Arriving in Yangon, there were no rooms. It was ten thirty at night and my taxi driver was exhausted from delivering me from guesthouse to house and following maps and not finding any place for me to sleep. I’d shared the ride with a woman teaching English at an international school in the capital, but by now we’d both forgotten where she’d lived. And the streets were so busy, everyone was on the streets, entire neighborhoods playing relay races with each other. It was January 4, independence day. Usually the streets are bare by nine. A couple of French people at cafe corner sympathized with my search and offered a space on their floor if I needed. And then, after walking with the taxi driver through some really lively street games involving straws and balloons and teenagers, I came upon another full guesthouse, but this one had a few double rooms full of only one person, and Rich, an Englishman in his late sixties agreed to clear the second bed of his suitcase and give me a place to sleep. The guesthouse manager had a bottle of water opened, ‘Burma champagne for you!’ while I waited for my bed. He talked about the joys of his ‘sister Hillary’s’ visit against a poster Rich was tracing the route of his father, a South African fighting with the British during the World War— through the jungle of Burma, and reading each poem his father wrote at each place. The poetry, written by daylight after a night of crawling with a machete in hand to meet crawling Japanese—also with machetes. His father would never speak of this time other than to say it was ‘terrifying.’ But the poems have been published and the dropping of the bomb finished the hacking combat in Burma for Rich’s father. I stayed up late listening to his stories, the wild bus rides next to shipments of dried fish he took, the best towns he stopped in (and I took his advice!) by 2:00 am the streets were quiet, but I had the scoop from Rich: I went to sleep with the promise that music from temples and mosques and breakfast spots would shake me awake within hours.
All night train up through Thailand.
I’m back from Burma, it was certainly the highlight of my trip. I have so much to write about; the young people working in guesthouses to improve their English, and only going to school in rainy season; the elderly Chin women with tattooed faces on the north coast, an outdated tradition from the sixteenth century; the sheer joy of young children and adults at the sight of a camera; the frustration of ethnic minorities who have never been represented in government; the audacity of freshly released political prisoners I met getting back to their lives.
Since watching the 2007 monk and student-led demonstrations get squashed by military government, I have been wildly interested in the structure and ‘development’ of the country, and the majority of the population who were so motivated by the revolution. How, I wondered, are these people living their lives now?
I was enchanted by Burma completely. The people are really incredible. I felt I was living in the jungle book, such natural beauty, crumbling temples; rich history, the cuisine of Bangladesh and India meeting Thailand’s in this mild harmony that I really adored.
It was, however, the food that twice gave me food poisoning and now that I look, maybe I’ve lost a little too much weight these few months.
Burma was also the most challenging of the travels; there was an evening I had to wait by a bridge out of town to catch the only bus that would get me to my next destination…and I spent just as much time in transit as stationary in any port or city.
So, I returned to Thailand a little tired and a little food poisoned and I hurried North to where some good people and good places I know, and I will spend a couple more weeks before returning to the US in February. I will decompress here, maybe post some photos or look through them, sit in sunny hammocks trying to refresh my Thai language skills from a few months back, fatten up, and get to Maine winter properly. Making up my mind to return home has been difficult for sure. I am hoping for a few things there: I will be looking for art collaborators, new music I’ve been missing, a place to stay, weekend trips, odd jobs and careers, and ill be ready to live very simply. I’ve learned to play rummy and chess, I’ve learned to bake bread and pita and tortillas and make cheese and yogurt.
This is something of an advertisement from someone who’s only been interested in independence and finding ways to meet basic needs, like “find shelter tonight” for several months—looking for as rich a life at home as I’ve got to live on the warm roads in this part of the world for a while. When I get back, please help.
I spent new years prancing with sparklers in this neighborhood in Bangkok where the tourists are not. But hundreds and hundreds of young Thai people counting down the new year in their language. We saw bands playing rock music which the crowd was going crazy for. I haven’t got so excited about covers in some time…Fireworks went off at midnight and young boys were asking to take their picture with me. (ego boost, Thai teenagers, thank you.) It was nice to prance around and it has been very nice to be in Bangkok with so much city life to partake in. It is nice to feel healed after the strange fever that brought me here. I am lucky I got to see fancy doctors and get all checked up here.
Over the past few days, I have been in the process of applying for a visa to Burma. Today it was finalized and tomorrow I fly there. I have been captivated by the country for some time and I’m thrilled that I will have the chance to visit. It may mean I’m out of touch for a couple weeks, but I will be back in Thailand in the middle of the month, no later than the 17th. As early as the 12th. And a chance to visit before the country really opens up to tourists and the outside world will be amazing. Burma is west of Thailand, bordering Laos on the northeast side, and India and Bangladesh sit in the northwest. Met several like minded travelers while at the embassy, one age 63 who fears she has only seven years left to travel but has been all over the world! A lovely Dutch lady who doesn’t mind eighteen hour bus rides.
Posh night out alone in Bangkok. Yes, I was in Cambodia…Came here to visit the hospital as I spent Christmas week in a strange fever…But much better now! All better and treated.
New Years here in the city tonight! Then I’ll try to get a visa to Burma—and if that won’t work out, it’s back to Cambodia and on to Vietnam before coming home in February I think!
Bangkok is so much dreamier than I could’ve imagined, once you take a little time and learn how to get around and visit small neighborhoods and see cool little places, like the above image, WTF gallery. Where I enjoyed a lovely dinner last night amidst three floors of video installations. Feels something like New York. Makes me a bit homesick for knowing the language and a vegetarian selection. After 2012 hits, I’ll travel on my own for a bit (this place-to-place moving gets tiresome!) as Hope will settle into Thai beaches. I am really looking forward to the solo bit. My backpack is as small as it ever was, just a bit more stuffed; and I feel like seeing a few more things before retiring the bag for my loving kitten and a long term residence. Tiresome, yes, and it caught up to my body, but quite wonderful to have to become so aware and observant everyday. This I am thankful for. And today, as the Myanmar embassy is closed, I will enjoy the 1959esque Miami hotel swimming pool and relax from all the exploring of Bangkok I’ve been crawling all over for four days. Stay at the Miami hotel if you visit here…it’s pretty amazing. Photos soon. Sabaidee pi Mai! Happy New Year!