February 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
There is something special about going back to a vicinity you were born in. A connection of past and present colliding, a series of flashbacks, a solemn quietness and a rejoiced smile for realising the miles you’ve clocked.
A couple of days ago, my mum and I made our way to KL for her company reunion dinner. They were the pioneer crew for an airline company and made their way to the top in the Asia region, by working hard as a team. The diligent long hours in the office, perseverance to be resilient during bad times, occasional disputes followed by forgiving drinks after, setting goals and achieving them have made the bond so closed. Till 20 years down the road later, they still feel like one.
We had arrived at our first Airbnb (That is another story to tell,she was so skeptical! )and walked into the concrete jungle.
Remember how i used to wait for you in the office and we head home together?
Oh look, we used to have drinks over there. Oh geez, that new pub looks terrible.
Mum, remember we always have those little colourful kueh kueh from the macik there? *pointing to the corner near the traffic light*
Those days, were quite gone but memories have a way of capturing our hearts and make us reminisce.
The small reunion dinner felt the same. Everyone spoke of how they were forced to wear suits and coats in the tropical weather, the surbodinates sabotaging one another with corporate politics and of course, the travels.
At some point through dinner, I realized why I love traveling and how I feel in love with it. Mum was constantly surrounded by travel agents, and I was constantly surround by them. I was the little photocopy girl in the office tipping toes over the machine buttons. She gave me little projects to tie calendars, stickers, notebooks and flyers together. The words such as “outbound”, “inbound”, “via LAX” were imprinted my head. The world map projected widely on the walls of the office, eventually moved to my bedroom wall.
Our family holidays were rather ad hoc. An 8 hour drive up to Penang, a 13 hours flight to England, occasional last minute getaway to Hong Kong, a few days hiatus to the Eastern Peninsula Malaysia just so we can get childish feet beneath the brown sands. The wanderlust in me seek for adventures, “in-the-moment” instances, put myself out of the box and eventually formed a free spirited soul.
For the last two weeks, we have been on the road, stayed in a tiny hotel, took a plane to KL and stayed in our first Airbnb; then I took a long bus ride up north, she flew in later, we stayed in multiple relative homes, ubered our way through cities; we parted ways again, and I just got off a 6 hour journey from Malaysian to Yangon.
Our friends have said they can’t catch up with our lives. Sometimes, I cannot too. We are hardly at home but when we are, we become homebodies. The apartment is our little sanctuary of mindfulness and slowing down. We do not get out for days.
I have spent the last few years, getting to know the world, learning about partners and building communities but I have failed to learn one very important person. Myself. How much we have grown into the person we are because of our up bringing; what we need in a relationship, career, a home or even ourselves come from fundamentally the people we grow up around.
Life has its own ways of giving you things you want but making you fight for it. Have you ever asked for patience but find yourself in a line for donuts? Have you ever asked quiet but all you hear is noise? Well next time, if you want something ask yourself if you can handle the opposite. Chances are, you are already standing right in front of it.
February 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
Is it really 12th of Feb already? One would think 43 days is a mere figure but for me this year seems to pass by really quickly. A blink of an eye and I seem to be in a completely different place, phase and head space.
A friend of mine said casually to me the other day,
“By the way, I didn’t tell you this but I’m dating someone.”
It might have seem a little out of place to tell me that but he felt the need. Given that we had spent hours talking about relationships, friends and life. I have also seen him get seemingly tipsy with girls and waking up to a dreary morning.
“Well at least we are in the same head space.”
It felt good to hear that phrase. They always say, the older one gets, the wiser you are. I am not sure if I am necessary wiser, but I do know that I know myself better. If there is anything more wrong in life is to lie to yourself, if there is anything more than wrong lying to yourself is living in a lie.
The last couple of weeks have been harsh. I spent days deciphering the unhappiness inside me.
“If your core is unhappy, you will draw unhappiness from people; if your core is happy, you will draw joy.”
How true is this? I asked myself again and again what have been missing inside. As you have known, I spent the last year doing odd baking jobs, helping out at various food establishments and travelled, quite a fair amount.
