Saturday, November 11, 2017

Temple Time

Monkey Man, Myat and Primo goofing off in Yangon

Our last full day in Yangon was spent on exploring the city without much direction.
As we tend to do in far off, exotic lands, we look for Temples-Jewish Temples.  While all the great Churches and Buddhist shrines are on the tourist lists, it is usually, somewhere off the beaten track that one can find a small enclave of Jews. Yangon is no exception.
Inside the Temple
As Myat was such an excellent guide, we called him to join us today on our meanderings. So So Wen, the manager of the hotel, checked him out when he entered the lobby. You didn’t need to know Myanese to hear the inflection in her voice “you better not mess with my guests!” But Myat is registered with the government to be an official guide, so there wasn’t much she could carry on about, other what a mother hen is expected to do.

Looking toward the front entrance.
 First stop of the day is Temple Musmeah Yashua on Street 26. The first Jews arrived in Burma in the 1800’s; around 2500 of them, mostly from Bagdad. The temple is considered a heritage site and was built in 1890’s.
Prima, Monkey Man with a member of the Temple.
As Jewish wealth grew in those early days, Jewish philanthropy grew as well. The community donated large sums for local schools, libraries, hospitals, and helped local Burmese in many different ways. The Burmese were very appreciative of this aid and the country was a welcome and tolerant home for Jews for many, many years. The golden days of Jewish life in Burma came to a close when the Japanese invaded in 1941. Japanese occupation forced most of the Jewish community, along with most of the British colonial population, to flee to other countries. Some Jews returned after the war, but they soon realized that the beautiful life they remembered was no more and their homes and wealth were gone.
A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walk into a hardware store.....
Nowadays, there are about 200 Jews living in Myanmar and the upkeep on the Temple is from tourist’s like us, who donate at the door. 
Monkey Man making friends in the park.
Myat doesn’t understand, that guiding this group is like herding cats. He is ready to take us to a beautiful Stupa in the center of town. We see a street of hardware stores and head toward that. Most of the merchants here are Muslim. Everyone is friendly. The old men want to take pictures with Prima and I. Lots of laughing ensues. The older folks here remember English Rule and have some English-speaking skills. Myat is not sure about us, but it loosening up as we go. You can tell he is proud of his city and he wonders what we find so interesting in the paint and plumbing stores. Finally, he herds us back on a tourist route, with the promise of good coffee. We reach the center of town. Colonial Buildings surround us, in various states of repair/disrepair. It looks a lot like Cuba here: grand old buildings, worn down from time and neglect, beautiful in their neglect. The Myanmarese are trying not to let outside money come in the country, so renovation is slow to non-existent. 

Colonial Architecture interspersed with Chinese
We eat a lovely lunch at The Rangoon Teahouse. It’s touristy, but air-conditioned with great cappuccinos. Sometimes it’s ok to not be local. Myat sits with us for lunch, which is not typical for guides. We find out that he is 40 years old (god, he looks great for 40!) is Married to a woman who wants to be a designer and has a 5-year-old at home.

Water is available for free on the streets.
Yangon is just another big city. How many Stupa’s and churches can you go to? we wander down to the market and decide, we just don’t have it in us to fight the crowds and smells and stalls and vendors. But Myat insists that we visit one more site, near the hotel before we call it quits for the day. 2 taxis’ later, we are at the central park at the Unique. It is a faux mountain built with an observation deck on top. The view is splendid and we again get to be in a group photo with a visiting family from the Shan district. 
Fading beauty

This, Ladies and Gents, is a floating hotel

After heartfelt goodbyes to Myat, we return to the BeautyLand #1 and feast for a last meal at SK Hotpot.

The View from the Unique of downtown Yangon

No comments: