|Worshipper at Botataung at high noon|
|Praying among Buddhas in Shwedagon|
|My friend in Shwezigon, Koko|
Heading to Bagan on the heels of the water festival, I made a short stop in Mandalay where I befriended a motorcycle driver who not only ate breakfast with me but also made a stopover at the beautiful Maha Muni temple for the sunrise, and helped me get on the right bus to Bagan (as there were no English signages whatsover). To save money, I stayed in a small house converted into an inn in Old Bagan. The language barrier became readily apparent when I took a rental van at 4am by mistake and found myself in Mt. Poppa. The side trip cost me a chunk of whatever money I had, worried that I have only $200 left -- one $100 bill even had a small blot which is a no-no among most money changers (true enough, the staff at the airport refused it when I tried paying for my terminal fee). But the mountain may have called out to me and it was quite an experience seeing the plains from such a vantage point early in the morning as well as observe everyday life.
I also remember going to Shwezigon Paya and befriending Koko, a seller who helped me out when I was being harassed by the other temple sellers into buying their wares. He told me to come back the next day at a certain time so I can shoot the alley better (and it was a most helpful advice). My best friend, Ferdz, went to the same temple about two years later and it was amazing that he can still remember me.
|The skyline of Yangon then as seen from Shwedagon|
Getting back to Yangon earlier than I planned, I recall being roused at midnight at a checkpoint and submitting our passports to soldiers. Other than that, I also noted with amusement how the overnight buses included a bottle of mineral water (precious in the sweltering heat), candies (literally, a sweet gesture), and toothbrush with toothpaste (very practical) with our fare. Back in Yangon, I watched the news about the riots in Thailand, a bit worried that I may get stranded in Bangkok on the way to the Philippines. But things really do have a way of falling into place and I got home in one piece.
As "The Lady" came to a conclusion, I found myself moved into writing this piece. Only God knows when I can come back (last I heard, the opening up of Myanmar to the West has sent prices soaring) but remembering the nats Koko gave me as gifts, I look back at my trip to Burma filled with a fervent wish -- that even with its imminent democratization and opening up to the world, the place wouldn't lose its old world charm. I pray that the Burmese wouldn't trade their culture and hospitality for modernity's sake, their tanaka for make-up, their long-yis for Levi's and cheroots for Marlboros. The world will be the richer for it.