Missionary friends of ours living in Chiang Mai were planning to visit the churches in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar) over Christmas week. They asked if we wanted to come along. We thought that would be great to visit this closed country with someone who knew where to go. We both applied for visas, but theirs were denied, perhaps because of their occupation. They encouraged us to go, and we could take some things to the church that they were going to take. So we did.
24 December 1974 Tuesday. We flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then from Bangkok to Rangoon, arriving about 8 pm. While waiting for our bags, we noted that all the shops and money exchangers were closed. There was a strict prohibition against using foreign currency in Burma, so we asked a distinguished looking gentleman standing next to us what we should do as we couldn’t pay for a taxi with dollars. He invited us to use his car, as his wife was coming to pick him up. It turns out that he was the British Ambassador. So we had a chauffeured ride, with British flag flying in the front hood, to the Tamada
We stayed at the Tamada Hotel
I don't know what Tamada means in Burmese, but in Thai it means "ordinary." It was worse than ordinary by western standards.
(means "ordinary" in Thai) Hotel. Now it almost seemed to be a Soviet hotel, with communist propaganda pictures on the wall, and most of the dishes manufactured in eastern Europe.
25 December 1974 Wednesday. We changed some money and then celebrated Christmas at the Judson Memorial Church, our original destination for the trip with our missionary friends who couldn’t make it. The pastor was expecting us. After the service we talked with many in the congregation, and then were invited by the pastor to his home for dinner. We had a wonderful time with his family, and a delicious meal. We spent the afternoon talking about the situation in Burma with the communist military dictatorship. Before we left, we gave them the presents that we brought from Thailand.
26 December 1974 Thursday. We signed up for a tour which turned out to be just Linda, myself and our guide. She took us all over town, including a lacquerware factory, where we bought a couple trays and bowls, to a glass factory, where we bought three glasses that stacked in the shape of a Christmas tree, and to the zoo. She even offered to sell us some rubies, but
buying them was against the law, so we reluctantly declined. The highlight of the tour was the Shwedagon Pagoda. Tradition says that this pagoda is over 2500 years old, and was built while the first Gautama Buddha died in 486 BC. This golden pagoda is almost 100 meters tall, and contains relics of the past four Buddhas, including eight hairs of the Gautama Buddha. It is the most revered shrine in Burma. Our guide told us that her father came every day since he was a child to offer incense and pray. Buddhist believe in merit; if you good outweighs you bad deeds, you will be reincarnated as something better in your next life. Most Buddhist men will enter the priesthood for three months when they are young to make merit for their mothers. However, for most of their lives they will live how they please, and only towards the end of their life will try to pile up good deeds to outweigh the bad. I asked her whether on his deathbed, her father was at peace knowing that his whole life had been filled with good deeds, and he had assurance that his next life would be much better.
Crumbling buildings from the British colonial era
One can only imaging how much worst it is 37 years later. Notice that the men wore traditional clothing...a sarong or in Thai a pa kow ma.
She replied that he died knowing he could never be good enough. I shared with her that Christians did not have to do good deeds to get to heaven. All they had to do was to ask for forgiveness for their bad deeds…the price was paid for by God’s son, Jesus who died on the cross. Although I don’t talk to everyone about my faith, I felt that this was an appropriate response to someone who saw the truth about our spiritual condition.
27 December 1974 Friday. We stopped at the Burmese airline’s ticket office to buy tickets for Mandalay and Pagan (now Bagan) and waited several hours in line. The agent told us the price to Mandalay which was much more expensive than the flight to Pagan, so we settled for just a ticket to Pagan. The rest of the day we walked around the downtown area, to get a sense of life for the people. Rangoon was very different from Thailand. It was as if time stood still after the British gave Burma their independence. The roads were still in good condition, but all the former colonial buildings were decaying, and in much need of some paint.
All the men wore sarongs instead of western pants and shirts.
The food was good, but Thai food is the best.
28 December 1974 Saturday. We caught the early morning flight to Pagan. The first stop was Mandalay. I couldn’t understand why the ticket cost more to Mandalay when we had to travel through there to get to Pagan anyway. I thought that was just the incompetence of their travel systems, but I ran across that same issue with American airlines; so perhaps incompetence is a characteristic of many airlines. Anyway, we arrived in Pagan early afternoon. We checked into our guest house in the banks of the Irrawaddy River and had lunch. The seats were old airline seats...strange. We then hired a guide to take us around.
Pagan was the capital of several ancient Burmese Kingdoms, most notably the Mon, built between the 11th and 13th century. The ruins of almost exclusively some 2000 stupas cover a 16 square mile area. There was no evidence of any other type of building. Normally, this would be a World Heritage Site, as it rivals Angkor Wat in its history and grandeur, but the UN refuses to do so because
the military junta haphazardly restored the stupas following an earthquake that did extensive damage shortly after our visit. Our guide took us to many of the larger stupas that afternoon, where we were able to go inside some and climb others.
29 December 1974 Sunday. We continued our tour the following morning, before taking the afternoon flight back to Rangoon. We stayed at the same hotel as before and ate dinner there before heading to bed.
30 December 1974 Monday. We took a taxi to some of the outlying sights we missed previously, in particular the park around Kandawgyi Lake, and the Inya Lake Park.
31 December 1974 Tuesday. We caught the early morning flight back to Bangkok, and the afternoon flight to Chiang Mai in time to celebrate New Years Eve. The year 1974 was one of our most interesting years.
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