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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

The Shwedagon Terrace

As the driver left us off in front of the four stairways to get to the Shwedagon hilltop terrace, Sally decided to take one of the lifts. The Shwedagon terrace is 168 feet above the surrounding city, from which this massive bell-shaped pagoda spirals upward into the sky, 326 feet above its hilltop surroundings. There are four entrances of stairways to get to the terrace: an Eastern, a Western, a Northern and a Southern stairway. At the entrances of each stairway is a sign that says "Footwear Strictly Prohibited".

Shwedagon pagoda 
Jeff at the Shwedagon pagoda

I took off my nice leather shoes and socks and went up with the lift. It's a long walk up the steps as I could see this when I came off the lift. As people climbed up those steps there are rows of stalls along the steps selling flowers, toys, gilded Buddhas, and incense. As we came off the lift there was a stall right next to it that sold flowers. Sally and I bought some flowers to offer in the main pagoda. When I walked around the terrace I was stunned by all the colorful shrines and pagodas all around the base of this superb glistening site with its soaring gold spire – the Shwedagon Pagoda. As I walked around the terrace I could feel the atmosphere of a holy place. It was just not any ordinary terrace you walked on. Here, for more than 2000 years, people have come to meditate and give their offerings to Buddha. The people all around were so devoted in their beliefs that I was very much taken by it. All my life I have only witnessed Christianity, and this was something new in my life. I didn't see much difference in their ways of belief as mine and Christian. The Swhedagon Pagoda reminded me of our huge Catholic Cathedrals with many chapels around. We light a candle and offer some money in one of the chapels which is dedicated to one of our favorite Saints, and we would say our prayers to him so that he could ask God for our wishes. Seeing all of this it made me think. As a kid, I was always told that my religion was the only one to believe. But what I have seen in the Shwegadon Pagoda and other places, I have come to the conclusion that it makes no difference what kind of religion you follow, so long a the person who believes is strong in his faith, and lives by the teachings of his beliefs.

To explore around the Shwedagon Terrace is stimulating, and can be excellent subjects of photographs. There are mythical creatures, like a sphinx lion bodied with a human feature. There are pavilions with a terrace roof. The workmanship containing several panels of ancient wood carvings is just fascinating to see. Among the shrines are all kinds of gold Buddha statues. It's just like an art gallery.

As Sally and I walked into one of the larger chapels, I saw worshippers kneel to burn incense, offer flowers or money, and pray. Sally and I knelt, offered our flowers and money to Lord Buddha and said some prayers. As we walked out of the chapel I stood and watched a group of men applying gold leaf to the side of the massive central spire. People buy a packet of 24 gold sheets as an offering, and this is added to the shrine.

As I left the Shwedagon Pagoda terrace with great spiritual feelings about Buddhism, I could really understand why most Burmese people don't care about getting rich. Buddhism dominates their daily life, and they like to give to the temples. By following the noble path of Buddha, the Shwedagon is a place where the Burmese people can lay to rest their worries and troubles of the day. With peace of mind they will leave the Shwedagon with a spiritual mold that is more important that all the comforts of life.

As we drove back to Sally's house I could still see the Shwedagon with its glistening gold and all its mystics. It's a place I will talk about for many years to come.

Once we got back to Sally's house, friends were already waiting for me to take me to their house. A group of old students who had years ago studied at Syracuse University wanted me to come to one of their homes. It had been 22 years since we had seen each other. When I walked into their house they were so overjoyed to see me again. One of them said, "it's like Jesus Christ walked into our house". Of course everybody was sad that Lu Lu couldn't come along. With plenty of beer and scotch to drink we talked about the old time in Syracuse when all of them were still students and bachelors. Now all of them were married and had children of their own who already were going to Rangoon University. With all those drinks around the party became very loud, and all of them told me how discouraged they were with the present Burmese Military Government. I was told the economy was just going downhill. Since all of my friends were well educated but none of them was in the military, their hands were tied and they just had to take orders from the present government. They told me, if they'd just let us show them what we have learned, we could help our country so greatly. I told them not to be so loud in their conversation, as other people might hear what we talked about, but they told me they couldn't care less. All of them were so happy to see me again. They couldn't get over how I had progressed over the years.

CONTINUED: The Story of Colonel Tin Tut
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index