Yangon: Shwedagon

After two days here, I figured it was time to make a trip to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the central attraction of this city.

I arrived at the West Gate. There was a separate entrance for foreigners, as we were the tourists and needed to be examined and charged so we don’t offend the gods.

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After my wallet was 8,000 Chaks lighter, the slit on my long dress was clipped together, my shoes were in my backpack, and I had a sticker on my chest identifying me as a foreign visitor, I was on my way up to the golden temple. Past the golden pillars that held up, what looked like a wooden ceiling, up a flight of stairs, suddenly, two escalators stretched upward to the security.

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There were temples, small and large, placed in circles around the main golden conglomerate of temples, reaching a crescendo with the main dome. Temples that housed Buddhas and monks, temples of shimmering, beautifully-detailed pillars bursting with gold, red, turquoise, and silver. Temples that provided a welcomed relief from the scorching sun, with wooden floors and ceiling fans, for rest, food and chatter.

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There were people paying their respects to the gods, on their knees praying, splashing water on the designated statue, and giving to the gods. But the bigger thing I noticed was that the locals used it as a space to stroll through, to rest under the vast swaths of shade, to picnic with family and friends, to spend time with each other. It was a communal, safe space to congregate and connect.

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As my bare feet burnt on the sun-brazen tiles, I snapped up photos and discovered back spaces full of trees and lovers, monks taking a break and quenching their empty stomaches, groups of children running around, drinking stations filled with more than a dozen taps to collect water from.

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Despite the intense midday sun, most of the 2-hour walk around the pagoda grounds were peaceful and spiritual. Well, as spiritual as it can get for someone who isn’t religious or spiritual in any thoughtful manner.

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Yangon: Cityscape

The first thing my body registers is the spike in heat. It presses lightly on my skin like a gentle hug. As the day wore on, it slowly seeps through to rejuvenate my cold and miserable bones.

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Then comes the chaotic, but surprisingly orderly traffic. Cars stay on their side of the lane, and does not swerve into oncoming traffic to get ahead. One or two cars cut in horizontally but otherwise, everyone generally obeys the rules of the road. There are curious faces poking out of un-air-conditioned taxis at us, and I stare back with the same level of fascination. Sometimes we both look away shyly after making unintended direct eye contact.

From beyond the windows of my comfortably chilled car, there is an onslaught of sounds. Car horns, motors, bus brakes, people shouting out services that they offer, all swirling and dancing around the metal and glass of my taxi and conglomerating at boulevard intersections.

After a quick lunch of Shan noodles at a scantily decorated roadside shop and a cup of latte at a hipster Singaporean-run establishment, I napped away my afternoon until the evening glow of Yangon flittered through my hotel window.

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Walking in the night-side of the city, the buildings that stood silent and pale during the day, come to life. They put on their neon suits and billboard bracelets, giant light towers lining the streets. Honking cars and packed buses flash their headlights and boom by in red and yellow. The Sule Pagoda stands in all its golden glory at the centre of the world.

Despite all the activity and electricity, the city is distinctively dark. Stars in the sky can be easily spotted, even as I stood next to the shining Sule Pagoda. In a city of 5.21 million lives, being able to look up and see the universe glimmer is a rarity among big cities.

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It hurts, everywhere.

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.”

-Warsan Shire

This is in light of the deaths in Baghdad, that just climbed to a horrific 281.

This is in light of the 3 suicide bombings in the Saudi cities of Qatif, Medina and Jeddah.

This is in light of the careless decision made by Blair to follow the US into Iraq in 2003, casting aside considerations of the human and moral costs in order to preserve the UK-US ‘special’ relationship.

This is in light of Charlie Hebdo, November 2015, 7/7, 2004 Madrid train bombings, 9/11, June 4th, and all of the heinous crimes and senseless killings perpetrated on humans by humans. Too many to count. Too many for anyone to hold in their memories without breaking down in despair and hopelessness.

I’m obligated to say that my thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims of these attacks. But these words mean nothing. They cannot bring back the dead. They cannot rewind time. They offer little, if any, comfort to the families and friends of the victims. They are empty echoes in a world filled with violence and hate.

I’m sorry we couldn’t do better. I’m sorry we are still fumbling around in the dark and stabbing at each other. I’m sorry we are such selfish, foolish creatures who can’t simply value and love one another.

I’m sorry I don’t have the words.

I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.

I’m sorry this is all too late.

I will not. Be.

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I will not be quiet.

That is not who I am.

I speak my thoughts with a conviction that may be too loud on the subway.

But I will not speak softly,

Because you are embarrassed by it.

I will not be “lady-like”.

I stride with a confidence that may be too overwhelming for some streets.

But I will not be demure,

Because you think it’s too much.

I will not be “chill”.

I embrace my feelings in all their splendour, that may be too emotional for some men.

But I will not be “cool”,

Because you can’t handle it.

I will not change for you,

Or for anyone who refuses to accept me as I am.

