The Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda, officially titled Shwedagon Zedi Daw, also known as the Golden Pagoda, is a 98-metre (approx. 321.5 feet) gilded stupa located in Yangon, Burma. The pagoda lies to the west of Kandawgyi Lake, on Singuttara Hill, thus dominating the skyline of the city. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese with relics of the past four Buddhas enshrined within, namely the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight hairs of Gautama, the historical Buddha.
In 1586, an English man, Ralph Fitch, visited the great pagoda and had the following to report:
The origins of Shwedagon are lost in antiquity, its age unknown. Long before the pagoda was built, its location on Singuttara hill was already an ancient sacred site because of the buried relics of the three previous Buddhas. According to one legend, nearly 5000 years had passed since the last Buddha walked the Earth, and Singuttara hill would soon lose its blessedness unless it was reconsecrated with relics of a new Buddha. In order that such new relics might be obtained, King Okkalapa of Suvannabhumi spent much time atop the hill, meditating and praying. A series of miracles ensued and eight hairs of the historical Buddha were, somewhat magically, brought to the hill. To enshrine the relics, multiple pagodas of silver, tin, copper, lead, marble, iron and gold where built one on top of the other to a height of twenty meters. During the following centuries, passing from myth to historical fact, the pagoda grew to its present height of ninety-eight meters. Much of the continued construction of Shwedagon was actually reconstruction following disastrous earthquakes. During the 17th century the pagoda suffered earthquake damage on at least eight occasions. A particularly bad quake in 1786 brought the entire top half of the pagoda to the ground and its current shape and height date from the reconstruction of that time.
While much of the pagoda's beauty derives from the complex geometry of its shape and surrounding structures, equally mesmerizing is its golden glow. The lower stupa is plated with 8,688 solid gold bars, an upper part with another 13,153. The tip of the stupa, far too high for the human eye to discern in any detail, is set with 5448 diamonds, 2317 rubies, sapphires, and other gems, 1065 golden bells and, at the very top, a single 76-carat diamond. Surrounding the pagoda are a plentitude of smaller shrines housing pre-Buddhist spirits called Nats, miracle working images, and even a wish granting stone. The entire temple complex radiates a palpable sense of beauty and serenity.
The stupa fell into disrepair until the 1300s when the Mon king Binnya U of Bago had the stupa rebuilt to a height of 18 meters (60 ft). It was rebuilt several times and reached its current height of 98 meters (320 ft) in the 15th century. The Mon kingdom possessed two great pagodas of especial sanctity, the Shwemawdaw at Bago and the Shwedagon. Originally only twenty-seven feet high, it was raised to a height of sixty-six feet in 1362 by King Binnya U as an act of special piety. Dhammazedi's immediate predecessor, his mother-in-law Queen Shinsawbu (1453-72), raised its height to 40 meters (129 ft). She terraced the hill on which it stands, paved the top terrace with flagstones, and assigned land and hereditary slaves for its maintenance. When in 1472 she yielded up the throne to Dhammazedi, she retired to Dagon, and during her last illness had her bed placed so that she could rest her dying eyes upon the gilded dome of the sacred fane. The Mon face of the Shwe Dagon inscription catalogues a list of repairs beginning in 1436 and finishing during Dhammazedi's reign. It mentions Queen Shinsawbu under a terrific Pali name of sixty-six letters. By the beginning of the sixteenth century the pagoda had become the most famous place of pilgrimage in Burma.
A series of earthquakes during the next centuries caused damage. The worst damage came from a 1768 earthquake that brought down the top of the stupa and it was raised to its current state by King Hsinbyushin (lit. Lord of the White Elephant) of Konbaung Dynasty. A new hti or crown was donated by King Mindon Min in 1871 after the annexation of Lower Burma by the British.
An earthquake of moderate intensity in October 1970 put the shaft of the hti visibly out of alignment. A scaffold was erected and extensive repairs to the hti were made.
The Gold seen on the stupa is made of genuine gold plates, covering the brick structure attached by traditional rivets. Myanmar people all over the country, as well as monarchs in its history,have donated gold to the pagoda to maintain it. It was started in the 15th century by the Mon Queen Shin Sawbu who gave her weight in gold and continues to this day.
Most Myanmar people are Buddhist, at the same time believing Astrology which originated from Hindu Brahmanism. Actually Buddha, the awaken one was the son of the King called Suddhodana who was embraced the Brahmanism in his former days before he was in a good faith of Buddhism. So it is no wonder the Burma are still adopting some parts of those old beliefs.
It is very important for every Myanmar Buddhist people to recognize the day of their birth, such as Sunday, Monday, Tuesday etc. Otherwise, he or she may not know which part of pagoda platform to go and make special devotional acts either his or her desire or by the advice of Astrologer.
Myanmar Astrology recognizes the seven planets, namely Sun, Mon, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn. In addition, it recognizes two other planets, Rahu and Kate. All the Myanmar names of the planets are borrowed from Hindu Astrology, but the Myanmar Rahu and Kate are different from the Hindu Rahu and Kate. The Myanmar considers them to be distinct and separate planets, whereas Hindu astrology considers them to be either the Dragon's Head and Tails, or Ascending and Descending Nodes. To the Myanmar people, Kate is the king of all planets. As with other Nations the Myanmar name the seven days of their week after the seven planets, but Myanmar astrology recognizes an eight days week, Wednesday being divided into two days; until 6 p.m. it is Wednesday, but after 6.pm. to the midnight it is Rahu's day.
The basic belief of Myanmar Astrology is that the planets except the Kate, mould a man's fate. The planet of a man's birthday will be the main guardian of his fate, but at each particular period of a man's life a particular planet throws upon him its baneful or its beneficial influence. For example, at one period of his life he will be under the influence of Saturn and ill-fortune will befall him, but at another period he will be under the influence of Venus and good fortune will result. Thus the ebb and flow of a man's fortune depends on the paths in the sky of the planets.
Most Myanmar Buddhist approach an astrologer for something or another, whether to go ahead with a move to a new house or get married or pass exams or doing new business. The astrologer would do some calculations according to the magic formulas he alone knows and arrive at a certain conclusion. The astrologer would sometime say that he or she is under the bad influence of a certain planet and to counter this the clients should go to his or her birthday planetary post and pour a certain number of cups of water or place papier mache umbrellas or flowers etc as a ‘yadaya’ or to put it in English, a symbolic counter to avert the bad influences the subject is under currently or looming in the future by using the inherent powers in his or her offering plus some personal wishes. Or, the symbol of water in conjunction with the symbol of a planetary post will mean that he may send a Wednesday born to pour water at the Saturday corner, and so on. He alone knows the symbols connected to each and he alone can calculate on what day or time to do it, and where. And whoever do not want to avoid misfortune and bad luck just by pouring water at one’s planetary post and ensure one’s peace of mind and end of anxieties?
When Myanmar Buddhists go to the pagoda, they know in their hearts that they are treading the noble path to that state where the best of human nature will have a fair chance to manifest it self in deeds of generosity, loving kindness and compassion for one's fellow beings.
Visits to pagodas are important to Myanmar Buddhists. The guiding force is faith in the efficacy of one's own karmic deeds. For example, contemplation of the infinite compassion of Buddha, as one makes one's way to Shwedagon's great stupa, is a good karmic deed.
The pilgrim, on his way up the steps of the pagoda, buys flowers, candles, coloured flags and streamers. They are to be offered in honour of the great stupa wherein are enshrined the relics of Buddha. This act is the act of dana, or giving, an important aspect of Buddhist teaching. The donation boxes around the pagoda receive offerings large and small, given to the pagoda for general purposes. All donations are voluntary, from the smallest coin put into the box to the priceless jewels hung on the top of the pagoda. No fees are ever requested at pagoda for use of the lifts or for the minding of footwear. The pilgrim can make whatever donation he chooses and may even make none if he wishes.
Shwedagon in literature
‘Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple-spire. It stood upon a green knoll, and below it were lines of warehouses, sheds, and mills. Under what new god, thought I, are we irrepressible English sitting now?’
