Sule Pagoda was neatly tucked away in the middle of the city. Shoes off when you arrive. Going barefoot was peculiar and my feet stunk after walking around all day in Yangon. Nevertheless, respecting local custom is important (although I had no idea I would be barefoot for the majority of the rest of my stay).
Sule Pagoda At First Glance:
The place is filled with tourists and locals alike. Local Buddhists frequent the location for spiritual needs, while tourists frequent it for Instagram. The golden spiraled structure hinted at a more glorious time in Burma (before the name was changed to Myanmar). A time of kings and opulence.
I scoped out a seat in one of the four main worship areas. Sat down. Closed my eyes. And started to meditate. Light Burmese chatter took on the role of background noise and competed with my thoughts for attention. A Buddha statue stared back in silence while I sat. A combination of deep breaths and a gentle breeze provided much-needed relaxation. After twenty or so minutes, I was ready to check out more of this place.
PRO TIP: Meditating in the shade is much more pleasant than doing so in the beating sun. Choose your seat wisely!
Buddhist Worship 101:
The central spire was surrounded by eight mini-shrines around its base. Each shrine represented a day of the week (Wednesday was split into two: AM and PM). I asked the locals for the meaning behind all this. I had to find the shrine corresponding to the day on which I was born. That was the place I had to worship. The locals gladly explained.
Okay. So, found Tuesday, no problem. Check. People were already there.
I took pride as a quick learner. Buddha statue, nine times. Check. Tiger statue, three times. Check. I proceed with the ritual. Smack the gong. Check. Touch the gold leafed Budda statue. Check. Again, every gesture done one time for each immediate family member.
PRO TIP: This is a serious place of worship for locals. Be mindful.
Monk With New iPhone:
“Hello my friend!”
I was greeted by a Burmese man, around my age. He wore a white shirt and a longyi.
“Where are you from?”
“Hi there. New York.” I smiled back, shaking his hand.
“Wah! New York City?! Cool place!”
He was a monk at the local temple. I was surprised. Yes, Burma was once a British colony and some locals spoke okay-ish English. But this guy’s accent was impeccable.
My spider-sense for bullshit started to tingle…
“Let me explain these shrines. Happy to teach you.”
“Thanks. But I already did it once.”
“No come again. I explain again.”
What the hell, I thought. And so tutorial 2.0 at the Tuesday shrine began.
After the dog and pony show, the monk asked me for a donation. My spider-sense for bullshit was now going full bonkers.
I explained my lost wallet situation. He did not believe me. He said he could take American dollars, and even “Chinese money” (exact quote)!
I tried reexplaining again. And again. And again. Finally, he settled for the next best thing – my Whatsapp – to keep in touch. Exhausted from the hustle, I obliged.
Out popped from his pocket, a newer iPhone than my own. I chuckled in silence.
We parted ways after exchanging contact info. I took a few more laps within the premises. My monk friend’s attention was on other tourists by then.
Till this day, I still get Whatsapp greetings from my Burmese monk friend. Is this what it feels like to have a pen-pal?
PRO TIP: Don’t get scammed by monks with new iPhones.
To The Next:
Sule Pagoda is cool. Conveniently located in the heart of Yangon is also a plus. Admissions prices are cheap and donations are optional – please, please, please remember they’re optional (assuming you don’t fall prey to scams). A lot to be learned about Burmese and Buddhist culture here. But if you’re short on time, there are better and more impressive pagodas in the city.
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