So i arrive in Yangon after a three-hour flight from KL. Burma is finally here or rather i am. The first visual to hit me is that it is not dis-similar to India. After finding a guest house the next search was for vegetarian food. Checking out street stalls, trying to ask, being pointed to the next stall and the next. Finlay we found a young lady who made us a salad from tomatoes and dried things from jars. I had no Burmese money, she could not take dollars and gave us the food for free. This came with a forty minute discussion about life, family, happiness, Burma. Common ground. Welcome to Myanmar – We are kind people here.
I wonder past a group of boys sitting by the road, playing guitar. They invite me to join and sit and smoke a cigar. A song is played which sounds like a coffee commercial but sung with such passion, all in harmony on the side of the road as i smiled, clapped. I had read about Burma and then there with something in my head that was breaking it down within the first few hours. I had such preconceived thoughts of a repressed nation who have no rights, no voice. A country segregated from the rest of the world and held by a regime. Tonight i saw something which gave light to what i had expected and i can not wait to see more. I have been here for a few hours and this has been a great welcome.
My first full day on the streets of Yangon. Once the capital of Burma and still so in the minds of many. A day spent walking looking talking and capturing. Trying to visualise through frames and vistas, words and movements what this country is like. My feet are black with filth, a huge contrast to Singapore but inch by inch the higher you get up past sandals, lungi’s, shirts. Close fitting skirts and fitted crew neck blouses there are the most glorious smiles. Some of the most warming i have had the pleasure to see. Smiles which are so welcoming. Smiles that are genuine and real. Smiles that break your heart but light it up in unison. Syncopated. Walking down the street i look, she looks. Our eye’s open up an aperture and the forehead moves back. Lips raise and teeth expose. We are there in a moment, for a second sharing joy. An exchange which happened more than one thousand times today. Men, women and children alike. Young and old. Hundreds of beautiful happy faces smiling glorious heartfelt smiles; face paint a creamy beige, a light orange the colour of my journal leaves. People with the up most elegance and poise. Slim frames, tall posture. Men in to the floor lungi’s, women so graceful they look like they are floating amongst row’s of dried meat, whole deep-fried battered baby birds, electrical wires in crowds studded with beautiful bald monks in flowing maroon.
Today i saw a city and a culture for all its beauty. My preconceptions are already melting away. Today i connected with Myanmar and its people on the surface of the street through expressions and glances. I may be caught up in romanticism here but for now i am elated and enjoying the feeling of the new and surprise. Feeling the energy of the smiles. I have twenty-six days left and i am looking forward to where that time will take me, no matter how hard that may be.I am happy i made the choice to come here and feel so far away from who i am. From what i know in my tiny world and its the best feeling. Gush. No familiarity, no complaints. A very minimal me.
My understanding of this is deep but nothing. Lost in-between cultures and vessels; machines and rituals. Lacking the one true relaxation aid and the spark of blurred creativity that accompanies that. Floating outside of skin i long to retract but no. Weaned for the umpteenth time. A fight which rumbles within. It’s only a plant a herb for the mind, like sage to a witch. One or the other, joy or suppression, green or expression. Night time darkness twitching stare, lifelong sentence. Sally Gunnell or grieving. Just being without but being with so much more. During long hot sleepless nights i remember the sacrifice. Maybe it’s not forever but it should be. A spinning fan is no replacement. That Gipsy words still ringing in my ears.
Most of yesterday was spent in transit. I fifteen hour bus journey north to Mandalay. A comfortable bus along a dirt track no faster than twenty MPH. I large plasma screen TV playing Burmese songs and movies i loved. One thing which has struck me since arriving is how much people love to eat meat. Family’s sitting snacking on a whole manner of things ranging from whole birds to pigs ears and intestines. The bus stopped at a halfway point and we were issued with a meal ticked for dinner. People stocked up. This love of meat became very apparent around an hour before our final destination. Waking up at the penultimate stop as the bus turned on its interior lights i almost threw up. I had to cover my face and breathe through my mouth. The surrounding carnivores were expelling gas and all i could smell was birds. Digested birds on the cusp of shit. Chicken farts smelling more foul than when they were consumed several hours prior. Gag. I was extremely grateful to get off the bus and head to the nearest tea house to wait for the sun to rise.
