Mon | Oct 22, 2018

My trip to Myanmar

Published:Tuesday | September 13, 2016 | 9:19 AMPoe Han Thar Kyaw
Thousands of tourists and locals alike come to the sacred Shwedagon Pagoda in the capital city of Yangon to pay homage daily.
The main stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda is 2500 years old and houses the relics of the last three Buddhas and the present Buddha's (Gautama's) hair.
The sitting and reclining statues are all variations of Buddha while the two standing statues are the angels guarding him. The robes are all made of gold. 
Myanmar's Irrawaddy River runs from the Himalayas into the Indian Ocean.
The view from the Pahtodawgyi in the small town of Mingun. Built in 1790, it's 164 feet above ground which is just a third of what it was intended to be.
Myae O Mee Shae is a popular noodle dish eaten in the Northern part of the country.
Kuthodaw Pagoda is also known as the "World's Largest Book". It consists of 729 marble structures each housing a marble slab with Buddhist mythology.
The Dhammayazika Temple is one of the 2200 temples that has survived since the 9th century in Bagan. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Bagan, during the height of Buddhism in the 11th and 13th century, was home to 10,000 pagodas and temples built by the various kings of Myanmar.

I recently took a trip to the Asian country of Myanmar. The word ‘trip’ sounds so short. I took a trip to Ochi. See? It sounds like you went there for a weekend and two fireballs later you were out. No, it wasn’t a trip. It was a literal journey. It takes an entire day to get there.

It’s approximately 10 hours flying time from Jamaica to Germany, and 12 glorious hours more from Germany to the capital city of Yangon. And that’s without the hours you spend in transit paying for cups of macchiato you did not need.

“So, how was it?” I've managed to summarise my response to this question in one sentence — it was eye-opening.

I came to understand how a country with just a fifth of Jamaica’s per capita income despite being 60 times the size of Jamaica, with a population of approximately 60 million, ranks number one on the World’s Giving Index.

Myanmar is a return to the old world. It’s filled with ancient cities and monarchies of Bagan and Mandalay which were founded in the ninth century. It’s where Prince Buddha was born, were it not for the political boundaries of Nepal. It’s where you wake up to neighbourhood gongs at 6 a.m. and eat from food stalls, running the risk of really bad gastro because those are always, ALWAYS the best. It’s where KFC is still a foreign concept, but dressmakers are still en vogue.

Of course, with the old world comes old morals, values and customs. Customs such as the oldest person in the company earning the most; really bad diarrhoea; serving food to the eldest person at the table first; sexism; pit toilets; a sense of community; and a reserved place for religion. It’s the gemeinschaft nature of Myanmar where children are still being raised by extended family and the community that helps it, earn the ‘Most Charitable Nation’ title.

So, what’s Myanmar’s story? It’s one of hope. As the country opens up after 50 years under a military junta that banned its people from the outside world and the Internet; the country ushers in hope. Exiles are returning, political prisoners are being released, students are protesting, reggae bars are opening and Burmese-French fusion is now a thing.

People are sharing their stories and the best part of those two months were the stories I heard while sitting at a bar, teaching at a monastery and overeating at a buffet. This is what makes the Golden Land truly golden.