Sunday, 17 April 2016

Mon State

On Sunday 17th April 2016 I wrote "I may be out of touch for a time whilst travelling in Mon State, Myanmar, but despatches will resume as soon as possible". Well, I had a wonderful (if exhausting) three days in Mon State with Doctor Hla Tun, Myint and Mi Mi visiting initiatives of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Project.


This was my fourth visit to Mon State and my third visit looking at OVC initiatives. The first, purely sightseeing, visit was part of my trip to Myanmar in 2012. You can find all in posts on this trip here. Then, in 2014, I accompanied Doctor HlaTun on his annual tour of inspection of projects which he part supports. My posts on this trip are here. I returned with the Doctor in 2015, as described in my posts here.

Travelling to Mon State

>On Sunday 17th April 2016, Doctor Hla Tun, Myint, Mi Mi and the writer left Yangon after 9.30 p.m. on one of the many 'Overnight Coaches' widely used to travel around the country.

Waiting for the bus outside the travel office in Yangon.

The reclining seats on the bus were in rows of 2 on left of gangway, 1 on right, pre-allocated. I discovered that, in almost every case, the latch on the seat back was defective so that seats were permanently reclined.

Myint and Mi Mi before we leave Yangon.

I had been puzzled by the tiny plastic moulded chairs carried on the bus. Once people were seated in the reclining seats, additional passengers were accommodated in the gangway on the small chairs.

Seating 2 + 1 + plastic seat in gangway.

Events of Monday, 18th April 2016

On arrival at Mawlamyine Bus Terminal, we were met by a car and driver which took us to the 'CARE' charity administrative offices where it had been arranged we could wash and briefly relax before setting off again by car to travel further south. I'm afraid it was 'brief' as it was around 5.00 a.m. when we arrived and the Doctor wanted to set off at about 6.00 a.m.!

Once on the road, the Doctor made a stop at a typical tea house for a snack with the sweet, milky tea the Burmese (and I) enjoy. Then, we stopped at the Win Sein Taw Ya Pagoda, housing the World's Largest Reclining Buddha. It was my fourth visit, but I believe the first for Myint and Mi Mi. Shortly after my third visit a year ago, the elderly monk responsible for the project passed away and there is now a hall of remembrance in his honour. Further building work was also apparent on both the original and second reclining Buddha figures.

By about 8.00 a.m. we had reached Kot Kha Pon - the first of the Drop In Centres ('DIC') we were to visit. Quite a few of the children who attend the centre were unable to be present on that date so distribution of school-related gifts was fairly quickly completed, the balance being left with the staff.

Our next visit was to Ka Mar Wet DIC, Where, as usual, we were made very welcome. After the presentations, the traditional group photographs were taken outside the DIC, with the children wearing their new, just received, uniforms.

To reach Ko Dut, where we would spend the night, our route took us through Thanbyuzayat on the main road. This was the location where the Death Railway, built by prisoners of the Japanese in 1942-1943, joined the Burmese main railway line south from Mawlamyine. For some time, one of the Japanese steam locomotives which was used on the Death Railway has been 'plinthed' at this location but what I'd not seen before was a modern museum building labelled 'THE DEATH RAILWAY MUSEUM' which opened earlier in 2016 and was packed with visitors. The Doctor purchased admission tickets (the 'Foreigner' pays an enhanced rate) and we looked around. The centre piece of the ground floor was a large 'trompe d'oeil' painting extending across the floor which attempted (fairly successfully) to give the impression of standing on a wooden trestle trestle bridge on the line. I was disappointed that lots of visitors were taking the opportunity to take that elusive "This is me standing on the Death Railway" picture. The other display material was, I thought, rather thin but appeared better researched. I left the museum with mixed feelings. I believe we must confront the evil in our past but I wasn't convinced that a 'Disneyworld' approach was appropriate. Afterwards, I found I piece from the 'Daily Telegraph' at here which appeared to share my reaction.

We stopped to visit the large pagoda on our route to Ko Dut and also looked at the Mon Ethnic School, where further building work was in hand. The new building replaced the now-abandoned wooden temporary shelter, now suffering termite attack. More startling, immediately behind the temporary shelter, a tall, shining triangular-section cellular radio transmission tower has appeared, complete with equipment cabinets and a large, sloping framework to support solar panels.

