Saturday, January 5, 2013

Yagon China Town and Shwedagon Paya

Chinese Market - Thouza, our guide
Making rice paper
The Chinese market area is where they sold every kind of fruit, vegetable and, of course, dead animals; an extremely chaotic, noisy and pungent place. There were a number of vegetables that were new to us and we also discovered that the staple ingredients for most Myanmar food included our favorites; garlic, ginger and hot peppers! The most fascinating shop was where the men were making rice paper. They put a glob of the batter on their hand and then they rub it very quickly on a hot griddle, leaving behind a thin sheet of the batter. Another man moves back and forth, turning and pulling off the cooked rice sheets. The minute a griddle is clear, the first man is back with his fist full of batter. There must have been twenty griddles at least that they were working to keep the sheets going. There is a big influence from the Thai and Chinese on the Myanmar cooking...a bit of India also but more so in the regions closer to the Indian border. We headed for one of Thouza's favorite Thai restaurant for dinner that night. It really was quite cheap, costing only $19 for three of us, including tip. Perspective is important...she thought the dinner Jeff bought was really expensive...lobster for $10!

Shwedagon Paya is probably the most famous pagoda in the entire city, sitting on a hill and visible from almost everywhere in the city. It glitters gold always but in the setting sun, it magically turns a crimson gold and orange. The very top of the pagoda has a round ball, studded with thousands of diamonds that also catch the suns light, reflecting it around the large, opulent platform.

Remember that legend about the hairs from the Buddha? The king that received them some 2500 years ago was told he should guard them well. He did so by enshrining the hairs in a golden temple on a sacred hill, the first building of the now famous Shwedagon Payahe. While legend claims thousands of years, archaeologists suggest closer to the 6th century as a construction period-we noticed this happening over and over again on this trip. Either way, it is still an impressive piece of architecture. The temple has had to be re-built many times due to earthquakes, war and raids, causing damage to varying degrees (let's call that the simplified version of history). The current structure dates back as far as the 1400's but the actual stupa was re-built/ repaired in the 1700's. Over the years, various Kings and Queens provided the means by which the stupa was embellished or expanded, creating many additions to the stupa itself and its surrounding platform.

Like anything else, maintenance is a constant process and here it’s a real process. Keeping these wonderful golden stupas and temples in a land of torrential downpours requires constant vigilance. While some things are painted gold, others are covered with gold leaf.  The stupa is repaired and then covered with a tacky lacquer that allows the gold leaf to stick well to the structure. Then, you have to get the gold leaf, donated by many enthusiastic believers and tourists. Well, you don’t want to have people traipsing up and down the stupa to get the gold leaf so they deliver it…using a dragon cart. 

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