“The usual suspects”
Myanmar. November 2019. (9 photos)
“This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.”
So wrote Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) who was aged 23 years when he had a three day stopover in Myanmar (also known as Burma), soon after the British victory in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, during a voyage from Calcutta to San Francisco. Kipling wrote about his travels in a series of letters to The Pioneer newspaper, which were later organised into a collection; From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches: Letters of Travel.
“Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon – a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple spire. As it stood overlooking everything it seemed to explain all about Burma.”
… Kipling describing his first sighting of Shwedagon Pagoda.
Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, as it is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present kalpa. Built on a hill and with a height of 99m, it is visible from much of Yangon. It is gold-plated and the crown is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. Immediately before the diamond bud is a flag-shaped vane. The very top—the diamond bud—is tipped with a 76 carat (15 g) diamond.
“Traditional fisherman at Inle Lake”
But it was an unscheduled stop in Moulmein, the former capital of British Burma, that inspired Kipling to write in 1890 what would become one of the most famous poems in the English language, Mandalay, which begins thus:
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ eastward to the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
It should be noted that Kipling never visited Mandalay. Recalling the Moulmein Pagoda, Kipling wrote:
“I should better remember what that pagoda was like had I not fallen deeply and irrevocably in love with a Burmese girl at the foot of the first flight of steps. Only the fact of the steamer starting next noon prevented me from staying at Moulmein forever and owning a pair of elephants.”
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia. With a size of 676,578 square kilometres (261,228 square miles), Myanmar is the largest of the Mainland Southeast Asian states by area. As of 2017, the population was about 54 million.
“Street Market in Yangon”
When trucks and cars come along, umbrellas are moved away but the food is left in the middle of the road where vehicles drive slowly over it. I saw one seller get very animated when the wheel of a car rolled over the tail of a fish she had for sale.
Myanmar is a controversial and enigmatic country. In 1989, without any consultation with the population, the ruling military junta renamed Burma to Myanmar. At the same time, other names were introduced to replace British names and more closely correspond to their original pronunciation in the Burmese language. Thus Rangoon became Yangon, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
“The Banana Seller”
The international community is required to take a formal position on the name of a country in English. The name Myanmar was accepted by the UN and most other countries, including my home country of Australia. Hence, I will refer to the country as Myanmar. I did note that locals I spoke with refer to their country as Myanmar, but call themselves and their language Burmese.
However, some governments, including the US and UK, do not recognise the name change and continue to call the country Burma. In 2011, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visited Myanmar after more than 50 years of estrangement between the two countries. Interestingly, in speeches during her visit she referred to Myanmar as “This Country”.
“Balloons over Bagan”
It’s believed that from the 9th to 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan Plains. Today, just over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive in various states of repair.
“Child wearing thanaka”
Thanaka is a paste made of particular types of ground bark and has been used by Burmese women and children for over 2000 years, less so by Burmese men. It has a fragrant scent somewhat similar to sandalwood. Apart from cosmetic reasons for wearing it, thanaka also gives a cooling sensation and provides protection from sunburn. It is believed to help remove acne and promote smooth skin. It also has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
So this is Burma, as seen through my eyes, and over a series of posts I’ll be sharing more of my photography from my time in Myanmar.
I will try my best to prevent my blog from becoming a pseudo National Geographic Magazine.