Friday, November 10, 2017

The Swdedagon Temple and Tycoon Pun

Monkey Man, Martita, Prima and Primo at the Swdedagon
The first visit on Sunday, was a visit to the Swdedagon Pagoda. Primo and Prima have visited there on several occasions, but because of the vastness of the shrine, did not mind visiting again. The Pagoda is located on Singattara Hill close to the center of town. On the East, West, North and South of the Pagoda, are ornate, covered staircases, leading up to the gold clad stupa. 
One of 4 staircases leading to the Shrine
It is a circus and riot of humanity leading to the entrance of the Great Dagon Pagoda. Snake Handler’s, food booths, religious ornamental stalls, flowers for shrines, beggars galore and children passing out plastic bags to carry your shoes when inside the Pagoda. They give you a bag and then ask for money. I gave my bag back to a little girl much to her surprise. I had no small change for her and as many NGO’s and social service workers in the area state, “to give children beggar’s money, discourages them from ever going to school.” I am not sure, as we already know how much it costs a poor family in Cambodia to send a child to a free school, but when in Rome, I will follow my Roman friends lead.
Let me sell you a shoe bag
The stairs lead to a metal detector that all should pass thru. No guns or weapons here. Just flowers and offerings. At the ticket booth, they give the Monkey Man and myself longi’s to wear. Our shorts are too short. All footwear is removed – no shoes on holy ground. We are approached by an English-speaking Guide – Myat – and we hire him for the day. 
Myat giving Prima a business card
Myat turns out to be a wonderful and informative guide. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His father was a principal of a school.  Like so many educated persons in developing countries, he can make more as a guide than in his chosen profession.
Keeping the Pagoda in good shape
The pagoda is claimed to be 2600 years old, making it one of the oldest in the world. The main stupa is gilded in gold, with 4600 diamonds covering the top as well as a 71-carat diamond. The main temple claims to have several strands of the Buddha’s hair and it is customary for followers of Buddha to make a pilgrimage to the Pagoda, once in their life time.
Her first Pilgramage
Inside, it is a cavalcade of color, sound and people. Families abound. The many pavilions that house the multitude of Buddha’s, provide shelter for hot and weary pilgrims. Prima and Monkey Man take the time to photo bomb some Myanmar beauties – which respond with laughter and more pictures. We pose thruout the day with lots of locals-we are as exotic as they. Everyone has a cell phone for pictures. Everyone shoots a “peace sign.”
Clean up crew
 We stay till our feet are burning on the white marble floors and until we are overloaded with the LED lights that glow behind the deities head.
Pouring watere
Myat has been a good sport with us, as we are not the normal tourists and never have the normal questions. We have also overstayed our original time with him. Therefor he is tipped well and he give us one last piece of information – where to eat lunch.
Pouring water over their birth-date shrine for good luck
A quick taxi ride takes us to the Feel Restaurant. Large and local and on the street. The bus boys gather close to us. Everyone want to say “hello” and giggle. Nothing on the menu looks familiar, but what the heck? I have what ends up being a wonderful ginger salad, with a steaming cup of cappuccino. We share bites of food and eventually wander over to the desert station, where the lovely waitstaff is happy to have you sample the colorful offering.
Satiated, we must hurry back to the Beauty-Land Hotel #1, to get ready for dinner with the Tycoon Pun (poon).
Free water station at the Pagoda.
Primo and Prima are active Rotarians and they have made contacts in Yangon thru the Rotary. Their idea, is to find another worthy cause for the Jamestown Rotarian’s to support. Thru hook, crook and sinker, Primo has been emailing with Mr. Pun about a meeting and upon refusing Mr. Pun’s offer of golf, has wrangled invitations to his home for dinner tonight for the 4 of us.
Prima has obtained white roses to present to Mrs. Pun, for her hospitality. The Pun’s live outside of Yangon at the Pun Hlaing Estates and Golf Club. His instructions to Primo is “go to the gate and ask for me. They all know who I am.” 
71 carat diamond at the top of the Stupa

The community is high end. Really high end. Even by American Standards. We wind down the road looking for the right address and spy to our right, the country club. Only it isn’t the country club, it’s Mr. Pun’s house. It’s bigger than the hotel where we are staying. Mr. Pun is outside waiting for us in shorts and a button down. We are invited to the rooftop, where his other guests have been enjoying the sunset over the Bay of Bengal. There are other guests, a New Zealander his Chinese wife and child and her parents who have just arrived from Mainland China. Ms. Pun is delightful and has being a hostess down to an art form. 
Lady Buddha
The home is in a High Chinese Style – lovely appointments and minimalist. The Pun’s extended family lives in the 15,000SF home (I did not make a mistake with that number) There is Mommy, Daughter and her husband (the ice carver) and his father, 6 servants and quarters for another son and daughter who spend more time away than there. For such a random group, with such disparate backgrounds, we all manage to have a really nice time together. 
Free water station on the streets
At the end of the evening, Primo is able to take pictures with Mr. Pun and the Rotarian Flag. Letters on introduction will be sent to the school in Bagan, for our visit there.

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