On The Burma Road

Myanmar. Something’s wrong. What is it?  It’s not just this. In a safe ( for non-Muslims), quiet, non-automobile focused country, this sticker to the right definitely seems out of place. But, that’s not it.  

There is a noticeable lack of motorcycles. Why that is, when the motor bike is trusted transport for millions, I do not know. But there are far few moving targets to keep track of. Much less friction.  Less clotting. Less noise.  But that’s not it.

It could be the horns. Far more honking than Thailand by a factor of 100, but far less than Ho Chi Minh. But that’s not it either.

After two days, it dawns on me. The drivers sit on the right hand side of the car, like the British, but traffic also flows on the right, like in America. It is the darnedest thing and a little disconcerting. The public busses, though are all synchronized as in America.  People enter from the curb on the right.  Cars, though are almost entirely reversed. 

Like a turtle trapped atop a fence post, or an ill-informed strongman, one wonders how this came to be? How did that traffic decision happen?  “We don’t want to be a British Colony anymore, so we’ll switch the side of the street we ride on.”  “We have this vast shipment of used Japanese cars.  Might as well put them to good use, but we don’t have money to move all the signs.”


Despite annual monsoonal deluge of nearly 10 feet of water each year, there isn’t really fully clean water for everyone.  Nonetheless, they persevere.  Here is an urban water station in downtown Yangon.


Shwedagon Pagoda is the holiest temple in Myanmar and one of the oldest stupas in the Buddhist world dating back some 2600 years, if you believe the legend.  Nothing can be confirmed beyond the 6th century. It was founded when two merchants brought a box to the king containing relics from the last four Buddhas. 

When the King opened the box, all good things happened. The world was light.  Flowers bloomed.

These relics were sealed inside a series of nested smaller pagodas, made of gold, silver, copper, iron, and stone.  They were placed on a jeweled vessel which was placed on a pool of jewels. The main pagoda was then built on top of it and was gilded in solid gold.

Worshippers come and donate gold jewelry or bells and every 5 years or so, this is all collected, melted down and riveted on.

It’s said there may be more gold here than in the Bank of England. And while it may not be that much, at 99 meters, it is obviously a lot.

Also, at the very tippy top is a jewel encrusted urn with 1200+ carats of diamonds, along with other stones.

Approaching the pagoda as a nearly illiterate neophyte, I decided to circumambulate 3 times. Counter-clockwise as tradition warrants.  I started from the eastern gate and walked left.  Just after I started, a man walked up and pointed to a smaller lion statue labelled, “Tuesday”.  A faucet was at the bottom. 

A man walked up and pointed to the statue of a snake.  “That is the day of your birth.  That water is holy. You make offering. You say prayer. Everything get better”  He motioned for me toward the icon. I politely declined, and walked on.

I was sort of freaked out. I mean, how did he know the day of my birth?

My second time around, a woman pointed again at the “Tuesday” statue and encouraged me to make an offering.  Still I declined.

My third time, a monk passed by.  “Holy water. Holy water” he murmured. He smiled and nodded toward the statue. Despite a wish to make “everything get better”, I still didn’t try. Still wondering how they all knew when I was born and worried, I might do it wrong. Maybe it would be too much magic. Now, I may never know.

P.S. If you’re looking for a story to read, try this one from a blogger friend of mine….

Categories: Travel

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