This was our final day in Shan State, I think this was the day where I got to know the cons of this environment. I had some idea of how this country was flawed, but I think this was the day where I was most exposed to the country’s corruption.
The first thing on our schedule of the day was to visit one of the region’s greatest pagodas. Before we left, our group visited a temple with a great Buddha statue. The Buddha image was in a small room where there were decorations, so we all had to take our shoes off. I did this until I realized that only men can enter the room and the women had to stay outside and see the Buddha from a far distance.
For those who do not know Burma, it is a very superstitious country, and its beliefs can be very rational on one hand but very conservative on the other. For example, Ne Win (the former Prime Minister of Burma) was told by numerologists and fortunetellers that the number 9 will bring him the most luck. Therefore, he changed the whole currency so all of the kyat bills ended in 99. This same kind of thinking again applies to my next point as to why women were not allowed into that certain room. Women around Burma are not allowed to enter certain places, because in local traditions blood is considered to be a weakness of the body. Therefore, since women shed blood once a month, it is believed that the blood they shed will ruin the pure and holy spirit of the temple. This is why none of the women in the group or the residents could enter.
This same concept applied to the next place we entered, which was one of the great pagodas of Burma. The Gang Hmaw Pagoda is known to be one of the most ancient and sacred pagodas of Burma. It is known that many politicians come here all the way from the capital city to pray at the pagoda, and it is said that every time their wishes became true. There were many smaller pagodas that decorated the temple before they were destroyed in World War II by Japanese air raids. However, after the war, one monk took charge of rebuilding the pagodas into its present beautiful condition. I also realized while I was exploring that you can climb onto these pagodas. No one was really paying attention to what I was doing. I saw a man standing on the top on them, so I thought it was perfectly fine for me to go to the same spot. I was able to take a couple of pictures, when one of our Burmese tour guides quietly told me, “No women allowed.” I slightly panicked that I had superstitiously ruined the holy place of the pagoda. However, I then had to consider that I couldn’t have been the first woman to stand where I was standing in the span of the 800 years this pagoda has been standing.
Wong Metta Union and Anti Drug Trafficking
Soon after we were done with visiting the pagoda, we went to visit a nearby temple. We then again did our usual routine as at the previous nunneries and monasteries. The monastery had a school and was part of this large Wong Metta Credit Union. However, what was different about this monastery is that they had an anti drug organization, which tried to stop drug trafficking in the village. This village has been going through problems with drug trafficking since the 80’s especially with amphetamines, opium, and heroin. They had a recent incident where a man slit his wife’s and his child’s throat after taking a dose of drugs. Not surprisingly, once the adults are exposed, then the adolescents are exposed, which has also led the children being exposed to drugs. Since the problem has been escalating since the 80’s, they finally decided to make an organization to stop this.
Head Monk in Nam
After we were done with our session with the monastery, we had our lunch and finally set out for our next stop at a former Shan state prince’s palace in Hsipaw. However, this was more like a summer lodge or summer palace, not a typical South East Asian grand palace. The palace’s exterior looked very much like a British Victorian house. However, it has been abandoned for years, and no royal family lives in it now. The concrete is cracked, and there were a lot of weeds in the garden. However, we did meet a royal family member, who was the descendent of one of the other Shan state’s tribal leaders. She graciously told us the recent history of the Shan’s royal family bloodline. The prince who built the palace had lived in Britain so he made a British looking house rather than living with his father in the main palace. However, he died of tuberculosis with no heir, so his nephew ended up inheriting the throne. Since his nephew spent a couple of years in America, he ended up coming home with an Austrian wife. His wife was one of the first foreigners to ever marry into royalty in the region. She learned to speak and write in the language to better connect with the people of the region. They had two daughters that were of mixed Burmese and Austrian blood. However, when the first prime minister of Burma, U Nu, was overthrown by General Ne Win in 1961, Ne Win summoned all the royalty of Burma’s regions to Yangon (Rangoon). They were then arrested on the spot without a proper hearing or charge. The Austrian wife was afraid that the Burmese government would try to find her and take away her children. Therefore, she immediately went to the Austrian embassy in Yangon and tried to certify her children as Austrian citizens. They were then immediately helped and escaped from the country. Finally, after ten years of imprisonment, the royalty were finally released from prison. However, her husband, one of the tribal chiefs of Shan State, was nowhere to be seen and never heard from again. She had been told that he was murdered, however, the government did not say a single word about his whereabouts. Therefore, every year on the anniversary of his death/disappearance, the wife and her children write a letter to the Burmese government asking where he is, and every single time the government refuses to reply. Since then, the wife has married an American and has written a book about her life in Burma called Twilight Over Burma. The book is currently banned in Burma. However, the woman there offered us the book in Burmese, Shan, English, and Thai.
Since that was our final day and that was our final visit, we finally went back to Pyin Oo Lwin. There was a 6 – 8 hour drive ahead of us and not much happened besides when these “security check” men came to our car. These average clothed men suddenly walked up to our car with flashlights and one man climbed on top of our van to look at the suitcases. I was too tired to really take notice of what was going on until my father whispered to me (gun-tai) which means military in Japanese. Since there is more of a chance of Burmese understanding English than Japanese whenever something secretive came up, my father always told me in Japanese what was happening. I was a little panicked when I heard this. Then again I was tired, so it was kind of an annoyance to me rather than a frightening experience. It was not that bad in a wat since all they were doing was checking our bags and not pulling us out of the car and arresting us. However, I did find it a little idiotic that they would go to so much trouble just to look at our bags that just had clothes, toiletries, pens, paper, food, music devices, and maybe a camera.
After this, we finally arrived at Pyin Oo Lwin. We then stayed there for a couple of days and went back to Mandalay. These days were not as eventful and we were not visiting everywhere so I will not tell the stories of what happened at this place. However, in the end I was able to fully reflect on what happened and got some rest during these days.
I was happy in the sense that I was exposed to all of this and could see such things. However, I was starting to miss my life back in Japan, so I was starting to feel a little home sick. In ways I am very glad I do not get homesick very easily. I remember on my first field studies in sixth grade, some people were crying on the first day because they were in a different region far from home. However, here I was in a different country with no way of contacting home since even the landline at the monastery we were staying had a horrible connection. I think in this way it helped me to fully experience everything, since I do not keep thinking of home when I see everything. I do compare it, but in ways I do not get sick to my stomach because I do not miss it. Even sometimes when I am back at home, I wish I were somewhere else because I am sick of home. Therefore, I was glad to find out what were my limits and how far I can stretch my limit. However, if I were to do this again, I would like to stretch my limit even further. I do not know why I wish this, because I did not like the conditions of how I needed to stretch my limit. However, everyone can learn more and that is exactly what I want to do. I want to learn more about interesting topics; I want to have more experiences; and I want to freely reach my limit without anyone stopping me. Therefore, in the end if I were to have another chance to have a trip like this I would love to stretch my limit even further.