This fits in well with our course as they will write a narrative essay detailing their day. They will choose a tone; be it sentimental, humorous or objective in which to write a basic 5 paragraph essay comprised of introduction, main body and conclusion. Two of my students are high beginners and one is upper intermediate, so I normally aim the class at the beginners and differentiate on the vocabulary and refinement that I expect from the upper intermediate pupil.
I paid my entrance fee and soon saw plenty of families enjoying their day by sauntering across the neat grass and lining up to take turns on the fairground rides that are in one corner of the park. All school children have this day off school and the majority of businesses close all day or half days so it’s a great opportunity for all the family to engage in some lifelong informal learning as well as build bonds with each other. It was very hot as I approached the mighty Shwedagon; people were dressed in the Myanmar equivalent of Sunday best and even the local dogs were lazily cooling off in the water. The pagoda was packed out, necessitating two policewomen to assist the hordes with crossing the road and alternatively allowing traffic to pass.
In the midst of the party atmosphere, there were a few workers with wide brimmed hats and yellow jackets collecting the dead flowers and transporting fruit from one area to another. They seemed to get through the crowd with impressive ease.
Children who were relishing their freedom from school laughed and skipped about near a beautiful silver and green tiled wall which looked fresh and inviting. Despite the overwhelming number of visitors, it was possible to find moments of peace alone; whether to check one’s smartphone or to offer a prayer.
I also found the Wednesday afternoon corner where a group of young girls were pouring cool water three times over the Buddha image and the elephant as per tradition. There were a few nuns and monks, but less than I was expecting.
After one complete walk around the pagoda and an hour in the sunshine I headed home. As I walked, I saw family groups sleeping off the midday heat, readying themselves for the later festivities. The only nod to modern influence was the selling of plastic shaped balloons, generally in the shape of Elsa from Frozen carried by small girls.
My day finished by watching a monastic procession from the balcony and being plunged into darkness as I am certain the pagodas needed all of the electric for their pretty fairy lights.
I am very much looking forward to reading the narrative essays that my students write and comparing my day with theirs in our next class. Because the students who attend the English language classes in the week are from the northern part of Rakhine state which borders with Bangladesh, they are very curious about how other religions celebrate holy days and I am sure we will discuss how Thadingyut compares with Christmas, Easter or Eid.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer