In April, I ended my career of 12 years , not because I cannot continue the same job but because I need to get out of comfort zone and do something different. So I came back from Malaysia and my friend Nadia from Mexico wanted to meet me in Yangon at the same time.
I thought it was unfortunate for her as the time of her visit coincide with the most severe Elnino in South East Asia. It was hardly any rain and the sun is blazing and its humid. But Nadia is a mature traveller and she is not someone who is perturbed easily by any unwanted circumstances. She said with a chuckle that “Don’t worry Hnin. I am used to deserts and temperature more than 40C”.
When she arrived, it was the last day of water festival. We celebrated water festival 4 days prior to our Burmese New Year. By the way, happy Burmese new year to readers. The reason we celebrare festival is to wash away our previous sins, grudge, negative feelings with water which purify our souls. This is the time we also try to follow 5 or 8 percepts of Buddhist rules , try to do fasting and meditation. During water festival, people are in great spirit, especially kids. They all will be drenched and soaked with water , but even how cold they are, every kid refuses to stop throwing water on passerbys or on each other until their parents force them to stop.
Another thing is people try to joke around and make funny things. Its not uncommon to see the most quiet person dancing in the middle of the crowd in glee this special time. People are in great spirit and try to greet each other in very informal way . They also like to shake hands or hug to complete strangers and foreigners.
Children are usually the victims of adults teasing as they usually are captured and applied soot ( the black color carbon ) on their face against their will. Yes, its a bit harsh but extremely funny to see them.
For Nadia, its all new experience as she had never been in Burma although visiting here is always one of her bucket lists. I told her its better we walked around and felt the festival but she insisted to be in the car and watched as she did not want to get wet considering her recent flu.
However, her festival spirit became awaken when kids threw ice water from a car and startled her. She asked me to ask water from the car ( usually people put water tank on their car) and splashed the water back to them
She was very happy. I encouraged her she can throw water on anybody and its not against the law. People were so happy when non Burmese involve in their festival.
We hired a taxi with 8000 kyats ( 8 us D) per hour as most taxi drivers were on holiday mood and unwilling to work. We went to the area near the lake opposite Sedona hotel as the area is quite scenic with lots of yellow color flowers which blossom only in April. We saw a foreigner wearing nothing but only shorts and chains of beer bottles on the neck. He was comoletely in bliss and not really intoxicated with alcohol. He smiled and took some of our pictures. This is the example of foreigners who enjoy water festival more than Burmese.
Nadia was happy as we stopped taxi in front of our national leader Aung San Suu Kyi house and took photo. Daw Suu was house arrested for two decades in her house and the house became one of Burma’s historic places. There was a time when everybody who visited her was investigated or even disturbed by authority previously. Daw Suu likes to stand at the gate and give inspiring speech to a large crowd who never fail to support her.
Time has changed and opposition party has become the goverment. Daw Su house was deserted as she now resides in Nay Pyi Daw, our new capital.Now there is freedom and nobody will interrogate you if you stand in front of the house and take the photo.
We went to downtown near Su Le pagoda and watched the performance. The people were sprawling or sitting on the lawn , being relaxed and watching the jokes and satires of the performers. For many years , any performance or jokes against the previous goverment was restricted and seeing artists making satires or chanting lyrics this year make us realize we are finally approaching the real democracy we wanted for past 50 years.
Another thing which is wonderful about this year festival is people are well disciplined and try to clean up all the rubbish on their own. It’s amazing to see all citizens are trying to change in positive ways.
There is also a new event called Yangon water splash walk which is organized by highly spirited young people who walk around Yangon Area throwing water all the way to the people who were walking and parading in their cars. At last, the number of people exceeded more than 1000 but none of them showed mob like behavior and onlookers cheered them from their houses and balconies.
The above video showed how they organized water splash walk.
My friend Nadia went to Shwedagone pagoda for the second time on first day of New Year and she was awed by generosity of the public towards the pilgrims as there were many donors distributing various kinds of food at the pagoda.
All in all, 2016 water festival radiated hope and positivity in Burma.
Thanks for reading