I was just looking for something to put my heart and time into so I could feel contented. So I waited for the potentials, but didn’t happened; jumped into other potentials but didn’t turn out to be right for me. Was I lost? I thought I was. But when I came home this Lunar New Year and hanged out with my old kitchen crew, everything felt so right. Why I pushed school aside for four years, sticked with the restaurant for so long and when I finally gathered the courage to leave, I missed everything about it.
We were drying laundry after service when it suddenly hit me that everything we did, we did it for a reason. We are the sort of people that will fix our own light bulbs, cement our own walls, wipe the glass windows down ourselves and make things from scratch. There goes without saying that our food carries the same philosophy. Handmade pasta, meat burgers, puff pastry, hearty cakes and more. There goes without saying that I share the same sentiments and search for like-minded folks that follow the same passion.
My short stage in a great Hong Kong restaurant had the same vibes. Everyone took turns to check the cleanliness of the toilet through out service. Everyone took turns to fill up the sauces while we wait for family meals. Everyone cared for one another and took care of each other like a family. We caught up while we clean; we sang songs and made jokesTo say that this model, doesn’t work financially is perhaps rather short sighted. They are on to their forth outlet, have their own brewery in Japan and are collaborating with other restaurants, globally.
What is the secret? To find like-minded people who believes in the same philosophy and work hard towards the same goal. For the most part, these people, like me take money rather lightly. It’s not to say we don’t think of it, of course I would love to indulge in the same bottle of champagne every year, a suitor once bought for me on my birthday to match my birth year (thats about almost 3 decades old!) But the sort that thrives in good quality ingredients, understand the length of sheer hard work to achieve finesse in a dish, believe in simplifying the complicated flavours and serve it with some good old fashion warm customer service.
Because that’s the inside, that is the soul of the business and when the inside is beautiful, the outside will take care of itself.
Of course, you need the right marketing tools, the right geography, the right demographics and perhaps even the right time.
I realised my large appetite for life. There is this curious innate nature to question about how/why/what things work. At a very young age, there seems to be an adopted nature of dismantling items and putting them together, collecting reads and getting lost in unfamiliar sights.
I realised finding compatible folks in this island is quite exhausting because they truly exist in a different dimension. People here play it safe. People here have their whole education carve out in a singular scope with somewhat narrow peripheral vision. People don’t know what to do when things fall out of plan because they lose their sense of identity. They attached themselves to things and structure that when things don’t go as they think they should. They too, fall out of sorts.
I have been fighting this system all my life. This heart is getting quite weary of following these lines and want to live with less.
“There is so much beauty in the simple.” @beurrenoisette, reminded me; as we rejoice in Society, by Eddie Vedder; a song I have quoted many times in this blog.
You think you have to want
More than you need
Until you have it all you won’t be free
I have voiced out so much about simplicity over the years and how I see a future. These days I spent more time meditating and running, connecting with people and disconnecting with devices (or I try), devoting time to simple events. This head space.
Simple as it is.
December 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
For the last 30 days, I’ve been on the move with a crew for a cause; well to be specific, men’s health. While others grow a moustache, host an event, donate or go for a ride; I joined my best workout instructor, Jev, to move for a month. He is known to program bootcamps that leaves us sweating or laying face flat on the floor. Every Saturday for the last 6 months, I joined Kilter Crew at Fort Canning for an hour worth of WOD & stairs. I have never felt so motivated to exercise in my life.
So when I heard that Jev is had started a team for Movember, it didn’t take me a second longer to join. I started the month with a stretch on the mat with my partner. He had promised me to try his very best to join me for this movement, despite being overseas.
I have done yoga for the last 10 years. Somedays, I go through the motion of doing it without second thoughts; it is almost unkindly to not do a stretch or pose at some point in the day. Somewhere along the way, I did stop practicing yoga mentally. My body could move along the poses easily but my mind/heart were not in sync. I was quick to anger and get frustrated with little things. I pushed people and myself away. Through these little notches, I grew increasingly aware of my emotions. Seeking solace in mediations, new yoga classes, and motivated myself to step outside my comfort zone.
