Saturday, August 27, 2016
PRECIOUS AND BEAUTIFUL… Framed against the night sky, the Shwedagon Pagoda is covered in gold and 6,500 diamonds, rubies and other precious stones.

Asia revisited

Editor January 6, 2016

I’M sitting on the top deck of a luxury cruise liner. A waitress has just bought me a tall glass of iced tea. Sitting next to the swimming pool those crystal blue waters look so inviting. Yes it’s a tough life but somebody has to do it.
Over the coming days we will visit some 20 ports, so it’s certainly a chance to see Asia from the sea.
We started in Singapore. It’s been tens of years since I was last there and how it’s changed. It’s a vibrant exciting city and the food is fabulous.
They say if you want to know anything about the place you are visiting then ask a taxi driver and I did.
Yes sir, Singapore is going ahead in leaps and bounds. We have an unemployment rate of less than 2 percent. Everyone has employment, even the old are encouraged to keep working even if only a few hours a week and the government will look after the rest with pensions and health insurance (sounds like Australia).
But life can’t be all roses. What worries the average person? My taxi driver said it was the world phenomenon of the Islamic group Isis where young people are becoming radicalised and joining this organisation in the Middle East.
Did the taxi driver have a solution? Well yes sir our school system encourages students to do visits to mosques, Christian churches, Buddhist temples etc. so everyone has a basic understanding of each other’s religion, we hope it’s a step in the right direction.
I remember being in Borneo some years ago where a similar program operated. Indeed all school students had to attend one another’s religious classes so they truly understood each other. I wonder if that’s the answer?
Leaving Singapore far behind we have set sail for Malacca and Georgetown in Malaysia and then Phuket in Thailand; all exciting places but I’m looking forward to visiting Rangoon, Myanmar, where tourism is just starting and there is so much to see.
Myanmar or Burma, as it was called by the British, has only recently started to open up to the outside world.
Held under tight control by its generals activist, Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest for many years but finally the government allowed her freedom to move about the country and at elections she was voted a seat in government, and now leads the government.
Myanmar’s (pronounced Me-An-Mar) capital Yangon, or under the British Rangoon, is a bustling kaleidoscope of people, cars and motorbikes and at peak hour the traffic is slow.
The many motorbikes are banned under the law. It seems that a motorbike-riding would-be-assassin tried to take out one of the generals who immediately had motorbikes banned.
Well that may be the law but nobody seems to worry, with cheap imported bikes from China and Thailand everywhere.
The big ‘must see’ in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda, said to be the earliest Pagoda since the time of Gautama Buddha. It has stood there for over 2,500 years. The golden Stupa stands 326 feet high covered in pure gold. It shines bright in the sunlight and adding to its gleam are 6,500 diamonds, rubies and other precious stones. It is truly a sight to behold.
I have had the honour of visiting many of the major religious sights and believe me this is up there with the best.
If you make your visit at sunset you are in for a real treat. As the sun goes down on the golden spire thousands of visitors walk clockwise around the Stupa.
Huge lights come on to frame the giant stupa against the night sky, monks from as young as 7 or 8 years old together with the older monks honour the event, people sit in quiet meditation, all minds concentrating on the Pagoda, and its Buddha relic inside. The night is electric with beauty and wonder.
We had three days in Myanmar, giving us time to travel out of Yangon and visit other centres. On the way to Bago, the ancient Mon Capital, we visited the World War II cemetery containing the graves of 27,000 Allied soldiers. This is only one of three such sights honouring the massive war dead of Burma.
Another interesting day can be spent visiting the local markets that sell everything from food and clothing to gold. A fun way to do it, is to travel to the market by horse and cart and return in a trishaw, travelling past the many old and new houses of Yangon. There is a marked difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’ Indeed if you travel out into the countryside you will see hut after hut made from very basic materials, no doors or windows just openings to let a cooling breeze in, and space for the family to sit and sleep on the floor.
Well the sun is setting on Yangon. It’s time to reboard our cruise ship and set sail for our next port.
Until next time,
Safe Travel’n,
Geoff Vallance.