A Gift From a Monk in Myanmar (450 words)

I made many wrong decisions during my first visit to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. I walked over 4 km from my hotel and arrived during the peak heat of the day while the temp was well over 100°F/38°C.

I had considered wearing my Longyi that morning but opted instead for shorts. This means I had to rent a communal Longyi at the Pagoda entrance to cover my knees. As is typical for temples, no one is allowed to wear shoes so I was walking - or rather running - around with bare feet. 

The sun was scorching throughout the cloudless sky which caused the floor tiles to heat up like hot coals. Everyone was running from one patch of shade to the next, trying to relieve their suffering soles. 

As I was navigating a maze of smaller stupas, I came upon an old monk who waved me over. He offered me a drink of water even though I had my own supply. He made some small talk and told me his name is Tegyi and he is 83 years old and he takes the bus to Shwedagon every day. I had a feeling he was going to ask for money, but technically monks have to. By definition they beg for everything, even food during daily alms rounds. 

 

I respect the Sangha so I gave him a 5,000 kyat note. It was obviously much more than he was expecting. In return he offered me all three sets of his mala beads and his water and even his English-Burmese dictionary. I accepted the small, black wooden beads which I could tell were worn and had been used often; not just bought at a market that morning.

This seemed like a small win after my series of sweaty mistakes. 

I thought I was pretty special until I saw a photo of the same monk with a German guy from my hostel on Facebook. (Although I'm certain he did not receive the same gift.) 

I'm curious, do you think this monk was legit or was he just trying to profit off of tourists? If you've been to Shwedagon, have you met him as well?

Much Love,

My Fortune Telling Fail in Myanmar (225 Words)

Today I decided to sweep around the stupas because stepping on small rocks and sticks significantly detracts from the benefit of walking meditation. It was barely 8:00 but beads of sweat were already dripping off my nose and forehead like a leaky faucet. 

I was approached by an old Burmese man who invited me to come sit in the shade for a bit. He had very limited, broken English and there was hardly any comprehension happening on either side of our conversation so I tried to thank him and shake his hand so I could get back to work. Instead he grabbed my hand and flipped it over to study my palm. 

I was excited and fully expected an insightful, prophetic, Eat, Pray, Love or Holy Cow type of experience. Instead, the only words I could comprehend as he pointed to different parts of my palm were water, small sister and sleep. So I have no idea what my supposed fortune means other than perhaps my younger sister is planning to purchase a waterbed?

Also I'm pretty sure he was drunk for three reasons. It wasn't a familiar scent but I think his breath faintly smelled of foreign liquor, he very clearly said the word "alcohol" during our nonsense conversation and he said repeatedly "I love you more than words can say."

So, yeah. 

Anyone else had funny fails while traveling? Let me know in the comments so I can LOL.

Much Love, 

Review of Foreign Volunteering and Meditation at Thabarwa Center in Thanlyin near Yangon, Myanmar (325 Words)

Thabarwa Center (actually a whole village) was founded by Venerable Sayadaw Ashin Ottamasara hosts foreign volunteers who want to do good deeds and/or meditate. I did plenty of both. 

Try to arrive Sunday/Wednesday morning; informational meetings held at noon these days. 

It's April, so I was perpetually sweaty, dirty and a little stinky until that glorious cold shower in the evening before bed. But so is everyone else. Between 5-20 other volunteers each day I was there. 

One of my typical days at Thabarwa. 

4:30 Wake up

5:00-6:30 Yoga (in my room by myself but most others participate in morning meditation)

6:30 - 7:00 Breakfast (rice + stuff)

7:00 - 8:00 Alms Rounds with monks or sweeping/cleaning/work

8:00 - 11:00 Continue chores or socialize with other volunteers 

11:00 Lunch (rice + different stuff)

12:00 - 16:00 Read in Library (the only place with air con) or meditation or do special projects

16:00 - 17:00 Walking with patients in wheelchairs

17:00 - 18:00 Walking meditation around stupas

18:00 Dinner (Vit-C drink mix for me since I'm observing 8 precepts but rice + stuff for everyone else) 

19:00 Basic Buddhism class

20:00 Glorious cold shower followed by a load of sink laundry 

21:30 Lights out, eye mask on, earplugs in

Just relax and go with the flow. You can do as much or as little volunteering and/or meditation as you want. Longer term volunteers can teach English to monks and nuns. I even did a couple graphic design projects for the center. 

Shared accommodation and meals are basic but free. However, I recommend making at least a small donation before you depart like $5 (5,000 kyat) per day. 

Free, filtered water throughout the center. 

Cats and dogs everywhere. 

Keep shoulders, knees & everything in between covered. 

Things to bring: mosquito repellent, dietary/digestive supplement, hand fan, reusable water bottle, hat, handkerchief, nuts & dried fruit (sealed to keep out ants). 

