The Monastery of Sacred
stepped off the plane onto the cracked tarmac arrived in a small, empty
airport, the only foreigner to be seen. Hot and muggy, he was surprised at the
temperature in Rangoon compared to the coastal coolness of Hong Kong, both so
close in latitude. He hadn't expected the over-bearing heat.
took two minutes to get through customs. It had been difficult getting a visa
for Burma because no writers were allowed in the country. He had written
"Academic Writer" as his profession so he had been asled to write aletter
stating he didn't write for the media. Only by insisting to speak to the
embassador he had been able to get his visa.
Rangoon airport barren: nothing on the walls, behind the desks or a computer to
be seen. Slipping on his sunglasses after walking through the customs booth, he
picked up his bag and then purchased a bottle of booze at the duty-free store.
Walking out to the arrivals foyer, just by chance he glanced at the people
awaiting new arrivals and stopped in his tracks when he saw a cardboard sign
FRIEND OF METHODIST CHURCH OF MYANMAR
He smiled in amazement at the tall man holding the freshly printed cardboard sign.
to our country Mr. Robertson," he replied, his voice chiming. "Happy you made
it safe." A big, heavy man of Indian descent with skin the native hue of mocha,
Thomas stepped through the cordon and shook his hand, immediately seeing his
pleasant demeanor and trustworthy eyes.
glad I spotted you. I hadn't expected anyone to be here at the airport."
Everyone standing there stared at Thomas as if a zoo animal. Burma was a
country where most of the populace hadn't seen a white face before. It had been
over fifty years since the British left and the military dictatorship perferred
to keep foreginers out. A ripple of bone-centered fatigue reverberated through
his body; Thomas always preferred to be incognito when he traveled.
pleasant surprise I hope." A grin at the corner of his mouth, a cheery voice.
it is. A great surprise." He picked up the bigger backpack Thomas brought and
they walked outside where the heat washed over him leaving a layer of sweat to
cool him down.
parked very close - just over here." Thomas removed his sweatshirt and threw his
bag in the back seat. There was no air-conditioning unlike Hong Kong where you
could always count on taxis and buses bordering on the same temperature as a
would you like to go Mr. Robertson? Your hotel? Or would you like to come to
our office right away? I ask because Julian our director will be leaving a
little early today for a prior engagement. This is why he suggested I pick you
up so you could meet and discuss your questions. Then you can proceed on your
vacation." Thomas was uplifted by the melodious tone of his accent.
I don't see any reason not to meet with the director now. I would like to begin
my travels as soon as I can. So thank you. Let's go to the office."
good sir." His accent part British colonial with a distinct Indian curry
flavor. They drove past swarms of people walking beside concrete nightmares of
crumbling stores, both men and women wearing sarongs and flip-flops, and then a
pristine swath of palm trees protecting colonial mansions in rows along the
main street nestled around Inle Lake. It contrasted sharply against the ache of
squalor and poverty just across the street. Removing another shirt, Thomas was
down to his t-shirt.
Lake sir," said the driver, pointing and playing tour guide. "It is where many
British used to live. Very nice." Instead of tropical lush it was bone dry,
everything covered in dust. Long streets of wall-to-wall colonial four-story
buildings with pronounced bay windows and crumbling facades hidden by fresh
paint, the stately order of colonial Rangoon was marked by weeds and grass
growing out of ornate balconies and arched entrances.
they arrived at the Methodist office, Thomas was escorted intp a front room,
fans swirling, hardwood floors worn.
Thomas Robertson, I am Julian. So glad to make your acquaintance sir." A short
man, well into his seventies, dressed in a pressed suit and yet wearing
flip-flops, put out his hand looking more British than most of Thomas's British
friends in Hong Kong. Julian seemed genuinely happy to meet him.
he replied, clearing his throat of dust. "Very kind of you to pick me up from
the airport. Thank you for that." Thomas relaxed in the vibe of benevolence as
he stood in front of him, Julian's flip-flops more casual than his Birkenstock
do need to leave a tad early this afternoon for a wedding," he said with the
ease of one who knows he has found his true calling. "One of our flock is
getting married." Thomas put his hands behind his back in the Chinese style as
a sign of respect, and said something about promoting love in his congregation.
He nodded with vigor.
we go into my office?" The office was small but had a history to it, as if it
had been the scene of a great event. Numerous portraits of missionaries lined
the walls. He spotted Eugenio right away with his Red Man bone structure.
Mr. Thomas Robertson, how exactly can I help you? You mentioned Reverend
Eugenio Kin Kaid on the telephone last week. He is a famous man here in our
country. He preached throughout Upper Burma." Thomas looked at a big map on the
wall, and motioned towards it.
did he build his church Julian? Was it close to Mandalay? Or north of it?"
church he helped build is in a place called Katha."