I started running a year ago. The first 500m was extremely difficult. I couldn’t even hold my pace and breathe consistently. My feet always kicked higher than they were meant too, leaving me with knee and hip injuries. My ex-boyfriend would ridicule me with my determination to run because I couldn’t even get the basics right. How could one learn how to run before walking right? Needless to say, I threw all the bad habits out of the window (including the asshole) and invested in taking 500m to 800m to 1km. I threw out the old pair of fancy running shoes and got to know my sole better by consulting the local running store; read up about distance running and motivated myself with personal stories.
Since then, the morning/evening sun I look forward to waking up early or reserving my energy till the evening for a run. 6km/8km seems like a breeze and I am more determine to do a marathon just to check it off my list in this lifetime.
Half way through Movember, I moved to Yangon, Burma. There was work, but more importantly there is someone. And like all change, there come challenges. I lost my workout community. I lost my running routes. I lost the ability to mediate properly. What was it to sit still, close your eyes and focus on the breath? I became somewhat a monster to others and myself. Throwing tempers, feeling anxious, projecting an unconscious self to the world.
The negative state of mind, is an ego.
The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist. – Eckhart Tolle
It was hard to turn myself into the cell of awareness. It’s a place of vulnerability and truth. No one likes to be told that they are wrong or are something they don’t perceive themselves to be. But at the same time, it is also a place of love and freedom. A place where you dwell your unconsciousness and make sense of your actions. That there is really no where else to be but the present moment; no one else but your own very self that needs to push all the clutter away and make way for pure light.
I found a local yoga studio, Yangon Yoga House, which became my little sanctuary for quietness. The receptionist and yoga instructors became my little community of joy, vegan foodies and smiles. They have never failed to close a session with great closing lines and encourage me to feel lifted after a tired day.
I have also found a great workout buddy in my partner who keeps me grounded with not pushing myself too much. Our weekly routine to run around kandawgyi lake before a hearty dim sum breakfast meal, has became our thing. I am only hoping that these little steps and habits becomes our lifestyle; also bringing friends together and instilling a sense of well-being for others.
We close Movember at the lake with a short run and 30 pushups, 30 sit ups and 30 burpees. The Move-mber team came in 7 for the National ranking. We are worlds apart but this has kept us close for the last month. A crew that sweats together, stays together.
Here is a lovely quote from my favourite yoga instructor, Jojo, who constantly check in on my practice:
Give gratitude to this breath and this body, remembering it is the only one we get for this lifetime, so let’s treat it with the love, kindness and care that we would treat any other object we wish to keep for an entire lifetime. Be grateful for these legs and feet for carrying us millions of steps to where you are in this moment, to this breath for carrying us from this lifetime into the next.
November 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
Home is where the heart is. I detest this phrase. Where is the heart? Where is home? Why must it be located in a physical sphere or bound to an emotional space? I’m missing home a lot more than I would imagine. I’m missing our usual Sunday mornings coffee runs and getting into work tired from the whole week and looking forward to a beer session.
I miss working out with my kilter crew/crossfit crew. Even though I haven’t been entirely close to them, the community has always been there to support my workout regime and push my physical strength to a higher level.
Most of all, I miss my Mother. My anchor to the everyday routine and journey. She is there for the sad times, to hear me yell or laugh about unforgettable moments. For quiet meals when we don’t feel like talking; laughing at stupid jokes; understanding my needs and keeping me grounded to the heart.
Coming to a new place is difficult. I moved for personal reasons. Reasons, I would think are difficult to find or place an attachment to. Reasons, I think would be unfair to keep them. Sometimes when reasons fail to make one happy, one loses hope in keeping up with this journey.
The culture, the language, the cuisine, the everyday surroundings and faces are all different.
Over the last few days, I have fought with everything unnecessary. The smallest dirt in the kitchen, the unplaced laundry in the basket, the dirty feet marks on our temporary homestay wooden floor etc. The slightest mistakes in the words would hurt me and make me feel like the smallest person on earth. Unable to feel vulnerable because I was told to be strong. To be strong around men, to hold my ground in the military-kitchens and remain steadfast with setbacks.
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness- Brene Brown.
