Maung Phyo (WYU)
“Travel when you cannot read a book”, an English saying goes. To me, I prefer both. I also like to read while travelling. Therefore, I was over the moon when I was invited to a conference in Oslo, Norway, last August. Having made necessary preparations, I set out on my journey to Oslo from the Mingaladon International Airport quietly early in the morning. After three-hour long flight, our plane landed in Guangzhou, China. I had to proceed to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and thence, Oslo, Norway. Normally, I was to wait for transit to Amsterdam for about 5 hours at Gaungzhou. However, a flight delay added two hours to the primary waiting time in the departure lounge. Then, I flew to Amsterdam for about 10 hours. From the skies, the landscape in Amsterdam was superb. About an hour later, I found myself stepping down the escalator in Oslo airport.
I espied a middle-age monk waving at us in the arrival longue. He is the abbot of Wat Thai Monastery. In fact, “Wat” is a Thai word for “Monastery”. With radiant smiles, he approached us, asking “Are you from Myanmar?” in Thai accent. I replied in the affirmative. Then, we shook hands and he walked us to a van waiting outside the airport. He spoke English quite slowly on our way to the van. I did not expect a Thai monk to come to fetch us to a hotel. So I asked why my friend had not showed up for reception. The monk replied he was requested by my friend to come on the latter’s behalf as my friend was occupied with preparations for the upcoming conference. When we saw the van, another monk scurried towards us. He greeted on the way to ushering us to our seats and I noticed his language fluency. He had been an interpreter for us throughout our stay at the monastery. He added that my friend would come to Wat Thai late in the afternoon to take me to the hotel.
I said, “I made it” for it was my first journey abroad. I was invited to a Conference in Oslo, Norway. The Conference would last for two days and we had a few days after it to go sightseeing. Wat Thai monastery is located on a hillock in the uptown area of Oslo. The traffic was light and so, just a 25-minute drive took us to the monastery. Wat Thai is a very beautiful two-story building flanked by wide meadows. The weather was pleasantly cool even in broad daylight. In due north of the monastery, the wheat fields seemed to extend to the horizon. The yellow plants were swaying in the breeze with the blue sky in the background. Spellbound by the nature, I made a pause and looked around before entering the monastery. How nice it would be if I managed to bring my family and all my colleagues here to enjoy the beauty of nature! I thought. In the mean time, my friend nudged me out of my daydream. As I entered the monastery, two women came to greet me “Sawadikhab” with hands put up like a lotus bud. I followed suit. Then, they started to chat in Thai and I in English. Only then did they dissolve into laughter, saying “we mistook you for a Thai.”
They treated us with Thai-style lunch, undeniably delicious one. During the lunch, our interpreter said they ran the monastery with the financial support of the Norwegian Government. To the best of my knowledge, other religious communities in Oslo also run with the same financial source. Therefore, Norway is a religious pluralistic society. In fact, the term “Norway” itself stands for “Gateway to the North”, connotatively referring to its geographical position. Officially, it is the kingdom of Norway, a sovereign and unitary monarchy. Oslo, the capital of Norway, is surrounded by beautiful nature innermost on Norway’s fifth longest fjord. It was made the capital of Norway early in the mid 11th century by King Harald Hardrade. It now becomes a modern city with numerous attractions.
Two hours later, my friend called at the monastery in his van. We drove to Scandic Victoria Hotel near the gulf. The roads are not as wide as those here in Myanmar. However, a bicycle-lane is marked in red paint on each road. I ducked to get into my friend’s car and seated myself. My friend was struggling with starting the engine for a few seconds. He turned to me and reminded me to fasten the seatbelt. Only then, the car jerked forward on the road. It was still late summer. So, many couples were on their walking tour and a few senior citizens strolling with their walking stick. They beamed with pleasure of life.
It was just a 20-minute drive from Wat Thai Temple to the Scandic Victoria Hotel. This was probably due to the light traffic. Upon our arrival at the hotel, my friend and I checked into it with my friend credit card. Scandic Victoria looked a historic building with a spacious restaurant flanked by four high-rise buildings that house the hotel rooms. The restaurant runs with the buffet system so the guests can have their fill up to their heart’s content. Sometimes, when an Indian chef is around in his shift, Indian food like Puri and Prata tend to be available. Bread eaters can enjoy myriad kinds of bread in addition to minced meat, sliced beef, cheese and a variety of fruits and vegetable.
Out of fatigue from a day-long flight, I stretched up in the room. The clock struck 7. The sun was still beaming through the high-rise buildings. My Norwegian friends said the sunset would start at 9 pm in Oslo especially at this time of year, August. While in Oslo, I liked to watch the famous midnight sun in the northern part. Besides, I also wanted to boat through the fjords that characterize the topography of Norway. From my window in the hotel room, a picturesque scenery was a clean and well-lit back lane and Oslo bay standing at quite a distance.
Next morning, we breakfasted with professors and scholars from other countries. We made a great team with a simple and friendly conversation. At about 9 am, we took a leisurely stroll to Norwegian Center for Human Rights from out hotel. At the conference and the follow-up workshop hosted by the Buddhist Federation Norway, researchers read their papers and engaged themselves in a lively symposium. We lunched together in an adjoining room. We had a decent meal with local fruits and vegetable.
After the conference, we walked back to the hotel. The android cameras flashed on the way amid the hearty conversation. It was like a walking tour indeed. Pausing at a red building, Dr Iselin explained that it was a governmental beverage shop that runs with its specific regulations.
Next morning, we went some sightseeing in Oslo such as Oslo Opera House, the Palace, the Oslo City Hall, the unique Vigeland Sculpture Park and the Munch Museum. We feasted our eyes upon the works of Gustav Vigeland and of Edvard Munch. The day luncheon took place at a small restaurant Oslo harbor. Norwegian fish soup with unique taste made an impression for me. I overheard two venerable monks from Sri Lanka ordering vegetarian dishes. A few moments later, the waitress brought before them two plates full of green leaves lined by carrot slices. They could not help but munch such vegetarian food. That evening, we dined at a Chinese restaurant, another treat of my Norwegian friends.
Beauty of Nature reaches its peak in Oslo especially during spring and late summer. It is absolutely right. Mother Nature reveals her beauty to its fullest. Vast wheat fields stretched away towards the skyline, sometimes lined by grasslands with the cloudless, blue sky in the background.
Next morning, Mr Egil Lothe, President of Buddhist Federation Norway, saw us off at the airport. We went there by train. Oslo railway system is, in my opinion, a credit to Norway. That leisurely ride took us about 15 minutes to get to the airport. What an efficient service by the railway department! Though having already online-booked the air-tickets, I had to take it out in a self-service machine. After a day-long return flight, I set my foot on Yangon again.
At the time of penning this article, the cold season has already made its way to Yangon. I wish I were there in Oslo again. Oslo would embrace me with her snowflakes scattered on the road during this season. I like to muse on watching them fall to the ground with a cup of yogurt. I think I will visit it again when things move in my favor.