Friday, August 13
Right after breakfast this morning, I was up and at 'em--no more lounging around! The first order of business was to buy a new memory card for my camera at a department store down the street. Since it was imported from California, it cost around $27, instead of the usual $15. Also, the package claimed an eight gig capacity, but it was
really more like four when I put it in my camera. What a rip off!
I also bought one more bottle of sunblock, since I was getting kind of low and I can't get stuck without it, or I'll transform into a huge, skin cancer-filled tomato. It was funny when I was looking for the sunblock, a group of six or seven girls surrounded me at one point and tried to tell me where to find it. There were also two security guards at every entrance. It seemed like this place had more employees than customers, even though it was crowded. Also, like every business in Myanmar, they wouldn't accept any U.S. bills with even the slightest imperfection. Since the U.S. imposed sanctions on Myanmar a few years ago, international banks left the country. As a result, U.S. cash is traded only on the black market, and only pristine bills are accepted.
It was a sunny day out, so I climbed up onto a creaky, dirty old city bus bound for Shwedagon Pagoda. This bumper car / toaster / torture chamber on wheels could knock the wind out of a blue whale, so it pretty much had no problem battering me into submission. Bus resume: Seats so close together I could only fit on the front bench with my legs out in the aisle, constant starting and stopping, brakes slamming, potholes jarring, and the worst humidity on this side of the sun make for one hell of a team player.
I was hungry as I made my way through the backstreets toward the Shwedagon. As always, most of the stalls offered up meat, and the one that didn't put a bug in my gut! Even though it was a sketchy-looking, cold buffet / airport for flies, I stupidly went for it anyway, as I knew it would be several hours until I had another chance to chow down. I ate some pasta, which tasted okay, and some unknown green plant-based glop that tasted horrible. Sure enough, later that night, my gut started to ache. This is only the second time on this whole trip that it's happened--the first time was about a week after I arrived in Bali. I couple of anti-biotic pills cleared it right up that time. Let's hope it works again!
The Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar's biggest and most revered Buddhist monument. Rising 300 feet above Yangon, this gold-coated monolith pierces the sky and the human mind with a sense of majestic oneness. Surrounded by 82 smaller buildings that house an endless array of Buddha statues and other fanciful creatures from this religion's lore, it foists a sense of awe upon the visitor. I literally laughed out loud with glee as I walked around and gazed at all of the fanciful eye candy. It's almost too much to endure in one visit.
Many different clusters of people prayed and made incense-smoked offerings while others tooled around and took in the magnificent architecture, statuary and paintings. It took me several hours to make my way around the whole circumference. A few people tried to foist guide services upon me, but I shook them off. Then a young Buddhist monk named Ashin Varasiha approached me for a chat. He was very friendly and kind, and seemed so happy to spend time talking about life in each of our respective countries. When I typed his name into my iPod, he even gave me his email address! It's always a pleasure to meet people like this who don't try to sell me anything.