‘'There's the old Shway Dagon' (pronounced Dagone, not like the god in the Scriptures), said my companion. 'Confound it!' But it was not a thing to be sworn at. It explained in the first place why we took Rangoon, and in the second why we pushed on to see what more of rich or rare the land held. Up till that sight my uninstructed eyes could not see that the land differed much in appearance from the Sunderbuns, but the golden dome said: 'This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.' 'It's a famous old shrine o' sorts,' said my companion, 'and now the Tounghoo-Mandalay line is open, pilgrims are flocking down by the thousand to see it. It lost its big gold top—'thing that they call a 'htee—in an earthquake: that's why it's all hidden by bamboo-work for a third of its height. You should see it when it's all uncovered. They're regilding it now.'‘
War and invasion
Two centuries later when the British landed on May 11, 1824 during the First Anglo-Burmese War, they immediately seized and occupied the Shwedagon, seeing it as a fortress in a commanding position over the city, and the stupa remained as such until they left two years later. There was pillaging and vandalism, and one officer's excuse for digging a tunnel into the depths of the stupa was to find out if it could be used as a gunpowder magazine. The Maha Gandha (lit. great sweet sound) Bell, a 23-ton bronze bell cast in 1779 and donated by King Singu and popularly known as the Singu Min Bell, was carried off with the intention to ship it to Calcutta. It met the same fate as the Dhammazedi Bell and fell into the river. When the British failed in their attempts to recover it, the people offered to help provided it could be restored to the stupa. The British, thinking it would be in vain, agreed, upon which divers went in to tie hundreds of bamboo poles underneath the bell and floated it to the surface. There has been much confusion over this bell and the 42-ton Maha Tissada (three-toned) Gandha Bell donated in 1841 by King Tharrawaddy along with 20 kg of gold plating; this massive ornate bell - only the Mingun Bell is larger than this - hangs in its pavilion in the northeast corner of the stupa. A different but less plausible version of the account of the Singu Min Bell was given by Lt. J.E.Alexander in 1827. This bell can be seen hung in another pavilion in the northwest of the pagoda platform.
The Second Anglo-Burmese War saw the British re-occupation of the Shwedagon in April 1852, only this time the stupa was to remain under their military control for 77 years until 1929, although the people were given access to the Paya.
In 1938, oilfield workers on strike hiked all the way from the oilfields of Chauk and Yenangyaung in central Burma to Rangoon to establish a strike camp at the Shwedagon Pagoda. This strike, supported by the public as well as students and came to be known as the '1300 Revolution' after the Burmese calendar year, was broken up by the police who, in their boots whereas Burmese would remove their shoes in pagoda precincts, raided the strike camps on the pagoda.
The ‘shoe question’ on the pagoda has always been a sensitive issue to the Burmese people since colonial times. The Burmese people had always removed shoes at all Buddhist pagodas. Hiram Cox, the British envoy to the Burmese Court, in 1796, observed the tradition by not visiting the pagoda rather than take off his shoes. However, after the annexation lower Burma, European visitors as well as troops posted at the pagoda openly flouted the tradition. It was not until 1919 that the British authorities finally issued a regulation prohibiting footwear in the precincts of the pagoda. However, they put in an exception that employees of the government on official business were allowed footwear. The regulation and its exception clause moved to stir up the people and played a role in the beginnings of the nationalist movement. Today, no footwear or socks are allowed on the pagoda.
In January 1946, General Aung San addressed a mass meeting at the stupa, demanding ‘independence now’ from the British with a thinly veiled threat of a general strike and uprising. Forty-two years later, on August 26, 1988, his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi addressed another mass meeting of 500,000 people at the stupa, demanding democracy from the military regime and calling the 8888 Uprising the second struggle for independence.
September 2007 Protests
On September 24, 2007, 20,000 monks and nuns (largest protest in 20 years) marched at the golden Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon. On Monday, 30,000 people led by 15,000 monks marched from Shwedagon Pagoda and past the offices of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Myanmar's comedian Zaganar and star Kyaw Thu brought food and water to the monks. On Saturday, monks marched to greet Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest. On Sunday, about 150 nuns joined the marchers. On September 25, 2007, 2,000 Buddhist monks and supporters defied threats from Burma's junta. They marched to Yangon streets at Shwedagon Pagoda amid army trucks and warning of Brigadier-General Thura Myint Maung not violate Buddhist ‘rules and regulations.’
