shwedagon pagoda

i didn't think i'd be able to post anything, but i found a great air-conditioned internet cafe north of the sule pagoda next to the movie theatre showing "the legend of alexander" along with a hand-painted billboard that doesn't quite capture the hotness of angelina jolie. the machines all run XP and i seem to be able to do everything other than e-mail (all webmail services are blocked), so it's not too bad. no photo uploads though, but i can probably do it if i wanted to, just don't want to draw too much attention to myself, that's all.

so i arrived in yangon, myanmar.

sule paya

burmese betel nut ingredients

as soon as i left the airport, i fell in love with the place. at the entrance i saw a few men wearing skirts, but i just figured it was part of a work uniform where they had to put on a traditional costume. how wrong i was! because almost every man i saw from the taxi window was wearing a skirt - which is called a longy. the driving's weird too, even though they drive on the right side of the road, the steering wheel is on the right side as well, which creates an unnaturally large blind spot. fortunately there aren't as many cars as there was in bangkok, but still, something to be careful of. most of the women and children also have this creme-colored makeup on their face, which is a natural sunblock that the people here make from a special kind of tree root.

when the taxi drove by schwedagon pagoda, i stared at it with my jaw opened - it's the most amazing thing, this massive pagoda that sticks out of the landscape, all shiny and golden.

i got dropped off at the garden guesthouse, but there was something about it i didn't like (the fact that there were a gang of young indian men up to no good hanging around the reception area was one of them), so i found another place, the okinawa guesthouse. not quite sure why it's called that, there's nothing japanese about it, and nobody there can really speak japanese, and i didn't see any japanese tourists staying there either. it has a sister restaurant called okinawa as well, which doesn't serve any japanese food.

i went to go exchange some money at the tourism office conveniently located a few buildings away. i asked the guy there what the rate was. instead of saying it out loud, he typed it into a calculator and showed me, "951." "951 kyat for US$1?" i asked him, just to be sure. he replied in a whisper, "yes, unofficial rate," and put his finger to his lips. behind him was a board with the official rate, which quoted less than 7 kyat for US$1. i exchanged US$20 and went to get some lunch at the okinawa restaurant.

hindu festival

sein yong chi paya (detail)

i then wandered around yangon for the rest of the day. yangon is pure exoticism. everywhere i turned i saw something i've never seen before. there are a lot of buildings in the british colonial style, painting in gaudy colors, falling into disrepair. there are a lot of indians (and pakistanis) here as well, and even though i've never been to the subcontinent, it felt like i was there at times. myanmar does get a lot of foreign visitors so i immediately stick out, especially when i take out my camera. just walking around, i can feel people just staring at me. i visited the sule pagoda, which lies in the center of downtown yangon, then wandered into a few mosques, and saw a jewish synagogue. there was some sort of festival happening at the hindu temple dedicated to kali, people were covered in yellow and drenching themselves with water, i took out my camera and immediately the crowd got very excited, posing and performing - i felt like one of those photographers visiting some tribe that's never seen foreigners before. after that i walked about a mile to the schwedagon pagoda.

pudgy guardian

woman praying

shwedagon nat statue

burmese women relaxing

shwedagon sunset

the schwedagon pagoda is impressive, and it's hard to even describe it. i stayed until sunset, where everything got lit up, and it gave me goosebumps, so magically beautiful, i didn't even quite felt like i was there, like maybe i was watching the whole thing on television. (in a few weeks, when i can get photos up, you'll understand what i'm talking about.)

i came back to the guesthouse, where i had dinner at the okinawa restaurant before finally retiring for the night.