I meant to write this in my blog a long time ago. First, it took hours for me to figure out how to trace my path on google maps. After that, I weas so burned out that I did not think about this for a couple of months!
Anyway, on a Sunday in mid-October I took a 6 hour walk in Yangon and thought people could learn from my experience. When I am in Yangon on non-working days, I am usually by myself and can only go so long without other human contact. Invariably I am approached by people in Yangon and end up striking up a conversation with them. When I am visiting a famous attraction, a polite and usually articulate person will approach me with the intention of extracting money from me in some manner. In countries like Thailand, I successfully avoid these people; I have read about the scams in Lonely Planet, 地球の歩き方, or the internet, and I am confident in identifying scammers.
Myanmar, though, is different. It is harder for me to understand the extent of people's sincerety. I really have no references in the guide books about what to do when people approach you at famous attractions so I basically go with my instinct.
So, let me talk about my walk. I started near Boyoge Market at the Point A at the bottom of the map and walked to Shwedagon Pagoda. It took a little over 30 minutes. Basically, I spent 90 minutes walking around extensive grounds surrounding the pagoda and absorbing the atmosphere. The central stupa has altars (fountains and a stand for burning incense) representing days of the week placed arounds its perimeter. People will go to the altar for the day of the week they were born and pray. I used the available wifi to look up the day of the week which I was born, Friday. I was too shy to pray though because I did not know how. As I was about to leave, an elderly man with an official tour guide badge caught me at the exit. After some small talk, he offered to show me how to make a prayer at the "Friday corner" (See below). My tour guide walked very slowly and I wondered how he could take someone on a tour of the whole premises.
Since nearly three months have passed, I have forgotten the exact order of procedures but I will recount what I remember. First, we prayed for my health and poured a cup of water over the head of the Buddha. After that we prayed for my success, love life, family, and something else followed by pouring water over the statue. The man was very erudite, and elderly. He guided me in a very gentle manner and he seemed to be very sincere and genuinely interested in teaching me something as well as looking out for my welfare. He said that he was a former history professor but that the government had denied his pension. He was making a living by acting as a tourguide. He told me he needed about 10,000 kyat (about 10 US dollars) to pay off work-permission fee to the pagoda. I gave it to him and said good bye. The man stayed behind at the Friday corner to pray some more.