We were invited for an evening meal at the home of the manager of Ko Dut DIC. By this time, I was very tired so, on arrival at the DIC itself (where Myint, Mi Mi and I were to sleep on the naturally-ventilated upper floor) I was just keen to set up the thin sleeping mats and the mosquito nets and collapse.

Related posts

Next post describing this trip.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

Travelling to and from Mon State.
Win Sein Taw Ya Pagoda.

there are other pictures at Burma-2016. More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.

[Additional material added 21-Apr-2016: Link to pictures added 7-May-2016: Pictures and notes added 29-May-2016]

The Shwedagon Pagoda

"Would you like to go with my wife and I to the Shwedagon on Sunday morning?" asked the Doctor "We will leave at 4.00 a.m." The Shwedagon is, I'm sure, the most revered religious site in Burma and the chance to visit on an Auspicious Date (New Year's Day) was very attractive, even if it meant a rather early start.


Wikipedia gives a brief outline of the Shwedagon here. Historians believe it is no more than 1,500 years old but legend has its origins over 2,600 years ago. You can find quite a lot on the internet - I liked a copy of an English report from 1586 on the 'Sacred Sites' website here.

Events of Sunday, 17th April 2016

We made the brief trip from the Doctor's home to the Shwedagon by car, suffering a traffic jam in the last few hundred yards. Can you imagine - a traffic jam leading to a place of worship at ten past four in the morning? It was still completely dark but the whole area was brightly lit by electric lights. On foot, we passed between two large ceremonial lion statues - Chinthe - and climbed Singuttara Hill by one of four sets of covered steps leading to the elevated pagoda platform. Already, there were thousands of pilgrims kneeling in worship or simply promenading between the different features and there was a great sense of peace and goodwill. I was, once again, impressed by the sheer power of the ideas embodied in Buddhism to inspire the actions of its followers.

The Shwedagon on New Year's morning.

The central golden Shwedagon Pagoda, rising 325 feet above the platform and floodlit, dominated the view but there were also lesser pagodas and, I would estimate, at least fifty Prayer Halls, each with multiple Buddha images. The broad marble platform linking all these constructions was thankfully cool to my bare feet - I'd found an earlier visit in 2008 on a hot afternoon quite painful! That earlier visit was part of 'Round the World 5' and there are some pictures of the Shwedagon I took on that trip here.

On a visit to the Shwedagon, it's easy to see why the site is so evocative to the Burmese. When the military regime decided to build a new capital city at Napyidaw, they equipped it with a copy of the Shwedagon called the Uppatasanti Pagoda. I visited this 'pretender' in 2013 and was, despite my low expectations, quite impressed. Although the design was based on the revered Shwedagon in Yangon, as I commented in my post An Evening in Napyidaw "at least this young Pagoda has the good grace to be a few inches shorter".

After an inspiring early morning visit, I was given breakfast at the Doctor's home before leaving by car to the nearby lake, as on the previous day. This time, I sat on one of the concrete seats overlooking the lake whilst the Doctor and his wife did their accustomed out-and-back walk. Then, we drove to the covered market, still not fully open but with plenty of shoppers.

As we drove back to the Doctor's home, I noticed that a number of the Water Stations had been at least partially dismantled - the Water Festival was over for another year. Although it was only about 7.30 a.m., I could hardly keep awake but a couple of hours sleep refreshed me.

Tonight, we will take the overnight bus to Mawlamyine in Mon State to visit various Orphans and Vulnerable Children initiatives. I made this journey by bus in 2014, as described in the post By Bus to Mawlamyine, with links to subsequent posts. We repeated the journey in 2015, this time travelling by car, as described in the post here with links to later posts. Unfortunately, that trip was ultimately ill-starred as the car was seriously damaged in a Road Traffic Accident on the way back but, thankfully, without anyone being injured.

Related posts

Next post describing this trip.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

New Year's Morning at the Shwedagon

There are also some pictures at Burma-2016. More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.

[Link to pictures added 7-May-2016]