Just when you thought you were getting far off the grid, it sneaks up on you, even in the privacy of the hotel restroom. In this case, it's a disco mix of traditional and popular Christmas tunes. Even in this country where 95% of the population is supposed to be Buddhist, you hear electronic versions of Christmas melodies at shopkeepers stalls, ambient versions on portable radios, but mostly disco medleys of everyone's favorite holiday hits. It's anyone's guess as to what the connection is in the minds of these people between 70's mirrored disco ballroom beats and the birth of Jesus.
We begin our trip to Myanmar, aka Burma, in the former capital of Yangon, aka Rangoon. Apparently the British didn't have much patience with listening to the pronunciation of geographical names by the natives and figured that their take on what to call different regions was good enough, something which the citizens of Burma, like the citizens of India, decided to correct here some years back. The Brits did however leave some wonderful Western-style buildings behind and many tree-lined streets that practically create an urban forest but the buildings are now crumbling and decaying from neglect and the wide boulevards are clogged with traffic jams that turn a 3 mile cross-town drive into a 45-minute exhaust-breathing crawl.
At dusk we head for the Shwedagon Pagoda, a magnificent 2,000 year old hilltop temple complex that covers over 12 acres and dominates the Yangon skyline. Everything is either covered in gold leaf or painted gold. Our guide says that when he was young, the usual destination for a family outing was a choice between going to the park or coming here. The Pagoda usually prevailed because it was less expensive than going to the park where money was spent on ice cream and sweets from the street vendors. And, that's very much the feeling one gets: people out to enjoy the sunset and to be with friends and family, but also to light candles, pray, chant, and sing. It's a peaceful, serene place and it really wouldn't be so out of place to imagine a group of wandering Christmas Carolers breaking into a rendition of "Silent Night" here as the sun goes down.