A Conversation with a Monk

At the weekend I took a walk through the Shwedagon Pagoda, the largest in Yangon.  It’s an incredible sight. Swathed in gold, white, green and red.  The massive 326ft high main pagoda rises high above the city and can be seen at night from a large part of the city.  In the pagoda environs there are numerous (but not swarms) of visitors, and foreigners account for only a few dozen.  It’s refreshing to be in a place whose origins date back more than 2500 years but has room to relax and reflect on the real reason most are here… reflection, prayer, learning, worship, hanging out with friends, and having lunch.

I spent much of an hour or so just wondering around, watching people go about their business.  Monks and nuns, young and old, made their way around the pagoda, some looking decidedly happy to be there and in each others company, some of a more contemplative ilk, staring up at the looming golden tower.

I wandered around the back as I headed for the gateway I’d entered but at the last temple, I decided to stop at the edge and watch some of the conversations between an elderly monk and a number of others.  It was a happy and relaxed affair.  I was caught completely off guard when I was asked by one lady to come and join them.  She was a lovely, bright and cheery lady in her early fifties with reasonable English.  We chatted about life in Myanmar and the ubiquitous “what do you do, where are you from” conversations.  The monk, a man in his eighties, had a wonderful history and part to play in the independence of Burma, standing up against slavery and oppression.  His teeth, missing, worn down, or rotten, did not wither his smile and his interest in the conversation.  I have to admit that understanding fully the broken English of the conversation, along with the split infinitives that made the conversation akin to trying to understand Yoda speaking in a staccato rhythm.  However, what I did get was that this man had lived beside the pagoda since 1980 and had clearly been part of much of the political upheaval in the decades that followed.  I was glad to get out and about despite feeling miserable from a cold that I’m currently pushing down.


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