Inauspiciousness and mishap

There’s been another — albeit less tragic — mishap at a major Buddhist shrine in Myanmar, less than one week after the collapse of Danok Pagoda on May 30.

Exile news website Mizzima reports that eight monks were injured on June 4 when a lift malfunctioned at Myanmar’s largest standing Buddha, which is located near the Sagaing Division capital Monywa, 120 kilometres northwest of Mandalay.

Three monks and five civilians were in a maintenance lift inside Maha Bodhitahtaung, a 130-metre-high standing Buddha, when it fell about 6 metres.

Two of the monks — Sayadaw Ashin Sandar Dika and Sayadaw Yawainwe Innma — are quite famous in Myanmar and are now recovering from leg injuries in Mandalay Hospital, an official from the nearby Bodhitahtaung monastery was quoted as saying in a Deutsche Press Agenteur report.

Not surprisingly, several people over at The Irrawaddy‘s comments section have linked this latest accident to the Danok Pagoda collapse and the possible downfall of Senior General Than Shwe. This is partly borne out of superstition — as Seth Mydans, one of the most knowledgeable writers on Myanmar in the mainstream media, pointed out in the New York Times, Myanmar people are amongst the most superstitious in Asia.

But I think it’s also a sign of the helplessness many people feel and the desperate situation the National League for Democracy and the wider pro-democracy movement now find themselves in.

As well as superstitious, Myanmar people would have to be amongst the most fervently religious — I mean, how many religious structures on the scale of Maha Bodhitahtaung are being built around the world today? Completed in 2008, it is a truly incredible sight and, at 32 storeys, it could well be the tallest man-made structure in Myanmar (it’s about 30 metres higher than Shwedagon Pagoda).

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You can see it in the early stages of construction on Google Maps — one of the great things about this program is the user-submitted photos and there are plenty of Maha Bodhitahtaung.

Situated at the foot of the Po Khaung Hills, the 130-metre high standing Buddha is almost as tall as the hills behind it and rises from an the otherwise flat plain between the Chindwin and Ayeyarwady rivers. Standing beside it certainly makes a human feel very, very small. When I visited last year I was disappointed to be told the lift was out of order; now I’m kind of thankful.

Google Earth is great for perusing a few other sites of interest around Monywa (and no doubt elsewhere in Myanmar). Unfortunately I haven’t been able to quite pinpoint Twin Daung lake, which is somewhere northeast of town, where the algae spirulina is harvested for use in Spirulina Beer, Myanmar’s “anti-ageing beer”. (Seriously, its slogan is “Young Forever”.)

Southwest of the city, across the Chindwin, are the Pho Win Taung caves, where the art dates back to the 15th century. They are filled with colourful murals and Buddha images. Like many amazing places in Myanmar, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see more than a handful of travellers here.

A less touristy — but no less interesting — site is the Monywa copper mine, which is half owned by Canadian company Ivanhoe. Their decision in the mid-90s to invest in Myanmar and develop the Monywa mine — one of the largest in Southeast Asia — was loudly denounced by the anti-Burma lobby as well as human rights and environmental groups. One of the most vocal has been the Canadian Friends of Burma and they still follow the issue pretty closely, as you can see from the recent postings on their website.

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Picture: “Monywa”, submitted by Panoramio user kopauk.

Copper production at Monywa recently restarted after more than 12 months of thumb-twiddling — according to this report the stoppage was because of an expired explosives contract with Australian company Orica, although it’s not clear whether they signed a new contract with the operating company, MICCL. If so, it could be pretty awkward for Orica, given MICCL was added to the US sanctions list in January 2009.

Once again, if you have Google Earth you can see a handful of user submitted photos – this 180 degree panorama of the mining pit is the pick of the bunch and was submitted by user kopauk. There are also a couple of the “artisanal” miners, who earn a living by extracting small amounts of copper from the mine’s tailings. And not far away is the “mine town” where many of the workers live.

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Picture: “Miners”, submitted by Panoramio user JosipBZg-CRO.