On September 26, 2007, Clashes between security forces and thousands of protesters led by Buddhist monks in Burma have left at least five protesters dead by Burma security forces, according to opposition reports, in an anticipated crackdown. Earlier in the day security authorities used tear gas, warning shots and force to break up a peaceful demonstration by scores of monks gathered around the Shwedagon Pagoda. The Web site reports that protesting ‘monks were beaten and bundled into waiting army trucks,’ adding about 50 monks were arrested and taken to undisclosed locations. In addition, the opposition said ‘soldiers with assault rifles have sealed off sacred Buddhist monasteries ... as well as other flashpoints of anti-government protests.’ It reports that the violent crackdown came as about 100 monks defied a ban by venturing into a cordoned-off area around the Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma's holiest Buddhist shrine. It says that authorities ordered the crowd to disperse, but witnesses said the monks sat down and began praying, defying the military government's ban on public assembly. Security forces at the pagoda ‘struck out at demonstrators’ and attacked ‘several hundred other monks and supporters,’ the opposition Web site detailed. Monks were ushered away by authorities and loaded into waiting trucks while several hundred onlookers watched, witnesses said. Some managed to escape and headed towards the Sule Pagoda, a Buddhist monument and landmark located in Yangon's city center.
The perimeter of the base of the Pagoda is 1,420 fee and its height 326 feet above the platform. The base is surrounded by 64 small pagodas with four larger, one in the center of each side. There also are 4 sphinxes, one at each corner with 6 leogryphs, 3 on each side of them. Projecting beyond the base of the Pagoda, one on the center of each side are Tazaungs in which are images of the Buddha and where offerings are made.
There are also figures of elephants crouching and men kneeling, and pedestals for offerings all around the base. In front of the 72 shrines surrounding the base of the Pagoda, you will find in several places images of lions, serpents, ogres, yogis, spirits, or Wathundari. On the wall below the first terrace of the Pagoda at the West-Southern Ward and West-Northern Ward corners, you will see embossed figures. The former represents King Okkalapa who first built the Pagoda. The latter is a pair of figures; the one above represents Sakka who assisted in foundation of the Pagoda, and the one below, Me Lamu, consort of Sakka and mother of Okkalapa.
Tunnels of Shwedagon
* The 10 Parts of Shwe Dagon Pagoda
The perimeter of the base of the Pagoda is 1,420 fee and its height 326 feet above the platform. The base is surrounded by 64 small pagodas with four larger, one in the center of each side.
There also are 4 sphinxes, one at each corner with 6 leogryphs, 3 on each side of them. Projecting beyond the base of the Pagoda, one on the cener of each side are Tazaungs in which are images of the Buddha and where offerings are made.
There are also figures of elephants crouching and men kneeling, and pedestals for offerings all around the base. In front of the 72 shrines surrounding the base of the Pagoda, you will find in several places images of lions, serpents, ogres, yogis, spirits, or Wathundari (Recording Secretary Angel).
On the wall below the first terrace of the Pagoda at the WSW and WNW corners, you will see embossed figures. The former represents King Okkalapa who first built the Pagoda. The latter is a pair of figures; the one above represents Sakka who assisted in foundation of the Pagoda, and the one below, Me Lamu, consort of Sakka and mother of Okkalapa.
There are 4 entrances leading into the base of this great Shwe Dagon Pagoda. No one is sure what is inside. According to some legendary tales, there are flying and turning swords that never stop, which protect the pagoda from intruders; some says there are even underground tunnels that leads to Bagan and Thailand!
1. The Diamond Bud (Sein-phoo)
Legend has it that Tapussa and Bhallika brought the original sacred hairs of Buddha from India across the ocean. On their way to Myanmar, the two brothers were relieved of 2 hairs by the King of Ajetta, and 2 more were robbed by the King of Nagas, who transformed himself into the likness of a human being and boarded the ship at night.
On arrival in Myanmar, a great festival was celebrated in honour of the sacred hairs for several days. Sakka, Lord of the Heaven, came down to earth and assisted in the selection of the site; but he had to invoke the aid of the 4 apirits: Sule, Amyitha, Yawhani, and Dakkhina.
Up to the 14th century, not much was known of the Pagoda. In AD 1372, Binnya U, King of Hantharwaddy (Bago) visited Yangon in state the repaired the Pagoda. Successive Kings of Myanmar repaired or re-gilt it till the Shwe Dagon reached its present size some 5 centuries ago.
