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Home of world records

I was thinking, I should have tried for a job in Mandalay, not Yangon, back almost three years ago. But then, internet was really sketchy and there were no flights out. On the other hand, there are, and were, motorcycles…. changing everything.

Anyway.

I was planning to go and visit for a weekend for two years, but something more important always came up. Like, catching up with sleep and lesson preparation. I never made it until last week.

Mandalay and its vicinity are home to the “world’s biggest book”, the world’s longest teakwood bridge, the world’s biggest uncracked bell, and the world’s biggest, albeit unfinished, Buddhist pagoda….

That “book” is actually the entire body of Buddhist scriptures and explanations carved on stone slabs, each housed in its own little white-washed pagoda…. almost 3000 in all in the two separate but adjacent temples. And they are real temples, still alive, with people having a quick nap on the floor, little girls selling jasmine garlands, couples making out in the hidden corners, young monks picking star flowers and chatting well hidden in the trees, kids climbing the buildings as if they were monkey bars at the playground.

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Unfinished, shattered, cracked, impressive…. and of course, climbed by all, right next to a huge sign asking people not to, hoping that the next earthquake is not scheduled for today. Amazing structures like this make me wonder when I look at my 4-year-old school building falling apart, where did all the knowledge and craftsmanship go, these people were building pagodas nine centuries ago that are still standing, and this huge one is merely two hundred years old, and their descendants, well…. not really proud caretakers of a noble heritage.

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This one, not cracked, just so badly graffitied…. and another moment of hope that this is not earthquake day. The Burmese also have a much larger, legendary bell that their archeologists are still relentlessly looking for.

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And of course a bridge is just as good a place to sleep as any other. Or to go to school, sell food, fidget with your mobile (there is good signal here – good for Myanmar, at least), and take selfies. Famous, but still very much a community space.

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Too many photos, I will need to continue here some other time.

 

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It’s just too much sometimes.

If someone dropped a small kid in my lap now, I would take it.

I know there are so many things wrong with me, and and and….

and I cannot talk about this.

I took many of these pictures and ran away to hide my tears.

Can you find the world’s biggest bell in one of the photos?

By the way, the first one is my colleague and friend with her son. Mine would be the same age now.

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Oh. And here is the same mother and daughter from April four and a half years ago, and just the other day.

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Heart of the land

I was upcountry for a while, with no hope of properly working internet, and I have no idea anymore what I meant to write here, last week I spent a whole afternoon at Shwedagon, and loved it as always, not simply the sparkling gold, that would be too easy, but people-watching.

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And then, there are the details, the monsters, the Buddha life story glazed tiles, and a zillion spires, and the sweeping views, and the changing clouds and lights.

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And all I can do is look and miserably scratch the surface, nobody will ever understand what this nation has been going through, and how it has survived, and thank god we don’t have to, but somehow I take away these little morsels of feelings, echoes of olden times, quiet whispers, secret hopes, crushed dreams, smiles of today, hopes for tomorrow…. and Shwedagon knows it all, has seen it all, stands for it all.

….and for me, the circle is completed, I don’t hate Yangon anymore, I’m free to become connected again in a different way….  I can be a footnote again in an obscure appendix, I am free to leave, free to come back….

 

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So many hopes

The insane guesthouse situation in Burma means only dorm beds are affordable, and it means sharing with too many people – but at the moment I actually sort of enjoy being forced to interact with people for a few hours at a time. At one point in Yangon, it was a Canadian guy teaching in Korea, a young Dutch girl on the way to Australia to pick up a working holiday visa, a Peruvian guy learning Japanese, going round the world, and squeezing in a few hours of work every day on his laptop, a Japanese guy full of scary tattoos, learning Spanish and going round the world, a Chinese girl studying English in Bangkok, an Ozzie who’s just been to Palau for diving, an American chick studying Chinese in Taipei and practising with the Chinese girl all the time, but the Chinese girl always trying to switch to English in order to practise as well, oh and she also recited all her lines from the musical Chicago in pretty good Hungarian, and then in the corner, me. Rather hectic, yes.

So I went to school again and walked in the city just to get some “peace and quiet” :-)

And now that I’m typing this, a French guy just off the bus walks into the dorm room in Mandalay, and talks about his Indonesian girlfriend, travelling around all the places I know as well, and maybe opening a guesthouse in Sulawesi.

Where was I?  I just wanted to share some photos of Yangon’s spectacular golden pagoda, but how does it link to whatever I have been talking about now?