Ironically, I miss the closer love we have had. Perhaps like any new bond, the initial exciting courtship have ended and we are much more like ourselves with distance apart. I got caught up with wanting my rights, ways and usual routines; I got lost in finding a meaning to be here. I voiced my opinions and forced gravity against the flow. I could not see from a different light. I was only fighting with myself to make life more difficult than it already is.
And at the end of them all, I became someone unrecognisable to my own reflection.
When I look at my own timeline, I didn’t recall myself being so anxious about a move. I remember embracing every wave, and held on to the heart like it was a surfboard.You either ride the way or duck dive there.
What happened to the old self? Did I get so complacent with trying to adapt to a new place that I forgot to bring the embrace-it-all/wabi-sabi attitude towards this new journey?
I never missed home so much more; yet just a year ago, I wanted to leave so desperately and never come back to stay again. How can one be in a same place but have extreme feelings? The disenchantments of a new surrounding, the distance between two hearts, finding a new place and building a business together set in very heavily.
Two weeks have passed. Its getting easier. I’ve realised that home is where you found yourself to be and it will always be there; missing it, is merely just missing yourself. “Come back home”, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. Make the best out of it and even if it fails, at least you gave it your very best.
So here is the beginning of devoting myself to making honest food for my crew and building a new community.
October 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
“For an introvert, you really make an effort to seek for a community.”, he said.
I protest of course. How could an introvert who spends most of her time finding ways to be alone with thoughts and the sun or a book, wants to be around people? How could someone who enjoy her own company more than sharing with awkward strangers enjoy big dinners or crowds?
Meeting Pamela today from @Hyggesg put my partner’s words into perspectives. Pamela and I connected via Instagram, even though we already know some mutual friends before hand, it didn’t change the fact that I initiated a meet up via a portal with a perfect stranger. It is odd that for someone who craves space and get energised by spending time alone would want to stretch her social circle. I cherish silence wholeheartedly yet I spend my weekends either working out with a group of high active trainers or stretching out on a mat in a yoga room filled with new comers/regulars yogi practitioners, and look forward to having beers every Sunday evening with my kitchen crew. Plus, if I have the time, I would search for exercise events or community meditation/yoga classes and spend an hour or two surrounded with, new faces.
Some of my radical life events happen because of these meet-ups or initiating a conversation. Writing a cookbook, getting a job at a vegan bakery etc.. Nevertheless, I simply could not put it his words into my head.
Foremost, an introvert isn’t one who avoid social events. Misunderstood. We like people, if they are to our likings. Second, I usually spend the next two days hiding after a big party. All my energy has been drained on one occasion and if I may warn you, I will spend the next couple of hours getting agitated on anything that doesn’t seek interest to me or resonate to my heart. In another words, if I don’t reply you, wait; if I flare up at you, give me space (or dark chocolate, whichever is more convenient). Thirdly, we actually like meeting new people. Because I have so little in common with the other folks, when I find someone who share the same ideology or philosophy there is no turning back in conversations! You are literally in my books, for life!
Back to Pamelia and Hyggesg. She isn’t a coffee person, so we opted for a common ground where I thought would be resonate with her approach in cooking. Simple ingredients, cosy atmosphere, friendly service and quality. She walked comfortably into the dining room and we sat down in welcoming brown sofa. We shared our kitchen experiences: a fair amount of standing in front of sterilised stainless steel tables, cooking standardised food, surrounding ourselves with males/a testosterone filled environment and, unconsciously affecting our daily lives.
“I’m a home cook at heart”, as she takes the pillow from her back and starts to hug it in front of her chest.
We both are. The cookbook and this blog kept my sanity in check while I go through the daily grind. For her, it’s Hyggesg. Feeding people because deep down, beyond the french brigade, sous vide machines, and cling wraps; we cook because we enjoy watching people dive into flakey croissants that makes a new tie old or bite into a thick juicy burger that oozes cheese out of their mouth and into their cheeks so that their partner/date can wipe it for them. Creating moments that hold a special spirit or a new ritual for a couple.
“For someone who’s been in the industry for ten years, how do you cope with juggling a balanced life?”, she wonders.