The city of Mandalay was a few miles away from where we were dropped so the cheapest option was to climb onto a van roof and travel al fresco. I was wedged between luggage, sacks of dried fish and a monk. As the sun rose higher in the sky i sat there in the cold air, between fishes and monk winging towards town. Time to sleep, feeling ill and wondering if i am infested. Mandalay was ok. A beautiful temple but that’s about it.
A shared jeep up through the mountains to Pyin U Lwin. Crashing and bouncing around for six hours. An old British hill station several degrees cooler. An amazing ride but after the earthquake mountains journeys will never be the same. Good to brave it but still hard to remember. Arrive, walk through streets of smiles and food stalls. Old men from the war who follow Sai Baba to who i gift my key chain. I tiny bar where we are the first tourists to ever visit. I have a real passion for Tretchikoff paintings and tonight one of them came to life. I beautiful lady of twenty-one, standing in an elegant navy two pice suit. Long black hair flowing to her waist, parted at the left surrounding a pale beautiful Burmese face. Wide toothed and wide-eyed. Standing amongst a dirty wall in a tiny room she was so alive. So elegant. Like a subject for a painting. True beauty. For an hour i was in love. Something i could look at forever.
A walk as the sun rose. Hungover walking in what fees and looks like an inhabited film set from an American wild west movie. Saloon doors, horses and carriages, soldiers. People who are untouched by modernity. A town not set up for tourism with a feeling thats real. After the superficiality of countries like Thailand it feels good to be somewhere honest. I buy tofu in a bag, sit on the side of the road and eat. Watching life all around. Women selling flowers, chickens, vegetables, hardware. Furry dogs trotting around, horses, bikes, stagecoaches. Hard to remember to chew.
Unsure of the time, unsure of the day, unsure of the date. A day later we left Pyin U Lwin. Jumped into a truck and headed to catch the 9:00am train to Hsipaw, only to learn it was running six hours late due to behind de-railed. After hitching a ride with a bus full of over sixty’s Danish people we finally arrive, six hours later. A tiny town in the Shan State – the furthest north i will travel this trip. A dusty little town and the most rural yet. A river, mountains, pagodas. Traveling has been thick and fast for months . KL, Singapore, Malacca, Yangon, Mandalay. Planes, cars, trucks, bus’, feet. Time to stop and relax into village life. Sitting with grandmothers knitting, talking to 87 year old’s about the war and the way Burma is changing. Stroking horse lips, photographing crocodiles of orphans clad in pastel pink robes scurrying and singing through the bright dusty streets. Eating noodles cooked in clay pots on open fires. Drinking Mandalay Rum with Blue Star Cola. Listening to 80’s classic hits like Eternal Flame by The Bangles and More Than Words by Extreme, sung in Burmese. Appreciating the woven wicker head-gear and smoking hand rolled cigars. Few tourists, bright sky’s and wearing woollens post sunset. Wandering in the hills around monasteries and pagodas, gold sparkling against the sky. No work, no stress. Just days of appreciation. Burma is exotic and its people so giving.
A little fuzzy in a town with no clocks. Awake asleep with little in between. Only Black & White for company. Picking up infections from dirty notes in a sleepy town abandoned. People who don’t know what Australia is. Dusty streets, dusty skin, a dusty mind before the three-quarter circle. Light to lost, up to down again; a hop, skip and a jump from The China. Walking in the pink dusky light, which i choose to me monochromatic a small monk offers me a banana. I hope it will heal. Sun setting fuzzy light to dark. Lights bleating through the black, in a town without clocks, where people don’t know Australia abandoned. Mosquitos buzz, light fades, people sleep, i vomit and retire. A camera full of scenes under my pale blue duvet.