I will sing at the top of my lungs, all of the hits of the day,

And Tay-Tay.

I will enjoy every minute of what you consider “rom-com”, “chick-flick” trash.

I will cosy up in my onesie at home on Friday evenings and dance away your “FOMO”.

If you can’t take me on,

That is your problem,

Not mine.

I have no obligation to hold to your standards,

To what you think is right and proper.

Your labels do not define me.

Your words do not affect me.

You cannot change me.

Cowards.

I am so, incredibly, utterly furious.

Nigel Farage, the racist bigot that led the racist UKIP (UK Independence Party) and the Leave Campaign of Brexit, just announced his resignation as leader of UKIP. Like Johnson, he wiped his hands of taking responsibility for pushing this country into complete chaos and confusion. He just ran away.

Two of the most prominent voices that successfully led the Leave Campaign has now quit.

They are finally showing their true, traitorous, cowardice colours.

Too bad it’s all too late.

Brexiteers, are you feeling stupid and fooled now?

Just to recap what you have done:

  • The pound has dropped to its lowest value in 30 years.
  • $3trillion was lost on the global stock market in 2 days.
  • David Cameron quit as Prime Minister.
  • Boris Johnson quit the race to become the next PM.
  • Farage and several other Leave Campaigners tried to distance themselves from their campaign slogan of putting the”£350 million” we send to the EU every week (it’s actually closer to £190m) towards NHS (National Health Service)
  • Scotland is threatening a second Independence referendum to leave the UK.
  • No one has a plan on Brexit. Not the government. Not the Brexit Campaign leadership. NO ONE.
  • The Opposition Party–the Labour Party–is in the midst of a coup d-etat of their leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

The most likely candidate to succeed Cameron is Therasa May, who voted Remain. So basically, the Brexit campaign leadership was made up of traitors and cowards. They have all either stabbed each other in the back or ran away with their tails between their legs. The country will be governed by a woman who voted Remain.

How. F*cking. Ironic.

The most heartbreaking of all this is the wider implications. The Brexit leadership campaigned on lies and broken promises. The fact that they succeeded in winning the referendum, is a sad and tragic testament to the ignorance of the masses in this country and the fundamental flaw of direct democracy.

“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”

The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877, Lord Acton

News Update: Party-Poopers

As per my last post, I’ve been keenly observing the news. My god, this country is a mess…

Warning: I have extreme biases against Brexiteers and dumb politicians.

Here in the UK, common assumptions mean nothing anymore. Most people thought Brexit wouldn’t be voted through. It was. Boris Johnson, who everyone thought was the most likely candidate by a long shot, to take over from David Cameron as Prime Minister, quit yesterday. So let’s just throw all common sense and assumptions out the window.

Tories who wanted to run for the leadership was to announce their candidacy before noon yesterday. Johnson, the walking-bimbo-blond-loud-speaker, who campaigned strong and hard for the Leave side, decided to wipe his hands of his responsibility in putting this country into disunity and utter chaos, and leave it up to five other Tories to clean up the mess.

This is all supposedly because Michael Gove, the justice secretary, who was thought to back Johnson, decided “No. F*ck you. I want my day in the sun.” and announced his bid for leadership.

As much as I despise Johnson, I hate Gove that much more. At least Johnson successfully–arguable–managed to run one of the biggest cities in the world and is rumoured to be a highly-intelligent person who created this persona of a stupid, silly, blond idiot to seem harmless to his opponents. Gove on the other hand, is the man who claimed during Brexit that “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts“, and accused them of “elitism”. As John Oliver put it best, “Yeeees. F*ck these eggheads with their studies and degrees. I get my economic forecast from Clever Otis, the GPD-predicting horse.”If he gains leadership, I’m afraid the brain-drain that was thought to be brought on by Brexit, will actually be mandated. And soon enough, this land will be overrun by donkeys and Clever Otis. I’m not saying that degrees are the best indicator of one’s intelligence but…

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…interpret this how you will.

Although, with Johnson out, Theresa May, the home secretary, may have a high chance of winning the leadership. She voted Remain, thus, a sensible person to me. There is little hope that she will try and reverse a democratic decision (which is political suicide), but she seems more reasonable, compared to Gove. To be fair, even a cat high on catnip seems that way compared to Gove.

The other three candidates are not in the limelight nearly as much as May and Gove. Nonetheless, they are worth a mention, because as I’ve warned, assumptions about the outcome of things here in this country is on a one-way train to wrong-town. Stephen Crabb is the Work and Pensions Secretary. He also backed Remain. Andrea Leadsom, a former bank and fund manager, is the current Energy minister. She campaigned for Leave. Finally, Liam Fox, the former cabinet minister, who came third in the 2005 bid for leadership, is now trying again. He is apparently on the right side of the Conservative spectrum, and a Brexiteer.