Much Love,

Yangon Travel in 200 Words / 5 Pictures

E-visa Tourist 28 days
Yangon International Airport (RGN); Present PRINTED COPY of approval letter @customs

Main city is walkable; also use public busses, train, pedi-cabs and taxis

Chan Myaye Guesthouse: So nice, I stayed there twice! 
(in private room $20-$22 USD per night)
Dorm beds (fan only), singles with A/C en suite or shared bathroom
Great location, yummy breakfast included, sweet staff
So many stairs

 Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Must-See: Shwedagon Pagoda

8,000 kyat entry, huge complex
No shoes, floor gets very hot mid-day
Keep shoulders, knees covered
4 entrances (north, south, east, west)
Contains Buddhist relics, possibly the oldest stupa in the world (2,600 years old)
Walk clockwise, Know your birth day of the week so you can stop at that section of the stupa

 Shwedagon Pagoda Complex

Shwedagon Pagoda Complex

Also:
Sule Pagoda: Downtown near city hall, Ancient Buddhist stupa, site of 1988 Uprising

 Sule Pagoda

Sule Pagoda

Bogyoke Aung San Market: Jewelry, arts, crafts, clothing (closed Mondays)

Circle train: 3 hours, under 500 kyat, see a lot of scenery and locals

 Snacks for sale on the Circle Train

Snacks for sale on the Circle Train

 The view outside the city on the Circle Train

The view outside the city on the Circle Train


Kandawgi Lake - FREE, nice green space, playgrounds (east of Shwedagon)


Peoples Park - west of Shwedagon, green space with museum, 5,000 kyat entry


Botahtaung Pagoda - Near Yangon River 3,000 kyat entry
(The rest of the river is mostly industrial.)

 

Feel free to ask more specific questions or for advice in the comments. 
Much Love,

The Wetter, The Better! Thingyan Water Festival | Yangon, Myanmar

Thingyan is a Theravada Buddhist water festival celebrated in Myanmar around mid-April right before their traditional new year. In modern times, it's a playful water war that is waged on both the city and village streets across the country which happened to last five days this year.

Many people ride around in the back of trucks to get doused by hose-weilding people on temporary roadside spraying stages called pandals. They are literally like human car washes. No where and no one is dry. Which is ok, because April is the hottest, driest month of the year here. This week the temp was over 100ºF/38ºC every day. (A similar festival called Songkran is celebrated in Laos and Thailand around the same time.) 

I met a couple guys in my hostel at breakfast and we later set off in search of festivities. It took all of three seconds after leaving the hostel to start getting doused; locals especially love to get foreigners wet so we were moving targets. You'll start getting splashed early around 8:00 or 9:00. Then there's kind of a break during the peak heat, maybe noon til 15:00 but the water wars resume. A dry truce is supposed to happen around 18:00. 

There was a stage and a huge crowd in front of the Town Hall near Sule Pagoda and it didn't take us long to get picked up by a truckload of locals. The truck was packed with people, water reserves and beer. We drove past a few splash stations and got soaked with firehoses. The force of the water knocked my hat off of my head and when I was finally able to look up, I saw that it had landed on the road and someone on a truck behind us had seen and retrieved it.

Well, I wasn't about to lose my favorite hat that has traveled the world with me since I bought it from a surf shop in Bali so I jumped off the back of our truck and ran to the truck behind us. (Best decision ever to wear my vibrams that day instead of flip flops.) I saw a dude on the truck wearing my hat and pointed to it emphatically because the music and crowds were so loud that he wouldn't be able to hear anything I said. He pointed at the hat then at me. I nodded and he took it off and tossed it down to me. Victoriously, I raced back to my own truck. No thing left behind! 

A few kilometers out of the city center, we promptly got a flat tire. No worries, though, we just joined a splashing station on the side of the road and doused trucks and busses as they drove by. Yep, even the public busses are fair game during Thingyan. 

The main event seemed to take place on the road near Inya Lake. There were at so many pandals set up with entertainment and/or water hoses that the streets were flooded. The guys and I followed Htet and Jesse - our gracious hosts for the day - through crowds of people dancing and moshing through a perpetual, manmade monsoon. Steve and I were armed with buckets and Walker ended up with a pretty sweet dolphin gun with accompanying backpack. 

In the city, people gather on the streets and in any public water source, including fountains and pools. There is no shortage of street food and I enjoyed my fair share of fried things, fruits, grilled corn, fresh-pressed sugar cane juice and - wait, stop everything - ice cream. 

After leaving the city, I'm glad I also got to experience some rural Thingyan celebrating after arriving at Thabarwa in Thanlyin. People, especially kids, are just as ready to soak you with water. Instead of trucks and stages, substitute motorbikes, village houses, small shops and buckets on the side of the road. 

I have to admit at first, I thought this was an incredible waste of natural resources, but eventually realized it all evaporates and will come back during the rainy season. Did I mention how refreshing it is to be soaked with water when its ridiculously hot outside?