When you meet a local, he or she probably won’t grill you about which day of the week you were born on. But it’s a handy bit of information to have. For example, at Shwedagon Pagoda, Win showed me a pillar of spiritual animal sculptures designating each day of the week (Wednesday earns two mentions, one for morning and one for evening). I wanted to know: Was I a lion, a tiger or a rat? And to go even deeper into the universe’s personality chart: Was my dominant trait funny, garrulous or stingy? I needed professional help to find the answers.
Palm readers and astrologers congregate around Rangoon’s temples and parks, eager to reveal your future for a few kyat. Win initially dissuaded me from a session, warning of a potential scam. The clairvoyant, he said, would discern a negative fortune and then request more money to reverse the bad luck. But I ignored his advice when I saw Su Su’s serene moon face through an open door near Sule Pagoda. She seemed honest and professional with her desk, computer and astrology charts pinned to the wall. Plus, according to a storefront sign, she had a B.S.C., which I assumed was a bachelor’s certificate in the science of cosmology.
Su Su won even Win over. When she opened up the floor for questions, he asked her whether Wednesday mornings (me) and evenings (him) make a compatible love match. They’re “good friends,” she said, wise to his line of inquiry.
A sacred site
I had a cushy journey to Golden Rock in Mon state: a five-hour drive from Rangoon, with leisurely stops at temples in Bago, at a World War II cemetery outside Rangoon and at a Chinese restaurant with views of rice paddies; an open-air truck ride with a prime seat beside the side railing; and a sprightly hike to the top carrying a feather-light bag.
Other pilgrims, however, often endure more arduous trips to one of Burma’s most sacred Buddhist sites. Setting out from ethnic tribal villages, they may spend 15 hours in a cramped public bus and six hours trekking along a steep forested trail leading to the giant nugget. Their backs may bend under the weight of camping gear and fidgety children. Their feet, especially those of hermits and monks, may be bare.
Still, over the past decade and a half, the trip has improved significantly for all adventurers. Eight years ago, the road from Bago to Kinpun village, the entry point to the rock, was as rough and rutted as an elephant hide; now, cars skate over the smooth pavement. And about 15 years back, visitors could reach the boulder and pagoda atop Mount Kyaiktiyo only by foot. Today, hefty trucks run guests up the serpentine road, though some still prefer the traditional approach.