Yanks in Yangon

Last week my father & I made a quick two-day jaunt to Myanmar to visit some local pastors and see their seminary in Yangon. It was a bit of a shock going from Bangkok to Yangon, a city which feels about 30 years behind the times (LCD TV stores notwithstanding). I couldn’t shake the feeling that TinTin would show up soon and reveal the mysteries hidden in the pagodas and markets.

We did most our sightseeing on the day we arrived; most notable was a trip to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, which is just one part of an enormous Buddhist temple complex. It felt like 50% of the entire country’s wealth was contained there. It cost us $6 each to get in, but I think locals go free so there were a lot of people just sitting around, napping, eating lunch, etc.

I should’ve expected this, but I was still surprised at how much Yangon is influenced by India. We celebrated this fact on the last night by eating at a massive hotel buffet that featured Indian cuisine. Plus I snuck in a bit of sushi and an eclair. Otherwise, Indian.

Photos of the trip (mostly featuring Shwedagon) can be found on Flickr.

There was a lot of downtime between engagements with the pastors & students so I spent a lot of hours tearing through Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke. I really dig Johnson’s manic style: I read Jesus’ Son in one sitting a year ago and only took 3 days to devour this 614-page epic. It’s a very remarkable novel, and I think sitting in Thailand & Myanmar reading a novel set in Vietnam & the Philippines really added to the experience. Very different countries, sure, but all Southeast Asia — the grime & sticky heat of Yangon provided a better context than, say, a winter cabin in Vermont.

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