yangon (and how i question my travel goals)

i recently came back from yet another trip to yangon, myanmar. been frequenting the country because of a project, but i’m always regretting how my missions there are always within yangon. i miss having to go to communities, to rural areas. the travel is hell, sure, but once there, seeing all that nature has to offer, it all becomes heaven.

however, i’m confined to meetings and discussions for the past missions i’ve been there so i’ll have to just make do with that, and try to enjoy the city as much as i can. it gets tiring though. and sad, in a way. there’s really not much to explore in yangon, except for the usual touristy places, like bogyoke market (for all that jade and gems and yangon souvenir stuff); people’s park (which, frankly, should just be a couple’s park, with all the couples that we’ve seen occupying all available benches and hidden spots, with some opting to cover themselves with an umbrella and Lord knows what they are doing underneath); and of course, the shwedagon pagoda.


i’ve been here three times already, and inasmuch as i respect the whole place (it is, still, a place of prayer for the burmese), i also have conflicting feelings whenever i go here. it’s become more of a tourist area, with so many foreigners visiting and taking pictures. sure, i’m guilty of that, too, been taking a lot of pictures since i first visited, but i’ve refrained from taking selfies. i just feel like i shouldn’t.

so i just take pictures of the pagoda itself (i’ve taken plenty, in all the angles it seems, and i am still in awe with how grand it is), and the people who are there. there were the usual group tours with a guide; the families who go there to spend some time together; the young ones who probably prefer to go there to hang-out instead of the mall (young myanmar people, it seems, are still not into the mall culture, thankfully); the monks who are unmindful of the throngs of people around them and still are able to concentrate on their prayers; the ladies who go there to offer flowers and candles and incense after a day’s work; and those foreigners with high-tech cameras who probably have taken up much of their memory cards with all the different shots of the pagoda.

some images i just had to capture, albeit stealthily so that i wouldn’t ruin an interesting picture because i got caught doing it. there were these people on the steps of one of the smaller pagodas, a father and daughter who were just observing and looking at whatever is happening past them, a woman in deep prayer, and another young woman concentrating on something on her phone. in another image, there were two young women seated on the steps, taking selfies. then there is this one with an older lady, standing by the side of another set of pagodas, looking up at the shwedagon and offering a prayer.

i just felt like there is so much contrast in everything that you see at the shwedagon. for me, i can’t seem to reconcile how modernity can blend in a very ancient setting. there’s free wifi in the area, for crying out loud. i am in awe of how the Myanmar people are still able to concentrate in prayer, even with too much technology and foreigners ‘invading’ a place of worship. i would easily get so distracted if i hear as much as soft chatter around me, even if i am immersed in prayer.

maybe such is real faith. regardless of anything that may disturb you, real and genuine faith will blur and block these out. maybe the problem indeed is not on how fast we are being overtaken by advances in technology in this day and age; the problem lies on how honest and sincere we really are in our faith, on how strong we hold on to our beliefs.

i suppose i will still never understand it fully, no matter how many times i visit the shwedagon or any other pagoda in yangon. i sometimes have this attitude of resignation that once you see one pagoda or temple, everything else will look the same. but of the three big pagodas i’ve visited in myanmar, so far, my favourite would be the floating one over at indawgyi lake. i felt that this was the most serene pagoda i’ve ever been to, maybe because it was in the middle of the lake and the pilgrimage season was over when we visited. the locals told us that the lake can be overcrowded also because of the pilgrims and tourists going there in february because of the pilgrimage season. nevertheless, i felt more at peace in that floating pagoda. maybe i am an old soul, after all. inasmuch as i find myself a ‘slave’ to technology lately (for work, for social media), i know i could survive without it.

pagodas, temples, old churches…they all have the same effect on me. i feel at peace whenever i visit, and yet i struggle to absorb a lot of the conflicting feelings in me. maybe i need to resolve something in myself whenever i travel. i try, really. it seems i may have taken for granted the privilege that i am given because i get to travel for work, and somehow lost my sense of adventure and marvelling at all the new things before me.

next time, maybe. i will look at yangon (or any other next place i visit) from a different lens. i will try to stop questioning my intentions, and i will try to resolve the conflict that i might have just taken on by myself. maybe then, something brighter will pop out for me.



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