfully placating his frustrating poverty. When looking at his phone, he isn’t futilely thinking about his poverty, but finding some solace online. I thought immediately about the placating effect of smartphones on poverty, all over the world the disparity between the rich and the poor is growing wider, and although we applaud smartphones’ for their potential to empower people, they also can leave us distracted, mentally flaccid, jealous, regretful, unsatisfied, and distracted. Despite all the tools and knowledge that Smartphones can offer, it’s addictive potential for entertainment might be crippling for someone from a place with so few opportunities… or someone with too many opportunities to choose from.
Have you ever gone out for British food? No, basically there are no British restaurants. Almost nowhere in the world, do people go out for British food. I think that the British invented the idea of ethnic restaurants, as a way to avoid their boring food. They probably thought it would be nice if we could have any food Friday night that wasn’t British. I’m guessing that British peoples’ curiosity about the exotic foods from the British colonies, created the demand for ethnic restaurants. Why did I talk about ethnic restaurants? Because ethnic restaurants are kind of like Zoos. They gather things that aren’t native to a certain place and give foreigners a little sample. The Yangon Zoo, or more accurately the Prince Edward the seventh Carnivoria is an extended petting zoo for dangerous animals.
Carnivoria is a type of fetish Zoo where they display carnivores without clothing on.
Inside the zoo, there was an old circus cage with metal bars running down the sides. The cage even had a fancy old rooftop and an iron sign about Edward the Seventh.
And in the cage was a white tiger, in some ways I feel that this Tiger has been in that cage since the Jungle Book. I just looked at it, and thought wow this is how the modern zoo started. A zoo is something that Britishers will do, they go to a new country, they take over the place, then they round up all the exotic animals, and they put them on display, so that if their families ever come to visit they can see all the tigers and monkeys without venturing into the jungle. I suddenly saw a flashback to what a zoo really is, it’s a restaurant for Britishers & Americanos flavor blind to bland squirrels, pigeons, dogs, and deer. The Zoo in Ho Chi Minh City is also a colonial relic, but without the cruel looking 1800s metal bar, I couldn’t see its deeper implications.
Trinh and I were in Myanmar, during the week that a reported 125,000 Muslims fled Myanmar to Bangladesh. Even though the violence in the northwest of the country was making the front page of the BBC, there was no information or talk about that at all on the streets. So Trinh and I sat in the café and read the world news. I was baffled that the leader of Myanmar told world news outlets that nothing was happening. The leader of Myanmar has a Nobel Peace Prize. I thought to myself, and then to all of you, there must be something far deeper that is making the leader not acknowledge the violence.
Burma or Myanmar?
Thanks Wikipedia… In Burmese, Myanmar and Burma are the same word. However, the written version of the word begins with an M and the spoken version begins with a /B/. The British never learned to write Burmese and so they “named” the country Burma.
The Burmese hold onto their original culture rather intently. I think that 70% of all the people I saw in Yangon we’re wearing a sarong. Also, maybe 20% of everyone that I saw had put a light brown tree bark paste on their skin. Also, so many of the men were chewing on beetle but. Traditional customs in Burma are still quite visible, not yet air-conditioned away by the slow magic of the Global Urban Monoculture.
On the last night
Tonight I went to the rooftop of my hotel in Yangon and looked out to see the moon and the pagoda brightening the night sky. I was struck, just as I had been when I first saw it in the late afternoon, by its presences and otherworldliness. It glowed in the night lights and from atop a hill reigned over the whole city. I was lost in it, the moon, the night clouds, the city’s snoring sounds.