The little town of Okkala has since grown into the city of Yangopn, but it has no greater glory than the gleaming golden shrine, the spire of which rises majetically into the sky as if conscious of the veneration which the pagoda invokes. The Shwe Dagon apparently begain to assume its importance as a place of religious verneation during the years of the Mon Kingdom of Bago roughly coinciding with the reigns of Binnya U, Binnya Dammayaza, Binnyaran, Binnyawaru, and Binnyagyan. But it was in the time of Queen Shin Sawpu that it first assumed something of its present shape and appearance. Shinsawpu, Queen Regnant of Hantharwaddy, during 1455-62 improved the pagoda, for which she built the terrace, the great balustrade and the several encircling walls, and dedicated a vast area of blebe lands. She gilded the pagoda from top to bottom with gold leaves equal to her body weight. She set up a town on the northwest of the pagoda in the locality now known as Myenigone, so that she might supervise all the works of merit at the pagoda. Her brother and immediate predecessor Binnyagyan had raised the pagoda to to a height of 302 feet.
King Dhamazedi, Shinsawpu's son-in-law and successor, erected inscriptions relating the legend of teh foundation of the pagoda. He also offered a great bell said to weigh 180,000 viss (648,000 lb) of bronze, which the Poruguese adventurer, Phillippe de Brito removed around 1608, so that he might cast the bronze into cannons. The great bell was named Dhamazedi Bell and it really is the largest bell in the whole world. But on the way to Than Lyin (Syriam), of which he was the lord, the boat bearing the great bell sank in the river.
The Pagoda was reverenced by Bayinnaung, his son Nandabayin, Anaukpetlun, Minredeippa, and Tharlun. King Alaungphayar worshipped at the Shwe Dagon and embellished it by re-gilding. Shinbyushin, King of Ava, raised the pagoda to its present height in 1774 and made a new crown (Htee) for it gilding it with his own body weight in gold. King Singu, son of Sinbyushin, in 1778 regilt the pagoda again, and cast a bell which weighed 55,555 viss (~16 tons) of bronze. It stands at the north-west corner of the pagoda platform.
After the First Anglo-Burman War of 1824, this bell was taken by the Prize Agents, but it sank to the bottom of the river and was refloated and replaced at the pagoda by the Myanmar public. King Tharrawaddy in 1841 set up a town on the west side of the pagoda, regilt it with 12 viss (~20 lb) of pure gold and cast a bell 26,000 viss (~40 tons). It stands at the north-east corner of the platform.
King Mindon, who founded Mandalay in 1857, sent down a new golden crown by a steamer to Yangon in October 1871, when Lower Myanmar was already under the British rule. In 1919 there was an earthquake and the Trustees repaired the diamond bud, and vane and replaced them in two years later at a cost of a million rupees.
The pagoda has stood ravages of time and the inclemencies of teh weather, having been afflicted with earthquakes on no less than 8 times in 1564, 1628, 1649, 1661, 1664, 1769, 1888, and 1919, and with a serious fire in 1931. It still looks sombre and majestic and perhaps you will agree with Ralph Fitch, who says 'It is the fairest place, as I suppose, that is in the world.'
Yangon - Rangoon
Yangon (also known as Rangoon) is the largest city and a former capital of Burma. It is the capital of Yangon Division. Although the military government has officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw since March 2006, Yangon, with a population of four million, continues to be the country's largest city and the most important commercial center.
Yangon's infrastructure is relatively undeveloped compared to those of other major cities in Southeast Asia. Yangon has the largest number of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia today. While many high-rise residential and commercial buildings have been constructed or renovated throughout downtown and Greater Yangon in the past two decades, most satellite towns that ring the city continue to be deeply impoverished.
Colonial Rangoon (1852–1948)
Colonial Yangon, with its spacious parks and lakes and mix of modern buildings and traditional wooden architecture, was known as ‘the garden city of the East.’ By the early 20th century, Yangon had public services and infrastructure on par with London.
Before World War II, about 55% of Yangon's population of 500,000 was Indian or South Asian, and only about a third was Bamar (Burman). Karens, the Chinese, the Anglo-Burmese and others made up the rest.
After World War I, Yangon became the epicenter of Burmese independence movement, with leftist Rangoon University students leading the way. Three nationwide strikes against the British in 1920, 1936 and 1938 all began in Yangon. Yangon was under Japanese occupation (1942–45), and incurred heavy damage during World War II. Yangon became the capital of Union of Burma on 4 January 1948 when the country regained independence from the British.
