Loy Krathong revisited – three years on….

As I headed to the airport yesterday afternoon, I passed an increasing number of roadside displays in preparation for Myanmar’s Full Moon Tazaungdaing festival celebrations, keenly aware that I would miss the festival. However, thanks to an article in the in-flight magazine, I was pleased to learn that the Thai Loy Krathong festival would be today.

I was pleased, but the realisation also hit me with a jolt.  I was instantly transported back three years to my first experience of Loy Krathong. In 2009, the Festival fell on November 3rd, one month and one day since life changed.  On that day, three years ago I had just had my first chemo, I had had two rounds of surgery and I was starting to lose my hair.

I wrote a short blog post, which makes emotional reading for me.

It is another day for quiet reflection and deep gratitude.




A bit of a break

It has been a bit silent on the blog front for a few days.  For good reasons.  I am still all of a tremble from my Obama encounter, but even more of a boost has been a long weekend out of town……

I will let a handful of images tell the story for now, the headlines being idyllic seas, white sandy beaches, fishing boats, fruit sellers, sunsets and sunrises and probably the best seafood in the world.






Lucky stars.  Counting, counting, counting………….

A Day to Remember – Shwe Dagon and presidential synchronicity!

I had no idea this morning that today was going to be a Day To Remember.  I had no idea when I posted my update and change of image about Shwe Dagon and the days of the week that this would be in the international media only a day or so later.  Of course I knew, however, that President Obama was visiting the country today, and in the back of my mind I was vaguely aware that he might visit Shwe Dagon during his visit.  But I had absolutely no expectation that today would be such a day to remember, and chime so closely with the post I wrote less than 48 hours ago. This has been a highly significant day for Myanmar, and this post is but my own personal reflection of such a memorable day.

There was a palpable air of expectation, pride and excitement in the city this morning and I could hear “Obama” in conversations all around me.  It was very difficult to know what his itinerary or route would be, for security reasons, so we were all trying to gather snippets from folks we knew in various places.  We knew he would be in country for around six hours and we knew his key meetings and engagements. My close colleague had in fact phoned me on Saturday to apologise that he would not be at work today.  When he explained to me that he had been invited to the speech at the university I could not work out  whether I was insanely envious or massively delighted for him.  I  decided that I could quite legitimately be both!

We knew that President Obama would arrive mid morning and sure enough, the internet told us that he had arrived, and that Pyay Road was closed.  At the traffic light junction outside our window, the traffic was confused and congested.  We assumed Obama would be passing along Pyay Road, which runs parallel to our road, at the other side of the park.  No expectations to see anything at all.

So I was mildly surprised to see one side of our road clear, and along with a friend decided to investigate.  We were not alone!  Curiosity and speculation were rife and expectation and hope high.  Before long, the road was closed off in both directions and the junction was becoming busier.  Even the bird seller had abandoned his birds and was waiting expectantly!

We soon heard that Obama was in his meeting with our Myanmar President, so we knew they had passed along Pyay Road.  Then we heard a whisper that he would visit Shwe Dagon.  The very same Shwe Dagon that I wrote about this weekend.  There were counter rumours that removing shoes could be a problem so perhaps they would not visit the temple.  Then we saw  through the trees in the distance at the top of the road, the line of the motorcade with its flashing lights, cars passing one after the other. Disappointment at being so near yet so far slammed into me.

So I am not quite sure why my friend and I decided to walk further up the road.  We still had no expectations, but the road was still closed, so perhaps, perhaps the motorcade might pass by us still.  Opinions were varied but tended more to assume that he would not pass down our road.

We waited though.  As long as the road remained closed there was still some hope.  Gradually, I could feel an increase in expectation and would jump every time a police car or motorbike sped down the road.

Then, in the distance I heard a siren, and engines.  And within moments the long motorcade was heading around the corner, slowing as it curved around the road and right past us.  There were only five of us at that bit of the roadside, squealing with excitement as the first stretch limo with Hillary Clinton passed.  It was followed by an SUV and then the Presidential limo.  All five of us were cheering and waving frantically.  What is about these occasions that turns us into teenage squealsters?

As the car passed, we could not believe our eyes as we saw President Obama turn his face to the window and raise his hand to wave back to us! This was massively beyond any expectations any of us had harboured and we erupted in a hysterical outburst as the motorcade continued past us, some very stern and serious faces at the following car windows.

So I knew that President Obama had visited Shwe Dagon.  It was not wild speculation to assume that he would have given offerings at the shrine of his born day. I was curious about whether his entourage would all visit barefoot.

