We thought it was a hell of a joke. We lived in a small country highway siding town in southern Australia, what was known then as the ninety mile desert. The problem was there wasn’t a lot to do at night. But my brother and I figured it would be the highlight of our week if we nicked one of those solid wooden white posts from the side of the highway. Better still we’d sneak it into our parent’s bedroom while they slept. Oh what a surprise it’d be when they wake up!
I was reminded of that little story when here in Myanmar, or Burma as it was known. The story here goes back to the 1820’s. In this case, British soldiers were busy plundering the Shwedagon Pagoda. They too no doubt thought it would be a huge joke to nick this 23 ton bronze bell from the local Pagoda. Problem though was, en route to Calcutta, the bell fell overboard and sank into the sea. At least we returned our prized haul the next day. The Brits left it to the locals to later recover their bell. It now sits atop the pagoda platform.
Now there’s Pagodas and there’s Pagodas. But even for those overdosed on Pagodas, the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, home of the infamous bell, is impressive. It’s like a village of gold featuring an endless collection of Buddahs of all sizes. The Pagoda however represents just a small proportion of the country’s Buddahs. With a Myanmar population of 53 million, it is suggested the number of Buddahs is ten times that.
Yangon has been described by some as a smaller Bangkok. It certainly has the similar big Asian city traits. The sprawling market centres, streets lined with food stalls and merchandise along with those distinctive Asian street smells. Further north, Bagan offers a totally different feel. It’s dusty streets ….well before it got drenched with flooding rains, give it an almost rural feel. Yet it’s big enough to offer the full range of good quality services such as accommodation and restaurants. It has a certain casual easy going attraction about the place you feel as soon as you arrive.
Bagan was once the capital of the prosperous Bagan empire, around the 11th and 13th century. The empire featured a massive 10,000 temples and pagodas. Today, about 2,200 structures remain. It is famous for being one of the most dense concentrations of temples and pagodas in the world. It certainly looks it too. There’s temples and pagodas all over the place, in all shapes and sizes.
It’s not just the huge number of temples scattered across the landscape that stand out. It’s also the even greater number of ebikes that have taken over the region. If video killed the radio star, the ebike has almost annihilated the once popular traditional horse and cart. Apparently only within the last three years. Truckloads of ebikes from China came down. Now almost every street corner rents ebikes. By contrast, the occasional horse and cart plods slowly along, dodging ebikes zipping in all directions past them.
The horse and cart however offered an interesting twist to my stay here. 17 years ago my daughter visited Burma. She was asked to deliver a gift to Horse Cart 101. It was a watch and an English Dictionary from a customer. Apparently Ko Ko the owner, burst into tears when he received it. I was curious.
I made it a mission to find Horse Cart 101. I eventually tracked down Horse Cart 101. And he still remembered the gift. A video link back to Nicole was a nice warm touch to finish the search. They agreed both were a bit older, but Ko Ko now spoke near perfect English. To complete the story, the search is now on for the customer who provided the gift.
Meanwhile business is certainly a lot quieter for Horse Cart 101. But I wait with much interest to see if in fact Horse Cart 101’s fortunes could be turned around? Sometimes new ideas are a bit like “borrowing” a white post, or a bell… they just need to be taken from somewhere else!! We’ll wait and see???
THIS WEEK’S VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS
Join me on a tour of a thousand year old village in the heart of Myanmar and discover some interesting secrets….
An insight into the Shwedagon Pagoda….
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