Archives for February 2014

Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda, positioned in the center of Yangon is apparently the most sacred and oldest of Myanmar’s Buddhist temples.  By some accounts, it is over 2,600 years old (although rebuilt-refurbished several times due to periods of neglect and earthquakes).  Archaeologists estimate that the date of initial construction was somewhere between the 6th and 10th centuries AD.  What makes this temple so sacred is the belief that it contains relics from four of the past Buddhas including eight strands of hairs from one of them.  This was our first destination the morning after we arrived in Yangon.  Even in the morning, it was busy with both tourists and locals.  Shwedagon is a dizzying array of shrines, stupas, bells, incense and Buddha statues.  We found that we were still fairly rare as western travelers and we were viewed with curiosity.  I was a bit tentative at first taking pictures of people since I didn’t know how they’d react.  We soon found that they were friendly and accommodating, mostly when we showed them the result of the picture on the back of the camera.  We spent a couple of hours there since we wanted to see more of Yangon before our flight to Bagan the next morning.  If I am to visit again, I’ll certainly want to visit at night as we noticed in our passing that it was lit beautifully.  One thing common to many Buddhist temples in Asia is the need to have your legs covered if you have shorts or a skirt above the knees.  They will happily lend you a longyi when you arrive which is a traditional wrap that both men and women wear in Myanmar.

 

Shwedagon Pagoda - main stupa

Shwedagon Pagoda – main stupa

One thing that we saw in Myanmar that I didn’t notice in other Asian countries is little girl pink monks. Logan and I saw these girls leaving a prayer bell and were ready to snap a few shots. The leader noticed our cameras and immediately stopped the girls and positioned them for a group shot just for us! Thanks for stopping for us pink monks!

pink monks (girls)

pink monks (girls)

Another thing that I noticed with the people in Myanmar is their stoic picture poses. This girl selling incense or candles welcomed the picture and I even got a smile out of her. Another example of thanaka design on her face (pronounced as in gin and tonica).

vendor girl

vendor girl

 

Shwedagon statue

Shwedagon statue

From our conversations we found that with government’s slight loosening of control that they were starting to get better quality of news sources. In the past, 100% of all news was censored. As we saw, there was a great appetite for news and politics, including with the monks.

monk reading paper

monk reading paper

There were many cats hanging out around the various Buddha statues. We figured they were their pets or caretakers. In any case, they were enjoying basking in the early morning sun and playing.

Buddha cats

Buddha cats

praying monk

praying monk

meditation

meditation

incense and candles

incense and candles

friendly visitors

friendly visitors

Shwedagon statues

Shwedagon statues

praying monk with incense

praying monk with incense

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Thanaka Kids

In our first day at Bagan, we hired a guide who brought us to a local monastery which was being used as an camp for families coming from more rural areas (keep in mind, Bagan is already rural) to be prepared to celebrate the “moon festival”.  They moved their “camp gear” using small covered wagons sometimes with traditional wagon wheels, others with modern truck wheels.  It must have been slow-going as they were apparently pulled by oxen which also were scattered among the families at the camp.  While it appeared that the family were of scarce means, yet the kids wore bright, clean clothes and seemed to be very happy.  While having a couple of tall white guys with cameras wander into the camp, you’d think that they’d be apprehensive.  Much to our surprise, they were delighted we were visiting them!  And they loved getting their pictures taken!  As Logan pointed out, it didn’t matter whether the person was 6 or 60, they all wanted to see the back of the camera to see how they looked in the picture.  We were very fortunate that we had a guide who we were able to communicate through as we found out more about their family relations in the group.

As you’ll see in this set of shots, most of the kids and women had their faces painted with thanaka which is a ground tree bark paste used for both sun screen and decoration.  Actually, throughout our entire visit, we estimated that 80-90% of the women and girls both in the cities and country wore thanaka.  Most boys up until the teen years also wore it but most men didn’t.

 

sisters or cousins - I lost track

sisters or cousins – I lost track

sisters or cousins

sisters or cousins

 

the pattern of the thanaka design seemed to correspond to family units

the pattern of the thanaka design seemed to correspond to family units

 

thanaka again? They typical apply this twice a day to the kids

thanaka again? They typical apply this twice a day to the kids

 

grinding tree bark for thanaka paste

grinding tree bark for thanaka paste

 

older boy's turn

older boy’s turn

 

mom or grandma

mom or grandma

 

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a couple of the girls had some western makeup yet still had a thin layer of thanaka on

The kids were happy and smiley but it appeared that they thought stoic poses were right for the camera

The kids were happy and smiley but it appeared that they thought stoic poses were right for the camera

 

proud grandma

proud grandma

preparing the food

preparing the food

hopefully a happy gesture!

hopefully a happy gesture!