One more Myanmar post... a few weeks after the fact:
When in Yangon, Tim had the chance to visit some of the major sights, including the Shwedagon Pagoda, a large, golden, Buddhist pagoda with several relics of the Buddha encased inside. It's the most sacred of all Buddhist sites for the people of Myanmar, and sits high above the city.
The pagoda has also been the site of many anti-colonial and pro-democracy rallies throughout Myanmar's history.
Over eight thousand gold plates cover the buildings, and reflect the sun as it rises.
The top of the pagoda is supposed to be encrusted with over 4500 diamonds with a 76-carat diamond at the top.
Best time to visit was the early morning or sunset for purposes of catching the best lighting, and also because it gets extremely hot during the middle of the day, which is unbearable because there is little shade and you have to walk around barefoot. Tim sweated through several shirts the day he visited...
Tim saw some monks sitting in the shade, speaking to a visitor. He was told many families have their sons join monkhood when they're teenagers because they cannot afford to raise them.
The Pagoda contains a specific statue for each day of the week- a "planetary post" also associated with a planet and a specific animal. You are supposed to leave an offering or undertake a devotional act at the statue associated with the day of the week on which you were born, including pouring water over the head of the Buddha statute. Tim and his companions poured water over the head of their respective statues, as did Hillary Clinton when she visited a few months ago.
Tim said that he heard that the government had pointed a CCTV camera at Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday statue to keep track of her when she visited the pagoda while on house arrest. Not sure if it's true, but wouldn't be surprised if it was.
Women placing offerings and using fancy umbrellas to get shade from the strong sun.
Tim noticed many of the local people around town had a white substance rubbed on their cheeks and noses, as seen in this photo. Apparently it's thanaka, a local, natural sun protectant and coolant of some sort, made from a special tree bark. Tim got me some, but I've yet to try it out. Maybe it wouldn't appear so white on my bule cheeks, but I think I would still get some funny looks here in Jakarta.
The Maha Tissada Gandha Bell replaced the Great Bell of Dhammazedi, believed to be the largest bell ever cast, but stolen by the Portuguese and lost in transport.
Many offerings (including a flaming one) left at the Pagoda.