GREETINGS FROM PARADISE. finally back in indonesia, the motherland of my mother, which makes me super happy & excited. i really enjoyed myanmar, especially the wonderful people.. but i was ready to trade in the feeling of pagoda tiles (often covered in monkey and bird poop) beneath my feet for some sand and water!!!!!! plus i got food poisoning towards the end of my stay, so i;m pretty much scarred from eating anything..
But anywhose, when i last left you, i was dropping my mom back in Yangon, where we met a friendly 82 year old Burmese man who also spoke perfect English, Indonesian AND hokkien (dialect of Chinese that my mother speaks) who showed us around the city. i then took an overnight bus all the way back up to the North of the country (again) and landed in Hsi-Paw, a place known for good trekking. i was itching to lace on my boots, which are sadly falling apart, but i’m hoping they’ll hold up till Australia… when i arrived, i found two Dutch girls who wanted to do the 3 day, 2 night trek the next day as well, but unfortunately, due to poor weather and skirmishes in some parts of the high land, we could only do the 2 day, 1 night trek which turned out to be more than adequate since it turned out to be pretty exhausting… it ended up being a group of five idiots: me, Liaznne (Dutch), Stefanie (Dutch), Patty (English), Jack (English) who decided to set off, plus our guide, Olso/Also?!, a local Burmese dude…
we opted for the trek that would take us through more villages, since that’s what we were most interested in seeing.. we ended up walking about 27 km for 12 hours the first day and another 17 km the second day.. the second day took a much longer time than expected since it started torrential down pouring as soon as we got to the final descent… i guess trekking during monsoon season isn’t the best idea….. unless you’re looking for an AWESOME ADVENTURE/NOT LAME & BORING, which in that case, i DEFINITELY advise doing it then (said the dumb girl with the sore butt and broken stick/broken dreams) the little stream became a huge, rapid river, and the steep path down became all gross and muddy. it bonded our group together though, as we all suffered together and slipped and had dirty asses and a billion mosquito bites and flooded boots by the end of our trek.. we had a great time together, cracking jokes and laughing at each other when we fell, while also trying to give a helping hand.
as I mentioned previously (pay attention everyone!!) Myanmar has over 135 tribes though the major groups are the Shan, Kayah and Kayin (in the east), the Kachin (in the north) and Chin and Rakhine (in the west). our trek took us through 3 different villages and since we were up northeast, we were mainly in Shan territory. The Shan are the biggest ethnic group in Myanmar after the Bamar, making up about 8.5% of the population… they’re closely related to to Tai people, which you can also find in northern Thailand and Laos… we had lunch in a Shan village and spend the night in a Palau village with a nice family..
like many ethnically (and religiously) diverse countries, feelings of pride and prejudice can cause friction between the various ethnic groups. Many Shan groups continue to fightt for control of Myanmar, and a few groups continue a guerrilla style conflict. we ended up bumping into a few of the Shan rebel armies who waved us through… we were STRONGLY advised to put away our cameras so NO PICS (but i swear it happened) I was really happy that we had a guide since we were able to chat with Also who shared his opinions about the conflict.. while civil war is obviously destructive and harmful, he did mention that he was glad war was happening because it helped Burma/Myanmar preserve its natural resources.. otherwise he said they’d be sold to the Chinese who would deplete the mines and profit; meanwhile the local people would never see any money.. an interesting perspective.
ANYWHOSE after the trek, we went back to our favoriteeEEeEee hang out post, Mr. Shake, who made the best fruit smoothies.. and caipis (first caipi since Brazil.. TOTES was missing it so much!) We met a few friendly folks, including a couple of other peeps from the States… :) the next day i caught the bus back to Mandalay bright and early to see a few friends, Zin, Zaw Zaw, and Khaing, who I met when I was first in Manadaly and who invited me to their village… i decided to take them up on that offer, but unfortunately traffic was SOOO terrible so what should have been a 6 hour ride took almost 12-13 hours..
i was really annoyed 1) because i woke up at 530am to catch the super early bus 2) i missed the free and delicious breakfast at the hostel 3) i had no way of contacting Zin who apparently arrived at 11:30 and waited till 4…after finally getting to the city, i decided to spend a night at the hostel since i was completely drained….i ended up bumping into Stefanie from the hike and after getting in contact with Zin, Zaw Zaw, and Khaing, Stefanie, another Dutch girl, Rosemary, and I decided we’d go to their town the next day.