And this is what the reports told us later:

Obama made a surprise stop at the Shwedagon pagoda, where he, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and their entire entourage, including secret service agents, went barefoot up the giant stone staircase of one of the most revered sites in Myanmar.

Obama took part in a ritual often carried out at the pagoda—saying a blessing at a section of the pagoda platform that recognizes the day of his birth, Friday. Obama poured 11 cups of water into a basin, turning to reporters to explain that he was dousing “the flames” of anger, hatred and other vices.

So now you know.  President Obama is Friday born.  And this Saturday born dragon-gecko was fortunate enough to have a truly memorable day and a tenuous presidential endorsement of my very recent words on the blog!

And what a monumental day, for this amazing country that I am so privileged to live and work in.

A change of view and the days of the week

It is time for a change of scene.  The background image of a lakeside sunset needs to be refreshed and a new image found to replace it. The difficulty in selecting a replacement is in the immense choice of beautiful things to share.  I am surrounded by wonderful images and am spoilt for choice.  So this time, I have decided to share one of my photos of the iconic Shwe Dagon Temple in Yangon, a very important place of worship for all Myanmar Buddhists.  And it is impossible to do that without talking a little bit about it too.

Shwe Dagon is visible across Yangon, especially at night, and is bot serene, spiritual and spectacular.  The temple is always busy and the sounds of chanting, prayers and worship surround the variety of rituals and meditations.  Despite the throngs though it feels beautifully peaceful.

There are four main entrances to Shwe Dagon, facing each of the four compass points. As with all holy sites in Myanmar, visitors must remove their shoes before the first step at any of the entrances. In rainy season I slither around the shiny surface and in dry season I avoid going in day time because it is so hot underfoot.

The perfect time to go is either sunrise or just as the sun is setting.  At the end of the afternoon, the sun sinks in the sky and the colours dramatically within the space of a half hour or so.  The sky turns violet……….

And then suddenly it is night, and Shwe Dagon is illuminated, visible from many parts of the city.

In Myanmar Buddhist tradition, the day of the week a person is born decides a great deal from a persons name to how events such as moving house, marrying and undertaking new projects. Myanmar people will know immediately which day of the week a person is born, by their name.  Recently we acquired a puppy, and discovered several weeks later that she was Tuesday born and we have given her a Thursday born name!  Please don’t tell anyone!

Before visiting Shwe Dagon, or any temple you should know the day of the week you were born so that you can visit the appropriate shrine and make offerings, receive blessings and carry out the traditional rituals. Each day of the week has an animal assigned, and Wednesday has two meaning that there are eight points where people carry out their rituals, and again this is designated by compass point.  At each of the eight posts there is a Buddha image and devotees offer flowers and prayer flags and pour water on the image with a prayer and a wish. We pour one cup of water for each year of our life, plus one. At the base of the post behind the image is a guardian angel, and underneath the image can be seen the animal representing the day. The animals that represent the days are:

Sunday – Garuda (mythical bird, Hindu/Buddhist bird deity)
Ruling Planet: Sun
Ruling Direction: Northeast
Personality/Attributes of the Garuda
You are kind and generous. You would give the shirt off your back to someone in need. Some think you are overly gracious. You love a challenge. The tougher the obstacle the more motivated you are to crash through the barrier to reach your goal. You are energetic, and rarely allow life to get you down. You naturally motivate others, and are an inspiration to many.

Monday – Tiger
Ruling Planet: Moon
Ruling Direction: East
Personality/Attributes of the Tiger
You are very intelligent and intuitive. You have a keen eye for detail. You are strong and patient, but only to a point. You detest being taken advantage of and you don’t like people wasting your time. You are goal oriented and like to succeed. You are respectful of laws, and take responsibility for your actions.

Tuesday – Lion
Ruling Planet: Mars
Ruling Direction: Southeast
Personality/Attributes of the Lion
You are a crusader, a natural leader, and a noble person. You hold yourself with dignity and honor. You can be strong-willed and opinionated, but you are usually correct in your estimations. You make decisions easily and don’t like to compromise. You’ll take on any challenge, especially if you are supporting the underdog.