Unintentionally, we share the same impatience or quick temperament. The kitchen to us, is a very time constraint and precise environment. We are getting nagged and scolded all day long by our chefs. “Turn it off now”; “place the garnish on”; “that’s wrong, do it again “. If you watched Burnt the movie, the scene with Sienna Millar throwing the raw fish to her fish boy isn’t a joke, it’s just another day. A calm day is when there are no praises, just quiet cooking and the sounds of burners going on and off.
“Why are you so slow?”
I certainly did not anticipate for us to question that. In a commercial kitchen, we watch each other’s movements and dance in sync. So if one person slows down, the whole crew slows down and there is really no time for someone to slack off. But as time flies, you build a layer of skin that gets numb to yelling, shouting and physical pain. You desensitises yourself and become less human. A control freak.
Remember how Kat Kinsman spoke about Chefs with Issues at MADFEED? Cooks who work so much suffer with unspoken anxiety issues, alcohol abuse, depression etc…. It’s funny to think of how many of us spent hours in a confined space that strives for perfection become out of whack? Is it really worth it?
I have my first taste of bitterness when I skipped on a reunion dinner for Lunar New Year. It was the very last meal I could have had with a close cousin, whom I lost to a heart attack. I had to service to run. I fed families who spent their holidays together but couldn’t do that for my own. The years that followed had more of these empty chairs moments around the dining table. Birthdays dinner get postponed, no more lunch dates with friends (who eventually gave up texting me), family visits were off my calendars, holidays were packed with churning out extra cakes for customers, you get the idea.
Her current boss lost his girlfriend for five years because he was too focus on his job. Sure it got them a one star, but the sacrifice was his and if I could dig more, I am sure it was the crew as well. We do our fair share of sacrifices, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
As she sipped a cup of hot chocolate made with coconut water, she frowned upon knowing this might possibly be her future.
I reassured her that it is a choice.
The awareness you put into your daily life to differentiate what is personal, work and social becomes natural only if you decide to take an action to it. Many lose touch because they consume or get caught in the pursuit of perfection that they forget the imperfections of nature. Some can’t even remember why they even started cook at all.
Writing Kitchen Stories: being in touch with our feelings/moods and relating it closely to cooking; feeding the crew/my family; working out and meditating, are all steps to keep myself in check. Putting myself out there in the open waters, to be vulnerable and allow vulnerability. Gather a community or be part of one that strives on good causes.
While as introverted as we may be, we take time to express ourselves. To pause for a moment before talking and rather do the walks. Because we all know too well that less, is always more.
*film photographs were taken in Burma earlier this year.
July 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
“So much would not have been possible without you”, he said.
As I walked away from a space that held so closely with my heart; I walked into another with the same passion and resilience for it.
I visited Burma again for the third time in two months. One would question what had attracted me to be in a country where mineral water comes in big plastic bottles, traffic rules are bind by their own eccentric driving culture and a serious addiction ~ chewing betel nut, until their teeth turn red.
But beyond the dark clouds, there is often a silver lining; more than not, Burma has a long-lasting optimistic streak of light.
As the country lines between the Tropic of Cancer and Equator, the weather is a cross between four seasons and heavy rainfalls through out the year. We were caught in the chilly night and got drenched in thunderstorms. But that didn’t stop us from exploring the one for the most sacred sites, Golden Kyaiktiyo Pagoda.
Many had warned us about the slippery roads, difficulties of getting to the mountain from base camp and not being able to capture a good view. They got everything right to the tee but we still had a beautiful experience. My mum and I had just arrived at Aung Mingalar bus station at 5am after a bumpy overnight bus ride from Inle Lake; I had found a private cab driver from Trip Advisor who is willing to take us from the bus station to base camp, which was another 3-4 hours of bumpy rides.
Our cab driver was extremely friendly and spoke good English. Something that every foreigner should not take for granted is the absence of fluency of this universal language. When the British withdraw itself from the government, most of the education focused on their own language and culture. Hence a large popular only understand very basic English or perhaps nothing at all. Body language and hand sign language silence out our confusions, well most of the time.