bright and early the next morning, we jumped on the back of the truck with about 30 other folks and traveled an hour outside of the city. which was a fun adventure… we weren’t sure exactly where to get off, but the people on the truck were so helpful and yelled at the driver when we passed our stop. as soon as we got there, Zaw Zaw, and Khaing were waiting for us… after zin finished class, 2 of us jumped on her scooter and made it a few meters up the road before a police office stopped us for carrying more than 2 people on a scooter and not wearing a helmet.. which was pretty ridiculous since EVERYONE carries their entire family and NEVER wears a helmet.. nonetheless, poor Zin got a ticket.. while the officer was writing the ticket, they discovered i was from the US so one of the guys goes “OBAMA! (thumbs up)” and i said “Aung Sun Su Kyi (thumbs up) and we both smiled (didn’t get us out of a ticket unfortunately).. then, as if nothing happened, we walked the scooter e a few blocks down, and then 2 of us without helmets jumped on again and made our way to this beautiful, recently excavated temple where we ended up getting invited to walk around a monastery with a monk who spoke English really well.. we ended up meeting the littlest, cutest monks and a bunch of older monks who wanted to take selfies with us (!!!!!!!)
we then scooted our way to another temple, where we shared some snacks, before going to Zin’s family house, where her mother was waiting with a TON of food… they also help us apply some thanaka on our faces, which is this yellow paste that comes from a tree that they apply as sunscreen (FYI concerned parents.) you’ll see it all over Myanmar, and while its quite shocking in the beginning, its actually really beautiful. my travels have really shown me that beauty is soOOOo subjective.. there is no universal truth… for example, in Asia, being pale is seen as being beautiful, whereas in the west, we all strive to be bronze gods and goddesses. and curves.. oh man in Brazil they LOVE LOVE LOVE them (which is mayyyybbee why i love brazil) where in Asia, any sign of excess flesh is a reason to criticize… (i’ve taken the brunt of it from my family) this in turn has made me reassess the way i look and judge myself.. its silly and impossible to be palatable to everyone, but its also still extremely hard not to cave into societal pressures to look a certain way. the best thing is to try and accept yourself, flaws and all, and realize that SOMEONE out the world thinks your beautiful (hopefully that includes you!!!!!!!) this is from someone who has struggled with body image in the past… but everyday i’m becoming more comfortable in my skin.. and as long as I feel healthy, which is sometimes not the case after too many nights of drinking and eating greasy foods (not a lot of regrets though.. it’s what i wanted!) i’m happy. SORRY random tangent.. but wanted to share because i felt it was important.
anywhose, back to my story.. we walked around Zin’s village which was so nice.. we had a group of Burmese people trailing us, so we felt like local celebs,, afterwards we went to another huge, beautiful pagoda, and then to Khaings house, where we were presented more food.. then we went to their university, where we walked around campus, and then to Zaw Zaw’s house, where we ate even more mangoes. our final stop was to the monsatry before getting dropped off at the bus.. it was a long day, but really, i couldn’t stop smiling, especially considering the terrible, shitty day i had the day before.. that’s the great thing about traveling.. things can turn around so quickly and every day is an unexpected surprise.. and gosh. they just kept giving to us.. i ended up carrying home a bag full of presents and a very, very full stomach :) but really and truly and clichely.. the experience was invaluable.. all the smiling faces and scooter rides through the beautiful country side and meeting and experiencing a bit of traditional Burmese life was incredibleEEEE..
After Mandalay, I went back to Yangon to go to a meditation center. Since Buddhism is such a central part of their culture, I wanted to learn more. Buddhism and meditation has always appealed to me, at least from the little knowledge I had as a Westerner… According to my personally understanding of Buddhism, as well as a quick Google search, “the central idea of Buddhism is the cessation of suffering. We suffer because we are attached to desire, clinging and craving to impermanent states and things. We expect happiness from states and things which are impermanent, and therefore cannot attain real happiness. Therefore, we let go of desire to stop suffering and obtain happiness… "and who doesn’t want to live a life of happiness without any suffering?
Furthermore, meditation is the latest buzzword in corporate America/NYC, where there are waiting lists for meditation classes to sit in silence (OH the irony.. icant believe it’s come to that point.. LE SIGH) but anywhose since i’ve always been interested in meditation and practiced a bit back home (and when i mean practice, i mean usually falling asleep halfway through a session) and READ THE SEARCH INSIDE YOURSELF. (I’m such a yuppie) i thought i’d give it go.,.. especially since i will return to the stresses of the corporate world soon enough and will need something to keep me a bit sane..
while there are some intense meditation centre programs that require TEN WHOLE DAYS OF SILENCE (it think i would LITERALLY DIE from all the words and ideas trapped in my body), this specific centre appealed to me because it had a “come and go as you please” plus you could work with the community. I lasted a WHOLE TWO DAYS (seemed much longer) because.. well i couldn’t take it. meditation WAS SO HARD…we did it for two hours a day, once at 5AM and another hour at 8PM and my legs kept falling asleep and i wanted to cry as the monk was telling all of us “ignore the pain…it doesn’t exist. push thru it. its only temporary.” on top of that it was a hot, tiny, musty room with loads of mosquitoes and i just couldn’t focus or get into it. which defeats the purpose of meditation because you’re supposed to push thru the suffering.. but i really couldn’t. mentally, i think i just wasn’t strong enough… and on top of that, i got food poisoning, and i couldn’t stand being a damp, muggy, ant/mosquito infested bed while trying to recover…
and while i got to do cool things like go on alms runs in the morning with the monks and play with the cute children and hang out with old folks and wash rice to help feed everyone, it was really exhausting and there were a lot of downsides. while it was really beautiful to see how much people gave during the alms run.. even people without a lot, walking barefoot all around town freaked me out a bit considering there was a high probability of cutting open my foot. and while i enjoyed playing with the children, I felt morally opposed to leading classroom lessons because 1) being from the West does not make me a qualified teacher 2) these children need someone there long term because temporary teachers will never be able to teach them properly.. i get that they might not be able to get long term teachers and they do what they can, but i would rather not perpetuate the idea that this short term solution is OK.. and while i also enjoyed talking and pushing around the old people in wheelchairs.. it made me extremely depressed to see their squalor living conditions and the way the community dealt with mental illness.. i get we don’t do a great job in the west as well, but a lot of people with issues like dementia and cast aside and deemed “crazy.” LESIGH. i know. i’m a brat. i don’t want to try and present myself as an altruistic, savior barbie type, because i REALLY enjoy my comforts, which i’ve come to realize more and more on my trip.... but on the bright side, i also met a great group of girls, including Charlie, who took some of these fabulous pics below (ask for forgiveness, not permission. sorry and THANK YOU!!)
i then took a night bus back to Yangon the next day and totally misjudged what time i’d arrive so i ended up sleeping on a couch at a hostel because there were no more beds available.. this meant though, i woke up in time for game 7 of the NBA finals and celebrated LeBron’s victory with some expats and some local fans :) I won’t go on here about my thoughts, but i’m happy for LeBron, and mostly happy for Cleveland because he earned it and his victory means so much more than just sports… but i digress..
Myanmar was such an amazing experience and the people were so incredibly warm and friendly and genuine. it’ll be interesting to see how things change in the next few years/decades.. i’m REALLY hoping that it grows responsibly and that people don’t become corrupt by money and that they preserve their unique traditions like their thanaka painted faces.. (the bettlenut chewing and spitting can go though…) it’s unfair to say “I WISH THAT THINGS COULD STAY THE SAME” because they do deserve to modernize and hopefully have easier lives.. yes, like my man Biggie says, mo’ money, mo’ problems, but NO money is a major problem… and so is a totalitarian, military dictatorship (i’ve re-read George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm which was said to be inspired by his time in Myanmar and man, is it a weird clusterfuck on the mind!) so i hope democracy wins and i hope that responsible reform happens and i hope for all the best things for these amazing peopleEEeE!!!!!!!
ANYWHOSE, like i said, I’m back in Indonesia. the final stop before Australia.. i (guess) i saved the best for last? I’m excited to be here and spend more than a few days in the country (i probably haven’t spent 10 days at a time here) and explore my roots and such… these posts are likely to get more personal so apologies in advance