Today is Oct. 20, 2016, my 57th day in Myanmar.
The past weekend was Thadingyut, a.k.a. the Festival of Lights. It’s the first of hopefully many major festivals I get to experience in Myanmar.
Myanmar Times gave a quick and to-the-point explanation of what the festival is all about: “Festival of Lights celebrates the descent of the Buddha from heaven, after preaching Abhidhamma to his mother, Maya. And we pay respects to our elders, apologizing for any sins on our part.”
People draped multi-colored lights on their windows, hang lanterns above the porches and lit candles just about anywhere they can. All this effort is put out with the hope to light up the path for the Buddha on his descent. But I didn’t notice the city’s almost overnight transformation during the weekdays, before the official festival took place. I live too much in my own bubble of imagination when I walk down the street to be fully aware of the changes around me.
But when I came to a less familiar part of the city Friday after work for some soup dumplings (which were splendid, if I may add), the lanterns and lights that hang in the balcony of every apartment, and the strings of lights that covered the streets, were too obvious and too delightful to neglect.
It’s nice to be reminded at the moment of exploring a lesser-known part of the city to not slack on curiosity and observation in a new-ish life that I’ve started to feel familiar with and comfortable in.
Fast forward to Sunday, I visited the Shwedagon Pagoda for the first time in almost two months. No idea how, but I had never heard of Shwedagon before I arrived here (which made some of my initial interaction with coworkers quite embarrassing:”Have you visited Shwedagon?” “What’s that?” “Only the most well-known landmark in Myanmar?”)
On Thadingyut, people go to pagodas to offer flowers, food and candle lights, pay homage and offer alms. Crowds and vendors started gathering half a mile outside of the Pagoda when I arrived around sunset. The closer I get, the denser the crowds grew.
Inside, shoulders rub against shoulders while people take loops around the massive structure. Projector lights are thrown on Shwedagon from all angles, while the gold-covered structure amplifies the light and shines through the darkness. I wonder why, among the many times I’ve looked at this beautiful thing from afar, I never stepped inside.
It’s nice to be reminded at that moment of visiting a well-known tourist site that the more you think you know something, the less you probably do, and the harder you should try.
But what I really want to talk about regarding this past weekend was Saturday, when I took this picture. I had spent close to six hours in a cafe near my office that morning for wifi access. I talked to my mom for hours, the first time that we did so outside of regular text check-ups after I came to Yangon. I caught up with a good friend for hours and later chatted with someone I only recently connected with. After several hours of Skype and several coffee, I left the cafe to head home.
The path I was taking was one that I take daily, to and back from work. I leave early in the mornings, and often leave for home when it’s dark out. Always with a destination in mind, I barely ever stop to see my surroundings.
Saturday was different. I was content after some really fulfilling conversations. I was full in my stomach and free from stress. I wasn’t tight on time and wasn’t going to places. I was simply walking on a path I was so familiar with, when I looked up and saw this scene.
There’s the usual electric wire going to all different directions. And there’s the building pictured where our branch office used to be in before we all moved to our current new location. And there’s also the blue sky dusted with white clouds, which all seem too soaked up in the afternoon sunshine to float or move, just like I was.
It’s nice to be reminded at that moment of staring into the sky and taking this picture that I am lucky enough to be where I am, and the beauty of my everyday life is worth every last bit of my energy to discover.