Yay, Yangon!

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” -Rudyard Kipling

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I’ve always been fascinated with the ability we have to be guided by our noses into recalling memories. In the summer before my senior year of college, my family was in the Red River Valley on my grandparents’ farm celebrating my grandma’s July 4th birthday. We had made an annual event of it, along with my seven cousins, all fairly close in age. I used someone’s “Body on Tap” shampoo (this was the late 1970s; anyone remember that?) The weekend became especially poignant three weeks later when my cousin Craig was killed in a motorcycle accident. A year or two later I happened to use the same shampoo. I remember closing my eyes and breathing in the scent of the last weekend I spent with Craig. It was surprising, overwhelming, sad and comforting all at once. I have a feeling that it would elicit the same response today.

As we walked the streets of Yangon before sunrise this morning, the assault of foreign smells was at times overwhelming. I wish I could somehow attach them to my photos. Kris and I remarked that some of the strong burning scents were reminiscent of Africa. Ever since we landed in Singapore a few days ago, I’ve been reminded how different the smells are from those to which I am accustomed.

Myanmar is incredible. The people are beautiful, graceful and kind. We visited the Sule Pagoda early to see it glisten against the sky as the sun was rising. It’s difficult to describe how incredibly beautiful it is. A monk was reading scripture on the loudspeaker. The locals were arriving to pray. Cats were everywhere. Colored lights, draped over the gold leaf, flashed a harsh reminder of the two and a half millennia that have passed since the pagoda’s completion.

In our three hour early morning outing, we saw no other westerners. A monk even took our picture. The infrastructure of the city is in ruins; sidewalks are full of holes, garbage is strewn all over the streets, buildings are in a state of disrepair like I’ve never seen. We saw one area near a park set up protesting the military government. We wondered how long that would be there. The poverty in which people live is hard to fathom. Hopefully the rise in tourism will help.

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The lady in the photo was selling eggs. Her little boy loved seeing his digital image. Although she didn’t ask, she was happy to receive a few dollars.

Tomorrow we’ll embark on our 8 day river adventure up the Irrawaddy. More to follow….

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