Chapter 16 of our Short Travel Stories section. To read more stories like these, click on the menu, also named “Short Travel Stories” and feel free to start reading all the way from the first chapter.
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Chapter 16: Burmese Zodiac
My second day in Yangon was looking good, sunny and warm. I left the hostel wearing my faithful New Balance shoes, that were actually in a terrible condition, almost falling apart, but I was planning to walk around the city and nothing better than comfortable shoes. These had basically shaped to my feet perfectly.
I walked around the city for like six or seven hours, from north to south and east to west, I saw almost everything, trying to understand how the city worked and moved. I fell as if the best way to get to know a place and its vibe is by walking around everywhere, it doesn’t matter the direction, what matters is waling all around.
The streets and roads impressed me, they were wide, large, well built. So wide, that crossing them was more dangerous than other South East Asian roads, and that’s quite a statement.
After various hours of walking I got to a beautiful temple that had a huge golden cupola. I don’t remember the name of the temple, but inside it had golden walls protected by glass.
I was walking around the temple when it started raining. I took cover under a roof and it was full of Buddhist monks. One of them approached me, asked me the basics, where I came from, etc. After that he started telling me about his religion and the difference between Buddhists monks from different countries.
“As you can see we wear colored robes, ours is dark red, which is typical in Myanmar. Other countries use other colors, Cambodia wears orange, Sri Lanka wears brown. It mostly depends on the materials they used in the past to dye the robe, and now it just stays as a tradition”, he told me.
Rain was finally stopping, so the monk took some pictures of me and took me to see some Buddha statues and explain some more.
We made it to a small statue of an elephant right next to the main temple. He pulled out from a small bag he had a little reddish notebook. He proceeded to ask me when I was born, day, month year and day of the week. I told him I was born the fifth of august of nineteen ninety-two, but I didn’t know on which day of the week. I looked it up in my phone’s calendar and we saw it was a Wednesday, but I didn’t know at which time.
“The time of the day is not that important, what’s important is that in the Burmese Zodiac (Burma is Myanmar’s former name) you are an elephant”.
“What does that mean?”
“Young man, the elephant is a very powerful animal. Everybody knows elephants have great memory, but for us Buddhists it goes further. We see the elephant as a patient and mentally strong animal. In the Burmese zodiac we see it as an animal that’s not afraid to take action. It’s not a coincidence that elephants are the animals that usually protect Buddhist temples. You should be proud”, he explained.
I remained silent, but in my mind I smiled. Of course that each animal has its qualities, and surely very one should be proud of its animal, but I was especially proud of mine. I usually don’t believe in zodiac signs, but it made an impression that it was an elephant, mentally strong, patient and with good memory. I can identify myself with that.
“Now, you must bathe the elephant, it will clean you too”, he added.
“What do you mean?”
“In many temples you will find the statues of the different Buddhist animals. As you see, below them there’s always a sort of water fountain, so that people can use the water to clean the animal. You were born in the eighth month, bathe him eight times” he ordered.
And so I grabbed a small sort of pot and filled it with water and started bathing the elephant.
Afterwards I thanked the monk for everything and left.
It started raining pretty heavily and I was soaking wet. I started to get irritated, it was a lot of rain and my shoes were literally falling apart.
When I made it to the hostel I had to throw my faithful shoes away. They were useless.
I went for a shower and remembered about the elephant and laughed at myself for getting irritated for such a materialistic and silly thing as being wet and with torn shoes.
“I’ve got to learn how to distinguish between what matters and doesn’t. Mental strength and patience, just like the elephant”, I said to myself.