Wednesday morning (up to 12 noon) –  Elephant (with tusks)
Ruling Planet: Mercury
Ruling Direction: South
Personality/Attributes of the Tusked Elephant
You are unpredictable and enthusiastic. You have a taste for danger and action that sometimes gets you into trouble. You are spontaneous and people love you for your passion. You are independent and like to be in control of all situations

Wednesday afternoon –  Elephant (no tusks)
Ruling Planet: Rahu
Ruling Direction: Northwest
Personality/Attributes of the Elephant (no tusks)
You can be hard to figure out because of your contradictory nature. You are a private person and do not like people meddling in your business. However, you are excellent at promoting yourself and your works. You like taking action, but only if it’s a sure thing (little risk involved). You are very successful (especially in business) and you are able to accomplish achievements on your own terms.

Thursday – Mouse or Rat
Ruling Planet: Jupiter
Ruling Direction: West
Personality/Attributes of the Rat
You are clever, witty and intelligent. You have the ability to tap into resources and look at things from a opportunistic viewpoint. You can be introverted and quite, but you are unstoppable when it comes to getting what you want. You are focused and driven (sometimes overly so) and have a knack for getting ahead.

Friday – Guinea Pig
Ruling Planet: Venus
Ruling Direction: North
Personality/Attributes of the Guinea Pig:
You are naturally artistic and creative. You have tons of fabulous ideas, but have a hard time seeing them through to completion. This may be because you are going in so many different directions at once. But you hesitate to pick one thing because you bore easily and get tired of the same thing. You are loving, kind and very sympathetic. You are very sensitive to others, and make a wonderful friend.

And finally we have Saturday.  Thanks to the “Monday’s child is fair of face” rhyme I have always known that I was Saturday born and would have to work hard for a living.  So it was exciting to learn that my born day denotes that I am a dragon or mythical snake, and how my personality is perceived according to that.  Although recently a colleague asked me which day I was born.  She expressed surprise that I was Saturday born and told me that should thought I had the characteristics of a Monday born!  It was interesting to read the characteristics she thought I had.  Flattering?  I am not sure!

Saturday – naga (mythical dragon/serpent) Dragon
Ruling Planet: Saturn
Ruling Direction: Southwest
Personality/Attributes of the Dragon:
You are philosophical and understanding. People are naturally attracted to you because you have an easy confidence about you and you have a great sense of humor. You prefer to work alone because you believe you are the master of your own destiny and do not like depending on others to get the job done.

The image I have selected is one of me carrying out the rituals on my birthday in 2009.  My birthday fell on a Saturday that year, as well as it being my born day.  Very auspicious, and it meant the shrine was very busy.  I poured out the cups of water, one for each year of that milestone birthday, my arm aching before long.

It was August 2009 and I was oblivious on that day that I was harbouring and nurturing two tumours.  I was blissfully unaware that only the next month life was going to change so much.  And that is why I have selected this picture, with its close association of that birthday and those rituals with my cancer, and the fact that I am very much, still here.

Magic Slippers! Fippancy alert… this post may be less than serious in places ;)

We may we have moved from Breast Cancer Awareness Month into Movember,  but there is still the issue that awareness is important but what we really need is a cure.  That is absolutely fundamental, indisputable and critical.

And that is the serious part of this post.

Moving to a less serious slant, I want to tell you about something that happened yesterday.  When I was in one of the markets in town, my eye was caught by a display of sandals which were being promoted as “Slippers for health”.  These slippers claim to bring all sorts of health benefits!

Is an elusive cure under our noses?  Or moreover, under our feet?  Perhaps I should buy a pair of these slippers and carry out a clinical trial, with plain slipper-wearers as the control group?

This reminded me very much of the time when I was watching TV when I lived in Nepal.  A number of commercials were showing in between programmes, and one came on advertising similarly amazing footwear.  The slippers in this commercial had magnets implanted in their soles, and promised stimulation of height growth.  There was a scientific diagram showing how the magnets stimulated the pituitary gland (I think..) which in turn tricked the body into growing taller!  It promised a full three inches height growth in two months!  Now I am one of the shortest adult people I know, so the thought of sandals like these was very exciting.  So exciting that I was prompted to …… buy a pair?  No, I could not resist shaping it into a short and fun poem.

21st century slippers

Last night I saw an advert
on Indian TV
in answer to the prayers
of short people like me

Now you can get these slippers
you must wear them every day
and in two months you’ll be taller
by three inches, so they say

Well I must have these sandals
and I’ll wear them every day
and soon I’ll be much taller..
How much must I pay?

And tonight I’ll watch the adverts
on Indian TV
There must be a special outfit
to make a younger, slimmer me

And you can see how this could relate to the sandals I saw yesterday 🙂