Isn't that where George Orwell wrote his book Burmese Days?" Thomas had
brought the book with him, a story of his time when he was a colonial cop in
the 1920s. But his question petered out when Julian's face changed from joy to
sorry but I do not know this author you speak of. But-" He walked to the map on
the wall. "Katha is right here - on the Irrawaddy River. The Kachin Methodist
Church is just outside of town, about here. It's a very beautiful spot. The
church still has many who attend."
Reverend Kin Kaid preach at many churches? Or just this one?"
churches," he enthused proudly. "He was the only missionary in Myskyina for
many years, until he heard his calling to build another Temple to God in
the isolated town of Katha. I tell you Mr. Thomas Robertson, do you like the
British buildings from before the War?" The very way Julian carried himself
gave him the impression he yearned for the good old colonial days.
much," he replied truthfully. "In fact I'm a big fan of colonial architecture.
Katha is a particularly quaint colonial town where time has not changed it
since the days when the British were here. It was one of the reasons I believe
Mr. Kin Kaid decided to move from Myskyina to Katha." Thomas retrieved some photocopied
papers from his bag and scanned them.
just wondering, is there a main Christian church in the north that is
considered a religious center where missionaries would stop at as they traveled
north?" Julian rubbed his chin and smiled.
don't think so. Many of the churches are roughly the same size so there's no
major church that has any special importance than any others in Upper Burma.
But there is a very old and a wonderful church in Mandalay that is right beside
the Mandalay Fort and Royal Palace. It is situated beside the fort's moat and
near a monastery that is said to have the largest book in the world written on
stone tablets." Stone tablets Thomas thought to himself. "That is the
first place I think of when I think of a stopover, if you will, for ministers
on their way north. All the other churches are small, local parishes run by
ministers without particular distinction." Thomas was quiet for a moment,
nodding at Julian as he circled the Methodist Church in Mandalay on his map.
monastery with the world's biggest book. What's the book?" Julian raised his
hand, as if about to give a lecture.
book is a collection of engraved tablets of stone that have holy Buddhist
scriptures. There are 730 tablets in the monastery I believe. It is a very
pretty place, directly beside the Emperor's Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill." He
was suddenly aware of a prickly sensation on his forehead where the red welt
had been from the spark. "Does that answer your question?"
yes it does Julian. I'm just looking at the rest of my questions here. Do you
have any archived material of Reverend Kin Kaid or other missionaries that
would have been left behind?"
papers? Notes, old sermons and whatnot?" he asked.
that type of thing. Like research or notes that missionaries may have
bequeathed to the church?"
I see. I don't think we have anything here at the office. It is my
understanding that everything was left at the church in Katha. I don't believe
he had any family here. So if he left any of his work behind for others, you
may want to visit the church in Katha."
last question," he ventured. "Did he have any special projects or areas of
interest that you know of? For example, was he interested in Tibet, or in
Native American Indian mythology, for example?" Thomas wasn't sure how he would
take to this question.
mean Red Indians?"
the Red Indian." Cheeks flushed with anticipation.
He spoke of the Red Indians quite often with another missionary by the name of
Reverend Francis Mason, I think. They were looking for connections between the
origin of the Red Man and that of the Hebrews who are reported to still be
living in the hills in Northern Burma in the Kachin State mainly.
Representatives from Israel were here organizing the emigration of the Lisu
Tribe a few decades ago. They believed they shared a Hebrew religion."
that interesting. Did some emigrated to Israel?"
believe so, after they completed a genetic study."
exactly are the Lisu?" Julian pointed to just north of Katha, near
Myskinia. Somewhere church bells rang in the distance. Julian glanced at his
there anyone else who works on a similar line of research who is here in Burma
presently?" Julian seemed to enjoy the challenge of searching for a candidate,
but was sad when he couldn't think of a name.
missionaries left after the military coup forty-five years ago. I do not know
of any such work being done today. I'm so sorry." With that, Thomas picked up
begin to thank you enough for your help Julian. Really, I'm indebted to you
for your candor and kindness." A firm handshake and nothing but a generous love
in his eyes.
is my pleasure to be able to help in anyway."
have, sir. You have helped me a great deal." Careful to call him sir to
give respect. Julian walked him out to the car where the dark-skinned man
waited by the car.
you like, you can go with Samuel to your hotel."
drove him to his guesthouse near the Strand Hotel by the Irrawaddy River past
brightly painted colonial buildings lined with palm trees as he began to feel
the thrill of a journey about to commence. By the time he reached his
guesthouse, he had decided the church in Mandalay was where he would begin his