Messages From Myanmar #05
29 October 2015
Photo Update Alert:
Hello there… Rodger French here.
One of the great perks of being posted overseas is that State Department personnel get to celebrate local holidays in addition to our own. In Argentina, where holidays were often seemingly declared for no particular reason, this resulted in numerous shorter workweeks, which is always a good thing. Myanmar, alas, has significantly fewer holidays, so we are appropriately grateful when they roll around.
The Thadingyut Festival is held on the full moon day of the seventh month of the Myanmar calendar, this year on 28 October. Also known as the Lighting Festival, countrywide celebrations encompass the days before and after, but the full moon signifies the end of Buddhist lent and commemorates the Buddha’s descent from heaven back to the mortal world. This is a very big deal; so, about two dozen of us met up at the Embassy and sallied forth to Shwedagon Pagoda, the epicenter of Thadinghut activities, to take it all in.
The CLO (Community Liaison Officer) had engaged a small but very nice bus, so we had a good perch from which to observe Yangon’s increasingly crowded streets. People were out and about everywhere, walking or packed into buses, taxis, and pickup trucks. The traffic, problematic on a normal day, eventually succumbed to gridlock; so we elected to disembark and walk the last few hundred meters.
When we arrived, our guide (who had previously enlightened us as to some of the history of Shwedagon and the Thadingyut Festival) procured our tickets. Then we took off our shoes, readied our cameras, and joined several thousand celebrants riding the escalators up to the Pagoda.
From this point, I find it somewhat daunting to conjure a suitable narrative (seriously, look at the photoz), so permit me to default to the highlight reel.
Lights & Photography - This was our second visit to Shwedagon, but the first at night. For those of us with decent, though not extravagant cameras, twilight is the perfect time of day. Naturally, the Pagoda is always spectacularly lit, but add to that the scores of paper lanterns and thousands of burning candles suffusing the sky with smoke and the effect becomes somewhat hallucinogenic.
People Wall-to-Wall - Smiling, contemplating, praying; making offerings of fruit, flowers, and light; picnicking, visiting, skylarking, taking selfies.
Old Gringo as Tourist Attraction - On several occasions I observed locals taking my picture on their cell phones, which is a thing here. As is folks wanting to have their photos taken with Westerners, as is mothers encouraging their babies to wave at the white guy. It was all very friendly and charming, so of course I was happy to oblige.
After about 90 minutes, we had circumnavigated the Pagoda, so we decided that it might be a good time to make for the egress. Good call, since there where thousands more people streaming in as we departed. Where they were going to stand, I have no clue, but the festivities continued unabated. As for the Americans, we took the bus back to the Embassy, where A.J. and I hailed a cab, making it home just as the full moon was rising. A special night indeed.