Monday, October 10, 2016

Arms wide open in Yangon

Morning is the best time to explore a city. The promise of a new day washes off its slumber. It was just before six in the morning in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and once its capital. The sun was struggling to get up when I stepped outside my hotel. Taxi! Taxi!, was the chorus that greeted me. 

I wanted my feet to do the exploring, so I carried on up Sule Pagoda Road toward the aptly named Sule Pagoda, with its gold covered Stupa rising up in the middle of a traffic circle. I passed weathered colonial buildings that spoke of past grandeur now fading into history. “Welcome to Luxury,” read the large sign on a building under construction. The promise of a new grandeur, perhaps.  

Sule Pagoda

Next to the Pagoda, a few buses idled while their conductors called out like auctioneers looking for new fares. Close by, I came to the square-shaped Maha Bandoola Garden, named after a war hero, who fought the British in the first Anglo-Burmese War in the 1820s. In one part of the park a large group of people were doing aerobics, moving to the sound of music that drifted from a portable music player. Others were doing tai chi, while others still were sitting in quiet reflection.

In the middle of the park was a tall obelisk commemorating Burmese independence from Britain in 1948. Apparently, it replaced a statue of Queen Victoria. Sitting at the base of the obelisk was a young man. When he saw me, he smiled and said good morning. I reached out and shook his hand. He told me his name was Ko. I complemented him on his good English. He said he learned it from tourists. This is when I expected him to hit me with a hard sales pitch to be my tour guide, or sell me some postcards or lead me to his uncle’s shop. But he never went there. We talked some more and then just as I about to walk away, he smiled and said. “In a while crocodile.” A phrase no doubt learned from the tourists.

Ko Ko
Ko Ko

I stopped to talk to three other men. They pointed at the tall moment and spoke of independence from Britain. There didn’t seem to be any hard feelings. They were complimentary of the British, saying of them that they are very disciplined. The men come here many mornings and walk around the park. Very disciplined themselves, I thought.

On my way out of the park, a man, who could be a paler twin of James Earl Jones, wished me a good morning, as did a woman.  How could it be, I wondered, that such a kind people could have been subjected to a regime for decades that was repressively the antithesis of kind. It seemed cruelly unfair.

There’s a welcoming spirit in Myanmar, and its arms are wide open.

Yangon is home to the largest number of colonial buildings in southeast Asia. Many of them have been abandoned. Here nature is reclaiming itself

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