Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Long live the criss cross roadway

On my second and a half day in Yangon, one of the things that I'm still struck by is how the British tried to impose order and hierarchy, Queen Victoria style, here. For a city perched on delta land beside a long and winding river, and just out of the reaches of the jungle, they were ambitious. And as I've gazed up at some of the seven-story colonial buildings, I've thought that not only were they ambitious, but these buildings are a sign of the absolute arrogance that marked the British entry to Burma.

The irony is that these magnificent colonial buildings are now either being used by the very un-democratic, un-British military government, or have been taken over by squatters and the trees. There is a huge maroon and yellow building on Bogyoke Aung San Rd who's only use appears to be to house some squatters that bathe in a brown bath in the grounds by the roadside, and wash their longyis to dry in the midday heat.

One thing I am grateful to the British for here is the criss cross of roadways. The roads in the centre work in a very logical north south, east west system. At the epicentre of it all is the 2000 year old Sule Paya (pagoda), a golden stupa that is said to contain a hair of the buddha himself. I walked around the stupa today. It is filled with shrines, each to a different animal that also corresponds to the morning of a person's birth. So you pray to the animal-god for your day, in my case (Tuesday), the lion.

Of course, the main golden stupa in Yangon is the Shwedagon Paya. It's located about 3 kms north of town, which is a fair trek from where I'm staying. I went to visit the pagoda yesterday, but mainly only had luck in seeing it's smaller sister, pagoda.

As a girl travelling on my own, I'm getting a fair share of attention, which in Burmese style is meant in a friendly way (don't get scared mum, ain't no one is trying to accost me) but it's mostly still unwelcome because in my grumpiness with the 40 degree heat I'd rather be on my own. At the pagoda, it was no exception, and I realised that I've got to be rather ballsy if I don't want someone to follow me around to explain things, to then be obliged to pay them at the end of the talk. I think I offended an older man today when I told him I didn't want him to arrange for me to pray to the Lion God, I could do it myself. I'm trying to find the line between politeness and firmness, but despite the guilt, I think I've got to get some gumption to look after myself.

So I might go back to the Shwedagon this evening, pay the $5 fee to the government, and commune with the Buddha at this most holy site for the Burmese. My original intention for this trip was for it to be a spiritual journey so I suppose, despite the annoyances of heat, prices-for-foreigners, and some over-friendly locals interested in a rare-ish SWF, that Yangon is a good place to start.

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