It was weird going there now. I know I won’t be back in Myanmar anytime soon (unless someone hires me to be a guide perhaps and pays my expenses….), so it’s my last visit for a while now. Before, it was there all the time, visible from the windows on the top floor, far off in the distance. I went a couple of times over the two years. Still like it. Still the heart of Myanmar for me. Maybe should start a whole new post. But then what do I put in the header here? Certainly no photos of dorm rooms (however clean, brand new and fresh they are).

Found the right one. The face of the new Burma :-)  There are so many kids everywhere. And they are welcome and smiled at, and parents often let us play with them and hold them and take photos, and quite visibly locals like having them around in restaurants, temples, shops…. Hope they will never know any of the hardships and suffering that crippled the past few generations in this region…. there is so much hope around here, what I remember from home from my early teenage years…. so badly shattered…. but here, it’s a brand new story still waiting to be written….

Where to nominate my post for the “most incoherent ever”?

 

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Home is where somebody misses you

I really didn’t want to come back for a visit, but in the end, I had to, and I forced myself.  And now I’m feeling so relieved, something that has been bugging me since March is gone, and it is hopefully going to be easier now to figure out who I am and what I want.

I’m still a teacher. I haven’t been feeling like one since I left in March.

Now that I know I will be leaving soon, I can enjoy and appreciate Yangon. I already know it well enough to get around and not to fear it. I feel safe. And as always, the people are so welcoming. Not only the people I know but everybody in the streets. Just like before.

I wish I could have felt at home here but I simply just didn’t. Sometimes you can’t explain these things. It is what it is.

(I have been unable to upload more photos this evening. )

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Yangon reloaded

As the plane landed with a bump, and soon I found myself surrounded by pesky taxi drivers in the seemingly never-ending drizzle, my heart didn’t simply sink, it dropped like a rock.

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What on earth am I doing here, why didn’t I stay with my Thai family, didn’t I try to apply for my old job, why didn’t I just choose a completely different life, why do I have to be here again, why did a person I trusted screw up my luggage problems. It’s all so unfair.

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I never really liked Yangon but I put up with it for the job. And now that I’m allowed to feel what I want, and there is no need to keep strong, all sorts of emotions hit me like gale force winds.

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I’ve always admired it as a resilient, cheerful city. I’ve always appreciated the calm, friendly people with their open faces and helpful manners. I’ve always smiled passing by the little cafes where men sit down for a chat and tea in the evenings, the young lads playing football in the narrow lanes, the colourful little markets selling everything from thousands of nuts and bolts to frilly pink baby clothes (sorry my pics are mostly food).

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It has loads of character and it’s so easy to get by and get things done and go places. It’s familiar and safe enough, and at this point, that helps. None of those challenges of India.

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But I always hated living here, from the very first day until the very last one, and I am not even sure why. I was always very lonely and very sad here, always longing to be somewhere else. But it was me, not the city.

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Having said this all, knowing that I’m out of here soon helps. Today I was happy taking photos, I really enjoyed familiar sights, including echoes and bits and pieces of a tame and cleaner version of India, and I am excited about meeting old friends. But that’s it. A very ambivalent return that could still go either way.

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Nervewrecked

…nothing  specific or special – just the usual confusion – and I am homesick, for a home, somewhere, anywhere – don’t feel like travelling, going anywhere because I can’t share any of it with anyone – and really wondering, where did all my dreams go, of going to Vietnam and the Philippines and China and Borneo and….

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….so I’m here in Chiang Mai, still struggling with the effects of my infections from India – hardly any energy to go round and do things, even though there is a long list of errands still to do, my entire boxed-up Thai life to go through, and only a week left until my visa-free stamp kicks me out of the country….

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… the pictures are from one of my last road trips, in December 3 years ago, when I ended up having to buy gloves and a new hat, besides my scarf, up in the mountains near Arunothai and Doi Angkhang….

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… I should go back to some of these places, but I’m so alone, and I’m like, what’s the point…. if only he could be here with me, to share it all….

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…the funny thing about the cold season is of course that that’s when oranges grow, and all the exotic flowers I know from Europe, from my childhood, all our bright and colourful summer flowers….

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…the mountains are always hilltribe territory, and attract a huge crowd of Thais, hardly any foreigners here, they will know I’m “local”, others don’t make it to these little places, even though clearly marked on the maps and have good roads…

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…and of course, in December, sakura and sunflowers are all the rage…. but I was about a week late…

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