01.03.2012 - 03.03.2012 28 °C
As I type this I'm seated firmly above the clouds some 4 kilometres above sea level, looking down across the vast landscapes of towns and cities in the eastern side of India. There's about two more hours until I land, where I should be greeted by someone from my volunteering program to take me to Jaipur. I have some mixed emotions, as of course I am excited, but also nervous. I'm nervous about my ability to fulfil my volunteer duties - I've chosen to work with street children in Jaipur, which as I understand it entails teaching English and games, as well as some hygiene awareness and encouraging families in the streets and slums to participate in our community programs. I'm not sure if that's a correct assessment but I guess I'll find out when I get there. I'm also nervous to meet all my fellow volunteers, as I'm stuck with them for a month or so, and hope to make a good impression. It's pretty much the feeling you get on the first day of school. Regardless, here goes.
On Thursday night after my last post in Myanmar, I decided to visit the Shwedagaon Paya - the most renowned religious symbol in Yangon and perhaps all of Myanmar. After a bit of travel in SE Asia, I've become a bit 'oh great...another temple...', but this truly was something beautiful, and much more than I expected.
From pictures, the Shwedagon had looked like a very large and pretty golden stupa, but when I entered the temple area, I found that there was much more - it is surrounded by several other temples and shrines. Furthermore, the time of our visit coincided with the Shwedagon festival, so the area was really alive. When I arrived in the afternoon it was quite busy, but by night time it had completely transformed. People were EVERYWHERE, monks, families, people young and old, had come to worship and view. It was really fun to visit as the Paya is still active, and it's great to see how the locals interact with these spaces and not just tourists like in Angkor. I had a similar perception of the caves we'd visited on Sunday. When you find something in Lonely Planet I expect it to be all tourists, but it's impressive and interesting to see locals. Additionally, because of the festival, beautiful coloured lights decorated all the surrounding temples, making the place really come alive. It was like Christmas time on Maple St, Lugarno 10 years ago - but shinier and on steroids. As I was walking around taking it all in in the afternoon, a young Burmese boy came up to me and started talking to me, telling me a lot about the temple. He knew many many facts and I learnt so much I had no idea about - from the bottom you can't see the diamonds or the bells on the top of the Paya, but he told me that there were something like 79,000! Not even mum has the same calibre of carats as were on display at this place.
While we were chatting we also bumped into Anna, a German girl I'd befriended at breakfast, and it turns out we we're born on the same day - Monday. In Buddhist religion, you worship the god of the day of your birth (Monday to Sunday and Wednesday has a separate morning and evening ritual). These 8 shrines are located surrounding the circular Paya. Our new friend pulled out a date book to show that we were on Monday, which was the day represented by the tiger and our planet was the moon. We went to the shrine where you pour cups of water over each part of your statue, with a certain number of cups allocated for each part.
After this, our new friend started to show us around, telling us many facts. I began to get suspicious that he was a bit of a tout and would expect payment but it was difficult to get out of, and I figured he just had a keen interest in the temple, wanted to practice his English, and was just another example of Burmese generosity.
We also found that by night time (probably visible during the day too) if you stand on four certain points surrounding the temples, you can see a shining diamond which reflects green/blue/purple. It's pretty cool when you get the right position, though unfortunately my phone camera has terrible zoom.
We walked around for another hour or so, meeting a few people and visiting various sites within the Paya area. Eventually we sat and somehow the conversation turned to the political state of Myanmar, as I asked about his view on the upcoming elections. The conversation took a strange turn and our friend was beginning to show a weird character (he had been for the latter half of the 'tour'). He began saying that the US was the best country as Hilary Clinton visited and the US takes interest in Myanmar, whereas Germany is -15 and Australia is -25 as we do not help. I obviously don't take these things to heart but felt offended at his mannerisms, and also the fact that this is plainly false (I did research on Australian-Burmese relations after to confirm) so I pretty much just showed disinterest in the conversation and tuned out.
Anna stook it out a bit longer than me, but eventually she stood up exasperated from his strange views and we went to leave. He then had the audacity to ask for a donation, so we reluctantly found him 1000K (about $1.20) but he would not accept - either because it was too little, or he didn't want to take it when we weren't happy to give it to him. I really hate when people pretend to be your friend then expect a payment, as foreigners are seen as walking ATMs. I expected that in Cambodia, but it was my first experience of this in Myanmar.
That night Anna and I went to dinner at the first restaurant I visited in Yangon. It was delicious but unfortunately Mimin or his beautiful son were nowhere to be found. Next time. The lovely young waiters were still there being cheeky though.
The next day, Friday, was a lazy day, packing and preparing for our flight. I was next to a kind German woman who was very interesting to talk to, and the flight was short so soon enough we were lining up at the heinous Bangkok immigration lines. Riley tried to convince me that there are sophisticated methods of choosing the best queue, and I told him of an article I read which said basically not to worry cos on the whole some days you win some, some days you lose some. Riley disagreed, arguing for factors like height and calculation, so I let him off on his merry way to speed through the queues. Oh, the satisfaction when I was sitting on the other side waiting for 20 minutes already with both our bags and Riley was literally one of the last people through!
We decided against our original plan of sleeping at the airport in favour of a nice shower and nights sleep back at Saphai Pae. We shared our room with a group of Pakistani men on their 25th year high school reunion trip. They were really really nice and Pakistan sounds beautiful, I only wish it was a bit more tourist friendly. Maybe in a few years.
Today I got up early and prepared all my stuff for the flight - which was lucky as I hadn't changed my clock from Myanmar and could have been half an hour late. The immigration queues were terrible again but I made it eventually, and soon boarded my plane. And now I am in India!!
As I write this last part of my post, it's 3.17am and I'm in a hotel room in Delhi with two of my volunteer colleagues. I was picked up at 4pm, where I immediately met Catherine, an 18 year old girl from upstate New York. We were told the other girl would be arriving at 11.30 and we would wait at the hotel, but the plane was delayed so we are spending the night here. An hour ago Sasha arrived, a 22 year old girl from Amsterdam. They both seem super nice, which I'm glad about, and I'm excited to meet Elena - a Spanish girl I found on the Sankalp Facebook page who arrives on Monday.
Anyway, now I shall get some sleep because we leave at about 7, and I'll update you once I get to Jaipur! So far all I've seen of India is the nice airport and the streets around this group of airport hotels. It's dirty and noisy as expected, but I can't wait to really see the country.
Ps my flight from Nepal - Kathmandu was cancelled so I'm considering changing some parts of my trip and maybe visiting Sri Lanka or Bangladesh or something! We'll see.