Saturday, September 29, 2007


Burma 2: Mandalay

by Larry Geller

From Agence France-Presse 09/28/2007

YANGON -- Thousands of young people riding on motorbikes protested in Myanmar's second city of Mandalay on Friday, but broke up their demonstration after soldiers fired their weapons, witnesses said.

Soldiers and police sealed off the city's monasteries to prevent Buddhist monks from taking part in the protests, and at least four monks were arrested, witnesses said.

Mandalay is a major center of Buddhist learning, and home to a majority of the country's 400,000 monks.

From the Wall Street Journal:
A monk in Mandalay has a simple message: Help us. As tens of thousands of protesters marched across Burma for the ninth straight day amid escalating violence, the monk spoke to me on the phone yesterday, to tell me about the protests. Hundreds of monks have been beaten and arrested in the protests that began on Aug. 19, and at least nine have died this week. With foreign journalists barred from Burma, being able to hear one man's story is rare, and powerful.

We should find a way to help the monks in Mandalay. We're talking here about one of the world's most sacred places. Please also see the announcement from the Burmese community of Hawaii at the bottom of this article.

Remember, I had let my guard down and drank some sugar cane juice with tainted ice cubes just before leaving Rangoon. So I can only tell you a little about Mandalay. 

At the base of Mandalay Hill is the Kuthodaw Temple, home of the world's largest book. The 729 stupas at Kuthodaw house 730 leaves and 1460 pages; each page is three and a half feet wide, five feet tall and five inches thick. According to the Wikipedia, the pages hold the Tipitaka Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism inscribed on them in gold. One more page was added to record how it all came about, making it 730 stone inscriptions in total.

The city of Mandalay was named after the hill. For about 200 years the path up the hill has been a Buddhist pilgrimage site. We began, of course, at the bottom, where two Chinthes stand guard (hey, they look like lions to me too).


The path narrows and there are small shrines or temples on either side, crowded together. For the rest of the tour you'll have to click on the link above, because very suddenly I needed to get back to the hotel. For me, that was all of Mandalay I would be seeing.

At the hotel, I realized that I would need some medicine. Yikes! This is Burma! What to do? They Medbagadvised the doctor would be right over. That sounded good, because at that point I could not stray far from my room. Shortly a doctor did arrive. A young boy (maybe 10-12 years old, I'm only guessing)  accompanied him a few paces behind and carried his black leather medical bag. I remember that my pediatrician, back in Brooklyn, had such a bag when I was a little kid. The young man placed the bag on a table near the bed and opened it. The bag opens at the top and the two sides unfold in the middle like trays.

The doctor was dressed in a black jacket over a white doctor shirt (same as here, it's how you know you're speaking with a real doctor). Below he was wearing a traditional white longyi, which is kind of tubular cloth wrapped around and folded over, without any knot. Burmese men are continually adjusting these things.

He felt my tummy, we both agreed on what was ailing me, and he motioned to the boy. The boy reached into the medicine bag and retrieved a glass Kodak film container with some pills inside. The container had a metal top embossed with the word "Kodak" in large letters. Even in the days before eBay I could recognize a priceless antique when I saw one. I asked if he needed the bottle, I could just take the pills into a container of my own. The doctor said no, it's ok, and left. The boy closed the medicine case and informed me of the fee. I don't recall the amount now, but I do remember that it was hardly anything at all. And it included the medicine! I paid the boy. He thanked me, picked up the bag, and imitating the doctor's dignified gait, turned and left the room.

I still have that glass Kodak bottle and I refuse to check on eBay to see what it might go for. It's mine.

No, Burma did not have a national health care system at the time, or else maybe tourists didn't qualify. No matter, my treatment hardly cost anything. By the time we needed to leave town, I was cured.

Meanwhile, Nanette linked up with a French couple who had a guide with a Jeep. It's her story to tell, not mine, but part of it I can relate.

The driver was a young woman with long, straight hair which she wound up with a wooden comb. She adjusted it often. She took them to remote temple where the head monk spoke French and English. Nanette discovered that he also spoke Japanese, but he couldn't understand the polite language that she naturally used to address him. It seems that he was a prisoner during the Japanese occupation. As a prisoner he never would have heard polite language. The Japanese soldiers had been far from respectful to him. Later he became a businessman and then a Buddhist monk.

Nanette learned that he had traveled to Japan to dedicate the World Peace Pagoda in Gotemba, Japan, near Hakone and Mt. Fuji. The pagoda is often visible from the bullet train on the way from Tokyo to or from Kyoto or Osaka, or from Lake Ashi in Hakone (see pic).

The French couple offered the monk money to buy one of the small images of Buddha near the entrance. They lived in Thailand where the King ordered that no Thai image of Buddha be removed from the country because tourists were not only depleting the country of important cultural properties but were treating them with disrespect. But it was apparently ok to have Burmese images and to take them out of the country. The monk refused.

Nanette left a generous donation. Unlike Thai monks, there was no prohibition against touching him, and they shook hands.

After returning to Japan, where we lived then, we were able to visit the Peace Pagoda in Gotemba. Nanette described her meeting with the head monk in Mandalay to the monk in Gotemba, who remembered him. She remarked to me that both of them had a spiritual quality, an internal strength and peace. She said it felt good to be near them.

Apologies for this inadequate travelogue of Mandalay. Check out the Wikipedia links above for more views of the city, second largest in Burma and one of the world's centers of Buddhist knowledge and wisdom.

Learn what you can about Mandalay and Burma. Don't let the current crisis be just a fleeting news story for you. The situation in this beautiful country is said to be worse than in the Sudan. Maybe if we know more about the place we can find how to do something about what is happening there now.

Tomorrow it's on to Pagan, and I promise a better tour than I've given you here.


THE BURMESE COMMUNITY OF HAWAII, HAWAII ASSOCIATION OF INTERNATIONAL BUDDHISTS and VIPASSANA HAWAI'I   Invite you to a Candle Light Vigil and Chanting for Peace in honor of the victims of peaceful demonstrations in Burma.  

Sunday September 30th 2007, 7:00 PM

WHERE:     Magic Island, Ewa side  

As you know, in the past days over 150,000 Buddhist monks, nuns, and lay people have turned out in marches all over Burma, a display of peaceful power in numbers not seen since 1988. They are calling, among other demands, for an apology from the military rulers for the death of one monk and physical attacks on other monks participating in a peaceful protest in Pakkoku earlier in the month.  

On the 17th and 18th of September, a number of communities of monks carried out the formal act of "patta-nikkujjana", 'turning over the bowl', in accordance with disciplinary rules laid down in the Buddha's time for instances of transgressions against the community. The motion first describes the ways in which the community has been transgressed against (in this case the killing of one monk and abuse of others in Pakkoku), and the transgressors (in this case the military rulers). By accepting the motion, the monks agree to refrain from associating with the transgressors by giving teachings, receiving alms, and so on. The act is temporary; if and when the offenders see their error and change their ways, the prohibition can be revoked. The power of the act lies in its peaceful intent.  

The junta government reacted to these peaceful walks with a military crackdown Wednesday. At least a dozen people have been killed, including a Japanese journalist and a revered Buddhist abbot who received a beating as soldiers raided his temple before dawn.  

Hope you can join us for this event or sign petitions supporting the Burmese people.


Free Burma!
International Bloggers' Day for Burma on the 4th of October

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.

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