Contemporary Yangon (1948 to present)
Since independence, Yangon has expanded outwards. Successive governments have built satellite towns such as Thuwunna and Okkalapa in the 1950s to Dagon Myothit (New Dagon) in the 1990s. Today, Greater Yangon encompasses an area covering nearly 600 km².
During Gen. Ne Win's isolationist rule (1962–88), Yangon's infrastructure deteriorated through poor maintenance and did not keep up with its increasing population. In the 1990s, the current military government's relatively more open market policies attracted domestic and foreign investment, bringing a modicum of modernity to the city's infrastructure. Some inner city residents were forcibly relocated to new satellite towns. Many colonial-period buildings were demolished to make way for high-rise hotels, office buildings, and shopping malls, leading the city government to place about 200 notable colonial-period buildings under a ‘Heritage List’. Major road and bridge-building programs have resulted in six new bridges, and five new highways linking the city to its industrial hinterland. Still, much of Yangon remains without basic municipal services such as 24-hour electricity and regular rubbish collection.
Yangon has become much more indigenous Burmese in its ethnic make-up since independence. After independence, many South Asians and Anglo-Burmese left. Many more South Asians were forced to leave during the 1960s by Gen. Ne Win's xenophobic government. Nevertheless, sizable South Asian and Chinese communities still exist in Yangon. The Anglo-Burmese have effectively disappeared, having left the country or intermarried with other Burmese groups.
Yangon was the center of major anti-government protests in 1974, 1988 and 2007. The city’s streets saw bloodshed each time as protesters were gunned down by the government. In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Yangon. While the city had few human casualties, three quarters of Yangon's industrial infrastructure was destroyed or damaged, with losses estimated at US$800 million.
In November 2005, the military government designated Naypyidaw, 200 miles (322 km) north, as the new administrative capital, and subsequently moved much of the government to the newly developed city. At any rate, Yangon remains the largest city, and the most important commercial center of Burma.
A latter day hallmark of Yangon is the eight-story apartment building. (In Yangon parlance, a building with no elevators (lifts) is called an apartment building and one with elevators is called a condominium. Condos which have to invest in a local power generator to ensure 24-hour electricity for the elevators are beyond the reach of most Yangonites.) Found throughout the city in various forms, eight-story apartment buildings provide relatively inexpensive housing for many Yangonites. The apartments are usually eight stories high (including the ground floor) mainly because the city regulation, until February 2008, required that all buildings higher than 75 feet or eight stories install elevators). The current code calls for elevators in buildings higher than 62 feet or six stories, likely ushering in the era of the six-story apartment building. Although most apartment buildings were built only within the last 20 years, they look much older and rundown due to shoddy construction and lack of proper maintenance.
Unlike other major Asian cities, Yangon does not have any skyscrapers. Aside from a few high-rise hotels and office towers downtown, most high-rise buildings (usually 10 stories and up) are ‘condos’ scattered across prosperous neighborhoods north of downtown such as Bahan, Dagon, Kamayut and Mayangon. The tallest building in Yangon, Pyay Gardens, is a 25-story condo in the city’s north.
Older satellite towns such as Thaketa, North Okkalapa and South Okkalapa are lined mostly with one to two story detached houses with access to the city's electricity grid. Newer satellite towns such as North Dagon and South Dagon are still essentially slums in a grid layout. The satellite towns – old or new – receive little or no municipal services.
* Broad 160-foot (49-m) wide roads running west to east
The pattern of south to north roads is as follows: one broad 100-foot (30 m) wide broad road, two narrow streets, one mid-size street, two more narrow streets, and then another 100-foot (30 m) wide broad road. This order is repeated from west to east. The narrow streets are numbered; the medium and broad roads are named. For example, the 100-foot (30 m) Lanmadaw Road is followed by 30-foot (9.1 m)-wide 17th and 18th streets then the medium 50-foot (15 m) Sint-Oh-Dan Road, the 30-foot 19th and 20th streets, followed by another 100-foot (30 m) wide Latha Road, followed again by the two numbered small roads 21st and 22nd streets, and so on.
The roads running parallel west to east were the Strand Road, Merchant Road, Maha Bandula (nee Dalhousie) Road, Anawrahta (Fraser) Road, and Bogyoke Aung San (Montgomery) Road.
Parks and gardens
Hlawga National Park and Allied War Memorial at the outskirts of the city are popular day-trip destinations with the well-to-do and tourists.
