Katsudon for the Win

By now, you must have seen pictures of Myanmar’s Election Fever from yesterday on papers and social media pages.

I cannot stress how big yesterday’s election was for Myanmar.  People all over Myanmar and abroad turned up to cast votes for the first time in 25 years, and many of these people voted for the very first time in their lives.  Yangon was a wonderful sight.  After people cast their votes in the morning, massive crowds gathered in front of the NLD headquarters in the evening to watch the live counting shown on huge LED screens.

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Shwedagon Morning

I normally do not pray.

But I did once late last year, at a time of indecision and hesitation. And I was surprised that a friend’s aunt known as a clairvoyant in Yangon circles knew about it and asked me about it when I had already forgotten about it. This sort of thing is hard to explain but I now discount the unknowns in life a little bit less.

Do these unseen spirits walk around abreast human on Shwedagon? What type of judgements do they make? Does my outfit strike them as bizarre? Do they report back to clairvoyants? I wonder.

As I walk around the stupas, I think about the times I visited the place as a child or as a boisterous teen on so many birthdays and special occasions, sometimes just to read at a back corner, other times to bring along guests. The evolution of a hybrid being over the years.

Shwedagon is perhaps the best preserved heritage monument in this country. It is unique because it has various pavilions on the precinct, built over the course of many decades and centuries. Its environment is rich in layers of meanings, personal stories and historic events meaningful to a large group of people, rich and poor.

You will see a structure with a classical European plan with traditional Burmese details, right next to a modern, minimalist International Style building. You will see gold covered Corinthian columns in a very intricately traditional structure from 1911.

And this is exactly what I had wanted to see this morning: this beautiful and awe-inspiring union of elements blurring artificial demarcations between east and west. These various assemblies, with sikharas and Greek columns alongside one another all adding to a unified whole, embracing the many odd decades and enriching the space year after year.

This is what I aspire to.

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Bhutan = Everything in this country is RED!

Bhutan will be remembered as a country with a lot of red. This color brings up various memories and associations depending on the context. It can mean: Communism, love, passion, anger, violence, blood, Valentine, cheap lounge chairs in a fast food restaurant, and commercialism (most of the successful brand logos bear red). In Bhutan, red is Buddhism, originating from the robe of monks and nuns. The Bhutanese national flag shows off red as a deference to the Buddhist heritage.

The roofs are red, because that signifies the Buddhist heritage.

The roofs are red, because that signifies the Buddhist heritage.

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The rice is red.

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Even the green beans look red!

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The corn looks red.

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Beer is red.

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The butter tea I received looked red!

I am not going to sit around here and pretend like Bhutan is a rarefied quaint little exotic country. It has its shit. Bhutan has its fair share of trouble with census. Domestic violence is widespread. When asked if corruption exists in Bhutan, a Bhutanese man answered very politically:

“Bhutan is a free country and corruption is like stars. They are there during the daytime but no one takes any notice of it. You can only see the stars in the dark during the night-time.”

Nicely put! That said, Paro definitely makes you feel as if you are in some romanticized fictional kingdom in one of the Jataka tales, with the beloved King and Queen. This city has only 55,000 inhabitants. The farm houses look intricately designed with floral details and yet strike you as minimalistic and elegant. The soil is rich, with the stream flowing through the city, allowing people to grow red rice, potatoes and buckwheat. Wild flowers are everywhere!

I feel alive here.