Burma- to “the land of floating time”

Sunset in Bagan, from Shwesandaw

2 weeks ago, rumors said that I was no longer a student. I marked it with a week in Burma.

It’s almost never a question any more about who I am going with but I’m happy to see all the “have a great time”, “safe and sound”, etc on my facebook before any of my trips. This time I broke the pattern- I went with my sister and two of her friends. It was fun indeed. And thanks for them and all the sunrise-sunset madness, a week after Burma, I am still SLEEPY. The views were breath-taking and really worth the effort but even though I loved them so much I don’t think I can afford any of 4am wake-up calls in the next few months.

I arrived in Yangon with a great excitement collected from LonelyPlanet guidebook and that much of exhaustion and sleep-deprivation accumulated from a week before when I was up all night not preparing for my last exam but dreaming that I would miss it. The airport is spacious and the custom went really well. There were two officers at each counter- one manually checked my passport and visa *I’m pretty sure she doubted the girl in the visa photo was not me!* and one typed the details into a black computer screen. No hassle, no difficulty!

Yangon was really hot and humid. After checking in Okinawa Guesthouse, I used the last bit of encouragement for a walking tour around the city. It took me exactly one hour of sweaty walk under the cloudless summer sky of over 35*C to get back to my room and 2 cans of Redbull to give me just enough energy to … sleep. That was a very good 2 hour sleep until numerous banging sound became audible to my ears. That’s my family’s way to wake me up. 22 years and that’s the only effective way though.

“Burma is a strange country. At first you may not put a lot of expectation into your trip yet at the end, it is a high chance that you wish all the flights are delayed or some sudden tornado just sweeps through the country or any wicked reasons you can think of so that you can prolong your time in Burma.

People call Burma the Golden Land. For me, I love to call it the realm of floating time because here at the same time exists things that belong to the 80s  of Vietnam and things that perhaps in the next 10-20 years we will never achieve. Blended in the life and the moral code of social behaviors there, I have never had the slightest idea of time and space.”

                                                                                                           -By Mashi Milu-

She said about Hanoi of the 80s. In my opinion, it should be Saigon of the 50s-60s because it pretty much gives you a very sense of freedom and stability. I don’t talk about wealthy because they are simply not, however, they are happy with their days passing by, with the little money they makes and with the talks they have with perfect strangers. We met hostel owners who could speak perfect English and Japanese at Pyinsa Rupa Guesthouse, tour guide who had an amazingly cool American accent, kids who tried to sell postcards yet ended up taking us to their houses for free thanakha– a local facial cream that can be used any time, drivers who happily stopped in the middle of nowhere just for us to take photos with a cherry blossom tree and secretly hung up a string of orchids in the truck, horse cart drivers who cared more about us than his horse- his livestock, or some amazing boat owner who accommodated four sleeping machine for an hour of a supposed-to-be boat trip. They love to talk. They love to make friends. They love that we love their country. Perhaps it comes from the very fact that almost all Burmese are Buddhist and they have that religiously warm-hearted embracing sharing spirit engraved in their hearts and their minds. We saw a lot of small little huts along the roads where people kept drinking water for pedestrians and wandering monks and it’s hardly true but if you see a mango tree full of fruit, just ask, they will give you everything they have. We saw families chilling out in Shwedagon at night and many others taking a nap in any pagodas we visited. Burmese people are just worry-free, no matter they have to stop half way to spit their chewing betel or not!

Out itinerary in Burma  was quite packed but thanks to the slow life motion there, we felt like we have spent double the time with those lovely people. Yangon- (Golden Rock)- Bagan-Mandalay-Inle Lake- Yangon. With endless hours on horse cart, trucks, minivan, intercity buses, boats, bare foot… we made it through the very heart of the country, and hopefully the people as well.