Western District (Downtown): Eastern District: Southern District: Northern District
Yangon Circular Railway runs a 45.9-kilometre (28.5 mi) 39-station commuter rail network that connects Yangon's satellite towns. The system is heavily utilized by the local populace, selling about 150,000 tickets daily. The popularity of the commuter line has jumped since the government reduced petrol subsidies in August 2007.
Buses and cars
Motor transportation in Yangon is highly expensive for most of its citizens. As the government allows only a few thousand cars to be imported each year in a country with over 50 million people, car prices in Yangon (and in Myanmar) are among the highest in the world. In July 2008, the two most popular cars in Yangon, 1986/87 Nissan Sunny Super Saloon and 1988 Toyota Corolla SE Limited, cost about US$20,000 and US$29,000 respectively. A sports utility vehicle, imported for around US$50,000, goes for US$250,000. Illegally imported unregistered cars are cheaper – typically about half the price of registered cars. Nonetheless, car usage in Yangon is on the rise, and already causes much traffic congestion in highway-less Yangon's streets. As of March 2008, Yangon had over 173,000 registered motor vehicles in addition to an unknown number of unregistered ones.
Since 1970, cars are driven on the right side of the road in Myanmar. However, as the government has not required left hand drive (LHD) cars to accompany the right side road rules, many cars on the road are still right hand drive (RHD) made for driving on the left side. Japanese used cars, which make up most of the country's imports, still arrive with RHD and are never converted to LHD. As a result, Burmese drivers have to rely on their passengers when passing other cars.
Within Yangon, it is illegal to drive trishaws, bicycles, and motorcycles.
Yangon is the most ethnically diverse city in the country. While the Indians formed the slight majority prior to World War II, today, the majority of the population is of Bamar (Burman) descent. Large communities of Indians/South Asians and the Chinese still exist especially in the traditional downtown neighborhoods. Intermarriage between ethnic groups--especially between the Bamar and the Chinese, and the Bamar and other indigenous Burmese--is common.
Burmese is the principal language of the city. English is by far the preferred second language of the educated class. In recent years, however, the prospect of overseas job opportunities has enticed some to study other languages: Mandarin Chinese is most popular, followed by Japanese, French, and Korean.
Yangon is the country's hub for the movie, music, advertising, newspaper and book publishing industries. All media is heavily regulated by the military government. (Television broadcasting is off limits to the private sector.) All media content must first be approved by the government's media censor board, Press Scrutiny and Registration Division.
All television channels in the country are broadcast from Yangon. TV Myanmar and Myawaddy are the two main channels, providing Burmese language programming in news and entertainment. Other special interest channels are MWD-1 and MWD-2, MRTV-3, the English language channel that targets overseas audiences via satellite and via Internet, MRTV-4 with a focus on non-formal education programs and movies, and Movie 5, a Pay-TV channel specializing in broadcasting foreign movies.
Yangon has only two radio stations. Myanmar Radio National Service is the national radio service and broadcasts mostly in Burmese (and in English during specific times.) Pop-culture oriented Yangon City FM specializes in Burmese and English pop music, entertainment programs, live celebrity interviews, etc.
Nearly all print media and industries are based out of Yangon. All three national newspapers – two Burmese language dailies Myanma Alin and Kyemon, and the English language The New Light of Myanmar are published by the government. Semi-governmental The Myanmar Times weekly, published in Burmese and in English, is mainly geared for Yangon's expatriate community. Over twenty special interest journals and magazines covering sports, fashion, finance, crime, literature (but never politics) vie for the readership of the general populace.
Access to foreign media is extremely difficult. Satellite television in Yangon (and in Myanmar) is highly expensive as the government imposes an annual registration fee of one million kyats (US$780). Certain foreign newspapers and periodicals such as the International Herald Tribune and the Straits Times can be found only in a few (mostly downtown) bookstores. Internet access in Yangon, which has the best telecommunication infrastructure in the country, is slow and erratic at best, and the Burmese government implements one of the world's most restrictive regimes of Internet control.
International text messaging and voice messaging was permitted only in August 2008.
Yangon is also home to many paya pwes (pagoda festivals), held during dry-season months (November–March). The most famous of all, the Shwedagon Pagoda Festival in March, attracts thousands of pilgrims from around the country.
