As you know, today was an excursion day!
Since the Freedom Film Festival was postponed, we bussed over to Bago
, aka Pegu: the old capital city on and off from 1369 to 1634, a metropolis praised by merchants from Portugal, India, China, Italy, England and Armenia.
But first, a stopover at Taukkyar War Cemetery
This is where the Allied heroes of World War Two lie: the Gurkhas, the British, the Kiwis, the Indians, the Ozzies who fought and died on the Death Railway and the other battles of British Burma. 27,000 names are inscribed here: mostly they're not physically interred, but there are poppies and plaques a-plenty.
Aung, a citizen journalist who's part of our team, says says Burmese soldiers have their ashes stored at pagoda. The reason young Burmese come here is to date, or in his case, to do fashion photo shoots. There are so few well-maintained green spaces in Yangon: where better to look glamorous and serene in designer couture? (The shoot didn't go that well: he was nervous, the model was nervous, and she had to keep on adjusting her strapless bra.)
Then a trundle over to Bago proper! First stop was the Shwethalyaung Buddha
, the second-largest reclining Buddha in the world!
It's got an interesting history, this fella: supposedly built by a pagan king named Mgadeikpa. He was gonna execute his Buddhist daughter-in-law for sacrilege, but she prayed to the heavens and lightning came down and destroyed the craven idol of the animist god, which scared the king into forcing the entire kingdom to convert. That's Ten Commandments
stuff right there.
Not too far away, there's a similarly gargantuan Buddha, the Naung Daw Gyi Mya Tha Luang:
Is it just me, or does Naung Daw look considerably more seductive than the Shwethalyaung? Definitely something of a come-hither look in those half-closed eyes. And a Cleopatra-esque crook of the arm, too.
The most intriguing thing about this bugger, however, is the poster in a pavilion nearby. It pictures the Buddha a good fifty metres closer to the water than he actually is:
So did the Buddha move? Or did the water move? OR DID THE MIND MOVE???
insists it's just a good Photoshop job on the poster - she says the trees in the reflection of the water give it away. Me, I'm not so sure.)
On to our last stop: the Shwemawdaw Pagoda:
The gold-plated stupa here is actually the tallest in Myanmar at 114 metres, handily beating the famous Shwedagon Paya's 98m. The temple's its own little complex, with shrines and shops and hordes of Thai tourists (more puncitilious in their visits than the Burmese, Aung says. I suggested that may be the reason why the Thai economy's better of than Myanmar's.)
Here they're praying at a section of the former capstone, collapsed in the great earthquake of 1917 (quakes are pretty common in this country). Kaffe's off in the corner, recording the chanting.
To tell the truth, our visit was marred by the ticket-collectors, insisting we pay US$10 per person for entry (twice the Shwedagon price!) and 300 kyat more for a camera licence.
Where's all that money going? I've been asked to be politically sensitive on this blog, so I won't speculate.
But of course, ordinary people here are awesome:
We even received a visit from this scary bugger:
Htet explained that these guys collect alms for the temples - somehow dressing up in papier-mâché bodysuits helps rather than hinders the cause. It's a village tradition, he said, rarely to be seen in Yangon. So we should count ourselves lucky that we witnessed 'em today.
But if we'd had a choice between seeing a guy in a papier-mâché bodysuit and Aung San Suu Kyi, which one would we have picked?
Definitely, we'd go for Aung San Suu Kyi WEARING a papier-mâché bodysuit. I'll let your mind conjure up the graphic for that one. Good night!