Most of the things you will see in Burma are pagodas and pagodas. There are like millions of them. The biggest, Shwedagon, stands proudly and fabulously in Yangon. The busiest, Sule Paya, stops all the traffic at the most crowded crosse road of the capital and of short distance to our favorite 999 Shan Noodle and a nameless tea shop that served amazing home-brew milk tea and led by its funny powerful 12-year-old-or-something captain. After that is the city of bagan, home to more than 10000 pagodas/temples, down to about 2000 now, which was built up in a week. We had a great time chasing the sunrise-sunset fame there and thanks to our driver, a lot of stories underneath revealed. People told that the biggest temple, Dhammayangyi, was built as the King Narathu’s atonement for his sin of assinating his father and his brother for the throne. It was built from laid bricks WITHOUT any mortar. For any two adjacent bricks that the King could slide his sword in the building worker would be sentenced to death. Not long before the completion, the King was killed and the temple was never be finished. Another interesting story is about another unfinished temple in Migun, Mandalay. It would be a mighty 150m temple when finished. Yet the King died halfway and after his death, a major earthquake struck the temple by halves. Fate! There are also an array of pagodas, temples and monasteries in Mandalay and Inle Lake as well. Among that I was much impressed by Kuthodaw in Mandalay for it 781 stupas, Phaung Daw Oo pagoda for its 5 funny golden buddhas, and of course the coolNga Phe Kyaung Monastery- Jumping Cat Monastery, in Inle Lake where I was amazed at an old celebrity cat and a number of Louis Vuiton advertisements photographed at the Lake.

To be honest, though I admired all the pagodas there, I couldn’t remember their names and as I am not quite religious, I’d opt to tell you a bit of some unusual things that we did and  about the people I met.

We met and re-united with lots of travelers in Burma. A group of Thai monks who taught us that monks were not to make direct contacts with women– The scene was that one of our ladies exchanged her email with a young monk and what she did was to put her piece of paper on the ground for the monk to pick it up. Those devotees have much less restrictions in Vietnam!  A lot of Japanese and a lot of Vietnamese as well. Our favorite traveler names Tanaka from Hokkaido who has very funny face and gesture . He is taking a gap year to tour around Africa and Asia. We “networked” over  a bottle of palm juice, 2 papayas, a bunch of roasted peanuts and numerous beer.

I had a weird conversation with a female monk while waiting for the ladies on U Bein Bridge, Mandalay. She is in her mid 30s and very beautiful, which is not so strange for Burmese monks, both female and male. Being asked her why she chose this life, she answered me in a sad but still voice – “I used to run after what I thought was my destiny. It’s so vibrant a life back to those days. Yet when it turned out not, I have nowhere to turn back. So I devote myself to Buddha. How about you?”. I told her a bit of my little story saying “I’m taking a rest”. She smiled “You are waiting. It’s ok but don’t wait too long”. A couple of day after that conversation, another person said the same line to me “don’t wait too long.” That night, Bin Laden was killed, taking much of our attention and the two bankers’ worry on the hiking of US$ exchange rate. I was thinking about India.

We chose to stay in Sky Lake resort for a night in Inle Lake. We said we wanted a good rest and treatment. However, surprisingly, as far as we loved the big mirror lake and its cool hazy air, we still couldn’t stand the quietness and tranquility of the resort. So we ran around like some crazy “people-deprived” mosquitoes asking the staff if there were any other people. To break the boredom, we borrowed a boat and paddling around the resort,swimming a bit in that shallow water and of course, making a lot of noise and damages.The staff loved us. I bet it has been really bored for them there with all the oldy tour groups. We also had a short trip to the nearby village where we walked all the way along an U-Bein-style bridge and the scene, as the matter of fact,  stopped many of our heart beats.

Back to Yangon, I spent the last night on my own as the girls had left for Hanoi. So I hung out with some travelers at Okinawa. Nathan, the first American I met there, was on some missionary trip sponsored by UN and his church to buy some thousands of cows and ducks. he told me his amazing 17-year love story with his wife, his first love. Born in Japan, he said “My first language is Japanese. I went to Japanese school. All my friends are Japanese. English, I’m still learning.” When asking what his favorite part of US was, he confidently said “Wherever my wife is. Currently South Carolina.”  A French guy ended  his 7-year relationship with his first love 2 years ago when he set off from Paris. And my neighbor Tim, an Englishman, technically Scot, a SOAS graduate just ended his year of teaching English in Korea and on his Asian tour. That is a guy who reads, who loves classic movies, esp 1950s Japanese movies and who is very much fond of Japanese and Balinese wives. I have no love story to tell but I was happy that love was still all around. Over our many beer, I am amazed at how I enjoyed the talks on politics, poverty, revolution and all sort.

I left Yangon the next day spending my last kiat for a margarita at the airport and again hearing people say “You look like Burmese”.

Much thanked. Much loved. Much missed.

With Love,

Kate

P.S: I was tagged along my friends’ notes as well so feel free to browse their notes.

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