Just Another Friday Evening: Shwedagon Pagoda

It must be the place to go on a Friday night. Old people. Young people. Singles, couples, groups of friends. Mothers with babies, fathers with preschoolers, toddlers practicing toddling. People from here, people from there, people from everywhere. People in long skirts – and by this, I do mean people, not just women. This is Yangon, so both men and women wear what we Westerners might term a skirt, but here is known by the Burmese name: longyi (pronounced lawn-gee).

And people in robes. Monks’ robes. Crimson-colored though I believe this is typically called saffron. There is also pink for some of the nuns. And some of the monks wear an burnt orange, too. Tonight I saw some distinctly Japanese monks in a different style robe, a hue more like deep golden rod, but cleaner lines of design. The robes these Burmese monks wear are folds and creases upon creases and folds.

Some of the youth of this generation who look good in their tight jeans and t-shirts, they are also here, claiming their space in this country that is in the process of remaking and rebuilding itself. Whole families, groups of people whose association is lost to me. Chanting ones, quiet ones, people talking on their cell phones, people enjoined in their device, people carrying strands of fragrant white flowers that are traditional offerings at pagodas here.

There are also some people dressed like me: Western tourist. Not many, that’s for sure. Maybe ten percent. There are very specific rules for foreigners who want to visit this pagoda (or any other here). First: pay up. It’s free for locals to visit but not for people not from here.

Then there are no shoes, no socks, no spaghetti straps, and no short pants or skirts. Often at the various pagodas there is a separate entrance for foreigners where, if one arrives in a skirt above the knees, the person working the entrance will provide one of the traditional longyis so that the foreign visitor can properly cover up (it is only foreigners who show up unprepared for this activity which is supposed to be about veneration and respect, not selfies and skimpy tourist garb).

What a magnificent ways to spend a Friday evening. Truly.

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