The city's museums are the domain of tourists and rarely visited by the locals.
Most of Yangon's larger hotels offer some kind of nightlife entertainment, geared towards tourists and the well-to-do Burmese. Some hotels offer traditional Burmese performing arts shows complete with a traditional Burmese orchestra. The pub scene in larger hotels is more or less the same as elsewhere in Asia. Other options include karaoke bars and pub restaurants in Yangon Chinatown.
Yangonites carry stashes of cash to go on shopping. Credit cards are accepted only in a few high end hotels.
Yangon is also home to annual the Myanmar Open golf tournament, and the Myanmar Open tennis tournament. The city hosted 1961 and 1969 South East Asian Games.
The city is Lower Myanmar’s main trading hub for all kinds of merchandise – from basic food stuffs to used cars although commerce continues to be hampered by the city's severely underdeveloped banking industry and communication infrastructure. Bayinnaung Market is the largest wholesale center in the country for rice, beans and pulses, and other agricultural commodities. Much of the country’s legal imports and exports go through Thilawa port, the largest and busiest port in Myanmar.
Manufacturing accounts for a sizable share of employment. At least 14 light industrial zones ring Yangon, employing thousands of workers. But the industrial zones suffer from both structural problems (e.g., chronic power shortages) and political problems (i.e. Western economic sanctions). While Yangon's 2500 factories alone need about 120 MW of power, the entire city receives only about 250 MW of the 530 MW needed. Chronic power shortages limit the factories' operating hours between 8 am and 6 pm.
Construction is a major source of employment in this city of six million. Construction industry has been negatively affected by the move of state apparatus and civil servants to Naypyidaw. New construction activity has declined markedly since. Yangon’s property market is the most expensive in the country and beyond the reach of most Yangonites. Most people rent though few could afford downtown area apartments. (In 2008, rents for a typical 650-to-750 square foot apartments in downtown and vicinity range between K70,000 (US$60) and K150,000 (US$125) and those for high end condos between K200,000 (US$165) and K500,000 (US$415).)
Tourism represents a major source of foreign currency for the city although by Southeast Asian standards the actual number of foreign visitors to Yangon has always been quite low (about 250,000 before Saffron Revolution in September 2007). Cyclone Nargis dampened tourism even farther. The 2008 tourist arrivals at Yangon International are down to less than 50% from the previous year. Yangon's international standard hotels, built with foreign investment in the 1990s, still await the influx of tourists for which they were built.
While many students in poor districts fail to reach high school, a handful of Yangon high schools in wealthier districts like TTC, Dagon 1 and Latha 2 regularly send the bulk of the students entering the most selective universities in the country. The wealthy bypass the Burmese education system altogether, sending their children to private English language instruction schools like ILBC and YIEC for primary and secondary education, and abroad (typically Singapore or Australia) for university education. In 2008, international schools in Yangon cost at least US$8,000 a year.
Yangon is home to over 20 universities and colleges. While Yangon University remains the most well-known--its main campus is a part of popular Burmese culture (literature, music, film, etc.), the nation's oldest university today for the most part is a graduate school, deprived of undergraduate studies. Following the 1988 nationwide uprising, the military government has repeatedly shut down universities, and has dispersed most of undergraduate student population to new universities suburbs such as Dagon University, University of East Yangon and University of West Yangon. Nonetheless many of the country's national and most selective universities remain in Yangon. Students from around the country still come to study in Yangon as some subject matters are offered only at its universities. The city's University of Medicine 1, University of Medicine 2, Yangon Technological University, University of Computer Studies, Yangon and Myanmar Maritime University are the most selective in the country.
To be sure, wealthier Yangonites still have access to country's best medical facilities and internationally qualified physicians and surgeons in all branches of medicine. (As many Burmese physicians have emigrated abroad, only do Yangon and Mandalay have any sizable number of physicians left.) The well-to-do go to private clinics or hospitals like Pun Hlaing International Hospital and Bahosi Medical Clinic. A routine ten-day private hospital stay reportedly costs about K2.5 million (US$2300). The rich and top military brass routinely go abroad (usually Bangkok or Singapore) for treatment.
Museums and art galleries
Concert halls and theatres
Editor for Asisbiz: Matthew Laird Acred
Please help us to improve these articles with any additional information or photo's, if you should encounter any broken links or display errors :-(