At the Kin Pun Sakhan base camp, we hopped on an open-air pick up truck and cramped with the locals. The truck, lined with 7 wide wooden planks, only allowed 6-7 people on each ride. Once it’s filled, the co-driver collects about 2500 kyats from everyone and hit the road. The one hour journey seems longer than it is. The rain came and went, we covered ourselves and backpacks in cheap ponchos, struggled to balance on the wooden seats. The bends on the road were sharp so we swayed our body sides to sides just like trees in the autumn wind.
We checked into a simple hotel, then made a little hike to the top. We took off our shoes and carefully walked on the wet white dirty tiles, being very careful not to slip and fall. When we reach the site, it was gloomy; so we waited, and waited for the clouds to clear and pray for the wind to come. Standing beside the rock, there is an unconscious quiet ceremony,I kneeled down, put my hands together and gave a gentle bow. Nothing religious but a spiritual acknowledgment of gratefulness for allowing us to be there.
We returned to Yangon the next day. The erratic city ignite our senses, we devoured ourselves into endless meals and culinary experiences over the week.
Burmese eating etiquette is similar to the rest of Southeast Asia. Small plates of sautéed meats, seafood, vegetables and rice or noodles as staple. However, what defers them from rest of the countries is in the hands of the people.
They are never shy of fresh produce. Myanmar is rich in agricultural and land. The locals have a way of preparing and pairing flavours, which preserves food (due to lack of refrigerator) and enhances the culture. One would complain about the excessive usage of oil and sugar, but that’s they way it has been for the longest of time. Nevertheless, the more modern restaurants have alternatives to saccharine or greasy food; making it easier for us to enjoy the purest form of Burmese cuisine.
My favourite mid day pick up dish is Pennywort salad from Rangoon Tea House. Fresh pennywort leaves mixed with sliced shallots, garlic, shallot oil, lime and chopped peanuts. Simple and, very refreshing.
Because of the longitude this city sits on, it has one of the most beautiful picturesque sunrises/sunsets. One that would steal the hearts of many and yearn for them to revisit the country again. Perhaps this is how I started loving this country. First the beautiful sunrise to start the day, then the endless amount of fresh produce, the opportunity to experience something pure and sincere, taking the road less travelled, rooting good intentions and embracing the moments as they come.
I left the place knowing it wouldn’t be my last, as I’ve left a piece of myself there. Sometimes you just can’t choose which direction you are heading, it chooses you.
May 22, 2016 § 1 Comment
I first got acquainted with this word while learning meditation last May. It was a poignant time of the year, when all the unfortunate events had seemingly become more acceptable than, unfortunate.
How did that happen?
Anicca in Buddism translate to impermanence. A notion that all things exist without exception, is transient and in a constant state of flux. Life is like water, fluid to change and follows the flow of the tide.
During my trip to Burma last week, I chanced upon Anicca while reading up about an old temple in Old Bagan. Amongst the 2200 pagodas and temples scattered all over the flat plains, there weren’t one that did not signify the importance of impermanence. The beauty of sunsets and sunrise was encapsulated by the majestic horizon along with layers of orange hues, tints of red and shades of yellow. The glowing circular star gently falls and rises upon these plains while transforming colours of the trees and comings of mammals. A bird could fly to seek shelter before it gets any darker; a rooster might crow to its heart’s desire at the break of dawn; families walking down the dusty roads chewing on betel nut leaves. An event cannot happen without the other to make a lovely picture of this heritage site.
It is hard to imagine that this beautiful quiet village was once a cosmopolitan centre for religious and circular studies. We were told to keep our activities to the minimum at 10pm and behave ourselves around the city. A much unlikely behaviour for hostellers traveling from bigger towns like Bangkok or Phnom Penh, where clubs or pubs don’t shut till wee hours in the morning and alcohol is cheaper than sparkling water. Nevertheless, we found ourselves back in our rooms early in the evening, all ready to tuck into bed for the 5am wake up call to catch the sunrise.
As I faced my chest towards the sun in tadasana, my heart is lightened with the bright sunlight; as I inhale the fresh dense air and reach down towards my feet for the first sun salutation for the day, I feel grounded as the exhale travels into the roots of my body. How can one not find solace or peace in the quiet moment with the rising sun?
