A Burmese Buddhist Adventure

“I had a couple of days in Yangon before and after my official tour of Myanmar with a tour group and was looking to fill my extra days. A friend recommended I be in touch with Joah McGee, who works out of Myanmar,  and through Joah I was able to add to my itinerary in ways my official tour could not provide. Joah offered to take me to digs of Buddhist arts off the beaten path, which unfortunately I could not take advantage of because of time and logistics despite my expressed interest in art, Buddhism, and Burmese culture. Because Joah knew I was a professor, he matched me up with a Burmese writer, U Hla Thaung,  and through that connection I got a strong introduction to Burmese ways of life as well as an unexpected invite to lecture at the University of Yangon. That lecture on my first full day in Burma, set the tone for the rest of my Burma journey. I had a quick tour of the campus, the library, and an exposure to the sweetness of the faculty and students. It made me realize how much we can offer at very little cost to us.  Just before the lecture Joah and U Hla Thaung were taking me through the Mogok Monastery, familiar to the Burmese. I had questions about the Mogok perspective on Theravada Buddhism. Joah called a Dr. Jenny Ko Gyi, who was a physician, now dedicating her life to translating important Buddhist texts. Unexpectedly she showed in no time and we had a two plus hours of intense conversation on Theravada Buddhism. She was both grounded on her tenets as well as open to frank questions. It was why I travel. That conversation added to the grounding of my own lecture. On returning to Yangon after my earlier scheduled tour, I was taken by passenger ferry to the backwaters of Yangon to see the less visited monasteries.  Again this was why I travel.  I saw the unadorned Maung Di Pagoda, where the abbot showed his well cared for Gandhara style Buddhist sculptures, probably dating back to the 13th century. The Abbot himself was a picture of dignity and humility. So much so my guide knelt in reverence in front of the kind abbot before we bid him goodbye. The Buddhist art at that pagoda was not fancy but very moving in the most unpretentious of ways. It felt entirely appropriate to the quiet village we were at. What I encountered was perfect to what I was looking for and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s the point, I believe. Joah was willing and able to custom fit what each traveler is looking for and offer up the unexpected. I can feel very comfortable recommending his services.”

— Thomas Choi, Seattle

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