Burma – December 1

We stayed the night in Yangon (Rangoon) at Traders again, a deluxe hotel in the city center. We were upgraded to a club floor room, so had a most elaborate breakfast this am. As hotel caters to so many nationalities, the breakfast choices included everything from congee to eggs Benedict. Gage and I left for a short, self-guided, walking tour of the city. Saw tables on the sidewalk where one could use one of three phones for a small fee. Walked past many Colonial British buildings, often in disrepair and crumbling. Went to the famous Strand Hotel, still elegant and still the most expensive hotel in the city. Took some pictures in the gift shop. Walked from there to the synagogue. Left the rest of my Burmese currency and some USD in the sedakah box.

Note- Jews migrated to Burma in late 1800s, served as a natural conduit between British colonial rulers and import/export community abroad. Community of 2,500 – respected presence in business and local Burmese society. Golden days of Jewish life in Burma ended in 1941 with Japanese invasion. Most Jews fled, some returned after war, but repressive Burmese govt, prevented decent life. Now a handful of Jews left. Population continues to dwindle. Synagogue tended by one man. He has had a larynectemy so I could only read his lips. Could not learn why no one was there on Shabbat, but he did let me open the Torah! He wanted me to read. Quite moving and very sad. Ok to take pictures, so did, at least of the synagogue. Learned later that services are held when groups of Jewish tourists visit.

Left there to walk through a marketplace. Beautiful swirls of betel nut leaves for sale. Then wads of red spit everywhere. Love the Burmese, they are so eager to practice their English, probably so that they can someday leave. Still, so helpful. We saw many Buddhist monks and nuns, monks in orange robes and nuns in pink, all with shaved heads.

On my way to Burma, read George Orwell’s “Burmese Days.” Followed up by reading “Finding George Orwell in Burma.” First book is novel about British colonialism in Burma, and second is a reporter’s assessment of the political situation and its effect on Burmese society. She uses Orwell’s experience there to frame her visit, following his life in Burma when he was in the Imperial police force in the 1920s. Burmese make the case that three of his books, “Burmese Days,” “Animal Farm,” and “1984” in that order, mirror the history of Burma from the time of British imperialism to the present.

One of the loveliest people we encountered was the taxi driver from Trader Hotel to the airport. He gave us a bit of a tour on the way, showing us the gold temple, the place Obama gave his speech, and the university complex. He commented that higher education in Burma is a joke. Sorry to leave Burma, but excited to go to Thailand. Spending one night at the Bangkok airport hotel, before an early flight to Chiang Mai.