jewish synagogue taken care by an muslim man, that's what i call 'MYANMAR TRULY ASIA'!

*jewish synagogue taken care by an muslim man, that’s what i call MYANMAR TRULY ASIA!

Going to Myanmar is like going back to Malaysia 50 year back, exactly what I would usually see in my favourite P. Ramlee’s old movies and black & white photos of the ‘good old days’ of my grandparents. Everything is so laid back, underdeveloped and culturally rich. The men and women still wear their sarong (they call it lungi), like nobody’s business, you see them wear it everywhere, from the airport to the shopping mall too! gosh, seriously reminded me of my grandma and grandpa… You see, there’s something very melancholy and sentimental about Myanmar (apart from it political dictatorship), I feel like stepping back in time: the 70s and 80s looking old cars, the lush greenery in the city of Yangoon, and the warm hospitality of the Myanmar people.

I still remember before coming to Myanmar, my fellow friends and family were so worried and gave a lot of warnings that the place is soo dangerous and soo underdeveloped and unstable… When I went to the Myanmar Embassy in Ampang Hilir, that didn’t help either, my imagination about Myanmar was getting more and more obscured. The visa counter was very rundown; it looked more like a rural kampung area in the East Coast. I saw Myanmar people squatting and sitting around the embassy, probably just waiting to get their visa extended, and a humble-looking kedai kopi, filled with Myanmar people. But one thing I noticed was, the people were so varied in their looks, resembled exactly like the Chinese, Malay, Indian and dan lain-lain ‘race’ in Malaysia.

I was boarding the MAI (Myanmar Airways International). The ASEAN project coordinator, Phillip Danao issued the ticket right after I got my visa done. I was packing like mad, since I didn’t expect to leave Malaysia so soon. After almost 2 hours of on the flight, I finally arrived at the Yangoon International Airport. The first indication that I am in Myanmar was the huge number of people wearing traditional sarong and kebaya-looking blouses and also robe-wearing monks. I met my other ASEAN volunteer friend from Malaysia, Mangala, she’s also like me, was very taken aback by the tranquility, warmness and greenery of Myanmar, totally unlike what we were told back in Malaysia.

We are staying at the Summit Park View Hotel, managed by a Singaporean. Our place is near to embassies, Ministries buildings, the famous golden temple of Shwedagon. The first few words that we learned was – je zu ther ma lay (thank you) and, mangelaba (hello). You know, I felt very uncomfortable that most of the locals here when they know we are Malaysians, they would say ‘oh, good Malaysia, rich country!’…. It’s so misleading coz our government is screwing up the ordinary Malaysian lives that it sooo never rich, our lives are still as difficult as them, maybe only a bit more modernized.

The first day in Myanmar, we decided to explore around the area. We went to the nearest shopping area at City Mart and Dagon Centre. A Indian looking Myanmar asked if we wanted to take a taxi, he charged us 1000 jet (Myanmar Currency) 100 US Dollar = 1080 jet. The taxi driver was actually an Indian Muslim, his ancestors came from India as merchants. At the Star Mart, we saw lots of the Myanmar ladies wear something like bedak sejuk on their faces. It’s actually teneka, a natural form of sun screen protection derived from a tree. There were a lot of buses, some packed with people, so unlike Malaysia. In Malaysia, the public transport is really bad; the ordinary Malaysians have to wait for a long time just to get a bus. There weren’t any beggars or homeless people on the street, but there were a lot of police securities inside the shopping area. I was quite surprised, I believed Myanmar is way better than Indonesia and Philippines, I didn’t feel insecure or unsafe being a female traveler. In fact, from what I heard Myanmar is famed for having one of the lowest tourist crime rates.

The food in Myanmar is rather interesting though. It was not bad at all, in fact quite similar to our local Malaysian food. The bihun that we eat is called vercimilli in Myanmar, it’s quite a popular dish there. One thing I realized that there’s frequent power failures in Myanmar; when we were shopping at the mart, there were a sudden blackout for a few second, but the people were very calm and non-complaining about this. I remember in Malaysia, once there was a huge power failure resulting the whole of Peninsular Malaysia with no electricity for a few hours, Malaysian were complaining like mad and shouting. Here, the country is very poor that it’s a luxury to even have electricity. Thus, the power failure is seen as only minor imperfection.

At nite, we went to the Shwedagon Pagoda, just a couple of walks from our hotel. It’s so amazing looking at the Pagoda, so huge and golden, and the top of the pagoda was filled with lots of diamonds shining brightly in the dark night sky, especially as we saw through the telescope. If the diamond filled pagoda was situated in Malaysia, I think in no time it would definitely be looted and stolen, no surprise, typical ugly Malaysians. We befriended a monk, named osman (that’s what we heard he said), who could be the only one there that can speak English. It was rather hard for us to mingle with the locals, as the only English they knew was YES and NO. The monk was so kind, he explained all the detailed information about the pagoda. Without him, we might be at lost coz all the writings were in Myanmar language. He said the pagoda has a historical root over 2500 years. It is plated with real gold, amounted with 60,000 of gold leaves. It has 4200 of precious stones on the surface of the ‘umbrella’, such as ruby, sapphire, diamonds, emerald, etc. On the very top of the pagoda is a huge 1800 carat diamond…wow!!! The monk, even show us a secret where we can see the huge 1800 diamond shining in red, yellow and green colour by standing in different spots, amazing!

The locals come to the pagoda for praying and worshipping, there’s a hint of Hinduism as we saw several small temple around the pagoda resembled the Balinese and Thai and even Chinese architecture. Around the pagoda were small miniature statures of Buddha and different animals, it is supposed to resemble the day of birth of a person. I was born in 26 June 1985, so my day of birth was on Wednesday, which is symbolized by the elephant. So for self-well being, the monk told me I can pour water to the Buddha and Elephant statures. Quite a unique experience for me.. I can say the Myanmar people are very devoted to Theravada Buddhism as they would meditate and pray for a long time in front of the pagoda, the similarity does reminded me of the performing of Haji in Mekah. Around the pagoda too were candles and candles lighted and flowers were decorated around many of the Buddha statures.
The first day of Myanmar, I felt very invigorating, it’s an irony that there’s so many fallacy and myth about Myanmar, when actually there’s more to the book than its cover. I believe the term ‘truly Asia’ in our tourism advertisement should be reserved for Myanmar, coz Myanmar truly preserved the South East Asia cultural heritage, its multiculturalism and not to forget the people here are so nice and kind, reminded me exact what was used to be good about Malaysia that is increasingly gone now…