The night before my arrival to Bagan, I took an 10 hours overnight bus from Yangon’s hectic Aung Mangalar bus station. JJ express bus ride was amazingly comfortable and affordable. I arrived at Ostello Bello Bagan in the wee hours, but was treated with a warm welcome. There were showers and beds on the rooftop for early guests and a huge locker room to keep our belongings safely. Bike rental shops are just across the street and restaurants are in abundance. I took the chance to explore new and old Bagan with the e-bike. It was no more than 4000kyat (which is USD 3.50) for the entire day.
A fellow German hosteller said “one can never be done with Bagan”. She is right. There were just too many temples and pagodas to explore. Though the view from the top is almost similar, every building tells a different story. The style varies as empires or monarchy changes. Yet they preserve a certain ornate charm which symbolises the holiness of Theravada Buddhism. Golden status, red paintings on stone walls, large chambers and so on. We climbed to the roof top through hidden staircases, and waited for the sun to set.
Suppose yourself gazing on a gorgeous sunset. The whole western heavens are glowing with roseate hues; but you are aware that within half an hour all these glorious tints will have faded away into a dull ashen gray. You see them even now melting away before your eyes, although your eyes cannot place before you the conclusion which your reason draws. And what conclusion is that? That conclusion is that you never, even for the shortest time that can be named or conceived, see any abiding color, any color which truly is. Within the millionth part of a second the whole glory of the painted heavens has undergone an incalculable series of mutations. One shade is supplanted by another with a rapidity which sets all measurements at defiance, but because the process is one to which no measurements apply,… reason refuses to lay an arrestment on any period of the passing scene, or to declare that it is, because in the very act of being it is not; it has given place to something else. It is a series of fleeting colors, no one of which is, because each of them continually vanishes in another.
— Ferrier’s Lectures and Remains Vol. I, p. 119, quoted in Sarva-dorsana-Sangraha, London, p. 15
Marie, a 22-year-old French girl, spoke of her work experience at a sports news channel. “I love my job, but the people were fake, and the reports were all fake”, spoken in her thick French accent. Her English wasn’t very good and she admitted it with a hysterical laugh. We had no other language in common but carried the same spirit of a seeker. After Bagan, she planned to ride a horse through Russia and move to Argentina for a new chapter of her life.
Back in Yangon, I met a Burmese journalist who recently just quit his job at a news agent as well. He spoke deeply about his experience and the country. “No discipline, bad spirit”, he pointed with his index finger while squinting his eyes. The Burmese are very peaceful people but they can be very lazy. Spending most of their time, drinking, chewing betel nut or sleeping. Sometimes praying. “Pray for change, pray for freedom but no discipline”.
“Education”. The level of education has increased significantly but not enough to catch up with the rest of the ASEAN countries. He continue to compare the schooling systems between Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and China; how the next generation are much more driven than the average Burmese.
It’s a scared nation. Although they have given the freedom to speak up and practise their human rights, they are afraid to take adequate steps for a better tomorrow. How can one blame them after being colonised and ruled under such strict laws for decades? At it’s best, Burma is still a teenager with an old soul.
Aung San Suu Kyi has given “strength and unity”, but the rest is still up to the people.
In the city, street side bookshops are set up along the alleys. Perhaps to attract foreigners or to encourage locals to read more. Unfortunately, not everyone is literate. It isn’t rare to find a scene of an old gentleman filing official letters for people around government buildings.
I took the night bus back to the city and arrived at Aung Magalar bus station at 5am. I have no clue how I navigated myself through the messy streets and trusted nothing but an internal compass that lead straight to a bus company office. As I wait for my cab driver to arrive, the sun begins to rise. This time, my surroundings were so different. It was frantic, smelly, dense and delivered a sense of fear. But beyond that, I felt calm. Somehow backpacking or traveling alone has brought a tranquil courage. All the unbeaten paths I took through my life, whether it was driving across the States with a broken soft top or choosing to drop school for a chance to love, were done with no regrets. If I had to do it all over again, I would.
Whilst doing so, I found people who empathise with this journey more than others. Those who does are far and few, and shall only share the love to them.