Here is a useful little graph of how this election will proceed this Fall:

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Let’s also mention the coup-d’etat that’s taking place over on the Opposition side of things. Jeremy Corbyn, who shocked everyone by overwhelmingly winning the support of his party last September, is now in the midst of a standoff against his own party’s MPs. These Members of Parliament blame Corbyn for Brexiteers winning in Labour areas due to his total lack of leadership. Last Tuesday, the Labour Party passed a vote of no confidence on Corbyn. But instead of stepping down, he is stubbornly sticking to his post. Cameron (we all still remember this knucklehead right?) also weighted in on this by telling Corbyn: “For heaven’s sake man, go.” Yes, just follow my example, man. Put your tail between your legs and run.

But Corbyn has a public mandate. He was backed by 60% of Labour party members only a few months ago. The Labour Party can either call a new party leadership election, which may result in Corbyn winning a majority again, in which case, they will all have to shut up and take it. Or those against Corbyn can split off into their own little Party, but that would open an even wider space for a Conservative victory in the next general election. Lip-Dems (Liberal Democrats, who were massacred in the last General Election) anyone?

There you have it. Grab your popcorn (I’ve got my bottle of “water” on the rocks), ladies and gentlemen. This is going to be an a wild and unpredictable performance.

Who said the British can’t be funny?

Other Highlights of Utter Embarrassment of and by British Politicians:

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I’ll leave you with that, because that–my hand to my face with a “you must be f*cking kidding me” chuckle–will be my default position for the rest of the time I’m in London.

Happy Friday everyone.

Ignorance is not bliss.

13528152_10153492429936891_7416283595667371888_oDear Reader,

As I stand among the collapsing monuments in the post-Brexit wreckage, I am acutely aware of how uninformed I was when I voted.

I understood the bare-bones of the issues, that free movement of goods, services and people will be damaged, that the EU will retaliate to make an example out of Britain. But I was mostly informed by my more knowledgeable peers and by the intense xenophobia of the Leave campaign. Even if I knew nothing about the EU, I would have voted Remain simply because I could never stand on the side of racism.

It was only immediately after the results that I began to devour article after article of information on this topic. I began to scrape the surface of the massive iceberg that is the EU. I learned about Article 50. I learned about EU trade policies, about which trade agreements would go and which ones would stay, how long it takes to negotiate trade agreements with the EU (Canada and Norway are the precedence). I learned about the British political parties. I learned about the only somewhat-precedent we have of how to leave the EU, namely Greenland.

I shouldn’t have done that, after the vote. I contributed to the upward swing of Google searches on the EU and Brexit, post-Brexit. I am part of what most of my friends shake their heads and laugh in despair at: the ignorant.

Before the vote, if a Brexiteer came up to me, found out I was voting Remain and demanded to know why, the only trick I could pull out of the hat is that he/she is a racist. That’s why. That’s it. Otherwise, I was as about ignorant as they were about the EU.

What an embarrassment.

With the realization of the massive implications this referendum has on my generation and the generations after me, I am damned if I vote uninformed ever again.

This means that every day I will read the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, the Economist, the Atlantic, Vox, etc. I will listen to NPR and other news podcasts. I will start with these and slowly gain a grasp on their biases and political leanings. Having a kaleidoscope of sources to draw my information from is one of the key components of being informed (Finally, I learned something from 6 years of higher education! 60K well-spent…). So I will also work on expanding my sources as I grow.

One of the top tips for being happy is to not read the news. The news overwhelmingly tips in favour of terrible crimes, political nightmares, and all things negative. Rarely are there stories about caring nurses who saved the life of an orphan, or some brave man rescuing a dog from drowning, or something inspiring. Those I generally get from popular websites like Buzzfeed.

Despite the negativity, headaches and loss of faith one receives from reading the news, I don’t want to make the conscious choice of disengaging with the affairs of my world. The decisions made by the older generations will affect me and us long after they are gone. We will inherit their pollution. We will inherit their greed. We will inherit their corruption. We will inherit their wars. And I want to follow along as it happens.

I don’t presume I’ll be able to solve any of these problems. I am well-aware of my limited capacity as one human being to change things in the bigger world.  But, I want to, at least, know what’s going on. I want to be able to explain to my children what was happening in my world and why their world is the way it is. I don’t want blessed ignorance, because I have seen first-hand how passionate and intolerant ignorant people can become.

The less you know, the more certain you are of what you know.

Besides, there are uplifting stories, especially in the fields of science and technology. There is dazzling progress taking place. The world is too fascinating and the things that we do are too intriguing for me to remain in my dark little cave, reassuring myself that everything is fine.

For this space, my new challenge may manifest itself into weekly summaries of the stories that came to past, into monthly favourites of the best articles, or just into sporadic, unwarranted posts about something hopefully inspirational (most likely not though. I find that I am at my best when tackling an issue that plagues us rather than inspires us). Please follow “The World in Review” category for future content.

I hope you’ll ride along.

-J