May 3, 2017 § Leave a comment
When we look up at the sky, we are trying to find the way to ourselves.
What is a community? A few individuals coming together and striving for a united goal? Or collective personalities wired to generate something better? Both scenarios sound similar to one another but none of them truly understand the beauty of a community. To understand the collective, we need to question the individuals. How they view themselves and what their roles are. The beauty that sync us lies beneath our heartbeats. It is in the way we devote ourselves, and commit in being inclusive.
I have yearned to be part of a community. I have wanted to integrate people’s lives with each other. A space for one another to be themselves through honesty, selflessness and trust. A bond of reliance for us to feel loved or inclusive.
There is a certain level of commitment when we dedicate ourselves, forming interdependence. One that takes time and effort to sow and nurture into a beautiful wheat field. A seed is carefully rooted into the ground for natural growth, then germinating into stems/leaves, eventually sprouting to a tall confident plant. A plant is nothing beyond itself, but a few of them forms something special. That something special transcends differences.
Last two weeks were rather challenging. We were setting up the space and have been pulling long shifts to misc, prep, clean, organise, plan and so on. There were too many of us, yet there wasn’t enough collectiveness. The irony in forming a space where miscommunications and ego override transparency.
It reminded me of how we set up the previous spot. How we cemented the floors, cleaned the equipments, test recipes and gradually gain confidence with time. How the community around us were patient, yet curious and grew with us. Somehow it felt right. Somehow it really thrived. For a long period of time, we gather a good amount of love and trust. Somehow, we lost this essence overtime.
Perhaps it is just for me.
A friend and I have been discuss the meaning of friendship for a while now. How we make the effort to reach out but the other party doesn’t. How we continuously want to involve ourselves with their lives and only to be turned away with a cold reply (or even better, silence). We understand moving on with life or getting busy but it is a two way street, with every step comes a closer bond. Free spirited hearts carrying heartfelt banters of care and concerns. While we can grow apart, we can also grow inclusively with humility.
I have watched various spaces filled with people who come and go. Many that stay beyond their “time” and many who couldn’t stay still because of something more. I have rooted myself in places where I thought people would grow together with time. But only to be disappointed, with time itself.
Looking up to the sky last evening,I have decided again to slowly let go of the strings I attached myself to. That this little big island, cannot be a place for a fish out of water like me. After five years, there is something better than forming a better relationship with a piece of device than the person living next door. If this is living, then the living is rather nonchalent. We are too afraid to bring the walls down; yet the only thing that brings us together is by lowering them.
Vulnerability in community snowballs. Once its members become vulnerable and find themselves being valued and appreciated, they become more and more vulnerable. The walls come tumbling down. And as they tumble, as the love and acceptance escalates, as the mutual intimacy multi-plies, true healing and converting begins. Old wounds are healed, old resentments forgiven, old resistances overcome. Fear is replaced by hope. – M.Scott Peck
If letting go looks like the beautiful sunset, then let the light in.
A little tip of enhancing beetroot hummus with laksa flowers leaves and sambal. Oh what would I do without a little kick of spiciness in my food?
March 25, 2017 § Leave a comment
no second clock
The start wears the purest form of Mother’s Nature beauty. The air is crisp and clear. The breath carries an innocent whiff and exhale itself into the atmosphere. Bringing truth to a better light.
The prelude bears clarity and serenity. It is simple to feel. It resonates a silence smile a new born carries. It grows like a seed nurture into a tree. It brings waves to the ocean. It becomes.
A few weeks ago, I started a new journey. And like all new beginnings, it came with a closure. I ended my short stay in Yangon. The departure was inevitable. The differences seem to match like puzzles pieces, forming an unforeseen picture. Coming back to the island was only natural, and it seems like another new start after another, yet this time, everything seems to be aligned.
But before returning, the yoga community in Yangon invited us for a retreat at a beach town 6/7 hours away from the city. It took no hesitation for me to say yes. So off I went to another short excursion.
Ngwe Saung lies on the west side of Myanmar and has the front row seat to the Bay of Bengal. Since it is the best view, it would almost be a dishonour to hold our practice anywhere else but.
Every morning, I arrived sheepishly at the open hallway. We start our day with a short meditation and an hour of vinyasa flow. As we meditate in the quiet, flashes of past memories come flooding their way through. Some were hurtful, some were very joyful and between the both, there were collisions of your own thoughts trying to play tug of war. Where should I fall? Where should you place your emotions? What is the outcome of falling into it? Can i get something out of this?
“A man’s power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth, and his desire to communicate it without loss.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson
My perception of truth lies in the depths of how honest I am with myself. It wasn’t so difficult to be at peace with myself anymore. Unlike previous struggles, this was different, it was genuinely rediscovering my own strength and knowing where my limitations lie. With that said, the practise has became somewhat easier with a clearer head space. It’s as if I have decluttered my own brain and made way for some physical strength and serious alignments.The lighter one feels the lighter the body is.
“The body is smarter than your brain.” We often outwit ourselves with pushing the limits. Can we stretch the calves an inch further during a downward dog? Can we hold in a three legged dog half a minute longer? Let’s try to extend the arms a little higher but soften the shoulders deeper on a lunge.
