Myanmar (Burma) Day 6: Mandalay Part II
Our Guide Susanna
When we arrived at the Mandalay Airport we were greeted by our guide Susanna. We had left our daily itineraries up to the discretion of our guides. This was both good and bad. They are the experts in their local areas, and they knew the places that people are interested in generally. They did not know our particular interests. If we ever do a trip like this again, I will be sure to communicate more with the guide ahead of time about our general interests, which seem to focus on art, music, culture, learning how people live in their daily lives, technology, and archaeology. Over time, and through observing and discussing our interests, each guide was able to begin to steer us to things we would find especially interesting.
Our guide Susanna had an especially interesting background. She had majored in Pali in college. Pali is the ancient, almost extinct, language of the Buddhist scriptures. Wikipedia is blocked from where I write, but here is a web page with a brief description of Pali: http://www.rootsweb.com/~lkawgw/pali.html
According to that web page, Pali was one of the Aryan dialects that moved into Southeast Asia (Sanskrit was another, distinct, dialect). It was most likely the language of the Buddha, has the largest body of religious literature in the world, is specialized in vocabulary for Buddhism (unlike Sanskrit). Pali was the Southeast Asian equivalent of Latin for about 1,000 years, and it continues to the the language of the modern Theraveda Buddhism (which is practiced in Myanmar). Sure enough, we heard ancient Buddhist prayers chanted in Pali language at various temples in Myanmar.
The Pali characters engraved in stone at many places (especially Kuthodaw Paya) look very similar to some that we saw on carvings at Angkor Wat, but I have no idea if there really is any similarity. Susanna was from Mandalay. I asked if she had studied archaeology as well, and she replied that yes, she had. Of course, that would be linked to preservation of ancient literature. Susanna was extremely well versed in the history of the Burmese kingdom and the various ancient capitals that lay in the vicinity of Mandalay. Susanna also speaks fluent Spanish and hopes to travel to Spain one day to hone her language skills further.
I asked Susanna why she had majored in Pali. She replied that she always was interested in the culture and heritage of her country. Additionally, she knew she wanted to work with people in the field of educating them about her culture, for instance as a tour guide. She saw Pali language as a means of doing that.
“What a brilliant idea!” I thought to myself. She had majored in something that was very specialized, where there will always be some demand for the knowledge, and where few people have training or expertise. This was a very different strategy from majoring in something broad like history, as I had done. When I finished college with a history degree, I had a broad education but no marketable skill or specialized expertise. Susanna’s college major, in contrast, provided her with specialized education which got her foot in the door in an in the employment in the niche she hoped to work in. Very interesting food for thought, in terms of choosing a college major, eh?