There wasn’t a moment where I didn’t want to just ease into a pose. I want to engage each reflexes with poise yet gain the resilience and flow with my heartbeat. The mat has become a place for comforts and challenges simultaneously. The union is like two friends meeting one another, the twilight moon meeting the sun right before it reaches the horizon. An occurrence we fail to witness yet happens everyday.
The best part about rediscovering yourself is finding same kindled spirits who share the same perception. While we came from all walks of life, no culture, religion, race and gender differentiate us, one way or another, we meet at the mat and breathe the same air. Evenings were spent at cocktail bars laughing over Yangon life. The little inglorious daily activities that make the city unique to its own. Bad traffic, unhygienic manoeuvres, discrepancies and so on. One that seems so foreign to a life I live this moment.
I’m back in the +65 region again, with a new job, but still hanging out with my crazy kitchen crew and exploring a deeper relationship. Somehow everything seems to work out the way it ought to be just as it should, with time.
My current new boss is quite obsessed with fried shallots(eu chang,葱头油) . An asian delicacy and staple to any meal. Fried shallots on steamed fish, nasi lemak, fried shallots on plain rice, shallot oil is also used very frequently in garnishing any salads or finishing off a simple stew to enhance the flavours and brings a crisp texture. It’s something little but goes a long way.
After this morning’s workout, I bought some kale on my way home and immediately thought of tossing some in for a quick lunch salad.
Kale, cashew cheese, cherry tomatoes, quinoa and fried shallots. Happy weekend folks
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.
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.
July 14, 2016 § Leave a comment
It has been quite sometime since I last wrote something here. If you follow my Instagram, you would have travelled a fair distance with me. I have been away for just about a month: exploring Bangkok & Burma (yes again). The beginning of the trip was gathering collective memories of the Thai capital city. I haven’t been back in 20 years and while everyone around me seem to visit it at least twice a year; I have been in a hole.
Its unforgettable kind hospitality, creative simple delicacies, attention to details, dynamic shops, multi-layered urban structures and traditional living, left me awed and yearning to go back for more. It is no wonder why one never gets tired of the place. Perhaps even plan to stay in different neighbourhood, explore the grounds, get lost in their habits and if it gets too foreign go back to Siam Square to regain “normalcy” (a bite of Krispy Kreme or touch of H&M).
I stayed in the quaint Yard hostel located in vibrant Soi Ari. The hostel resembles much like an extension of a colonial family bungalow with shipping containers for their teenage children. There are private rooms as well as shared dorms, free breakfast and friendly staffs who stay in the compound too. Just down the road from us follows a few sporadic streets, congested with local/international restaurants, bars, cafes (look out for a dog cafe), salons, and massage parlours (why else would you go to Thailand?). My morning routine didn’t fall far from walking to Ari Crossfit box , passing by the local food market which gets into full swing of frying up bananas, chicken wings and other local snacks; enjoy a workout with the heartwarming community; returning back to the hostel with the same route and devouring myself with snacks . As one of them said, “train hard, eat harder”.
The locals enjoy life as it is and should be. They thrive on each other’s creativity as well as support/promote their own art work. There wasn’t a shortage on small galleries or street graffiti. Artwork were seen in eateries, gyms, abandon spaces and just about anywhere your feet could take you.
Of course, visiting MOCA highlighted the amazing local talents: an integration between modern and traditional views. A struggle for any developing country/city: to retain history by prolonging its habits/culture or adopt foreign views to better (or worsen) the present. The museum sits tall on the edge of the main BTS line, away from central but not too far from Chatuchak market. Grab a cab, enjoy the sights of little sub-urban residential sites, wide billboards and long highways.
On a few occasions, my evenings were spent at Mikkeller bar . No stranger to any craft beer fanatic, this Danish microbrewery first helmed its way to Asia and placed themselves in a residential home. A double-storey house convert into a bar/restaurant has been a watering hole for many fellow beer drinkers and culinary gourmet. They have a whole range of beers on tap as well as an extensive selection of beer snacks/dinner and a private food pairing session, Upstairs Mikkeller Bar. How else could one enjoy the truest form of any beer/local food other than from a degustation menu from the tapmasters and kitchen crew? Nothing beats a fresh pint of saison on a hot day after hours of trekking or braving the monsoon rain for sour ales….the things I do for beer.
I also had a sweet coffee affair at Hands and Heart, a recommended place from the coffee folks back at home. It is a small cafe under a residential condominium with forgiving white pure walls and simple interior just enough to keep it cosy. View and his partner, Monwa welcome customers with great smiles and cheerful spirits. I had the wonderful opportunity to taste their home roast, View’s personal stash of Coffee Collective Kieni and Has Been Coffee’s Bolivia. He had just returned from the World Barista Championship in Dublin and generously shared them with other coffee enthusiasts.
Another coffee roaster I frequented during my short stay was Ceresia Coffee Roaster. Nested at the very back end of Sukhumvit 33/1, it caters mainly to the local Japanese expat community surrounded with fellow Japanese shops. The owners support independent international coffee farmers and collectively select specific growers who are passionate about both beans and the brew. Making it even easier for us to enjoy the sheer joy of a delightful cup of coffee and understanding the complexity of a simple brew.
I truly appreciate that both coffee shops steer customers away from wifi or any technology. For one really ought to slow down, sip coffee, communicate with one another or simply soak in the vibe of the space. After all, why else do we travel?
This is Bangkok for now, more about Burma the next post.
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.