Hope For the Guest

If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive, do you think ghosts will do it after?


February 2016

The Boy’s Wolf

I turn to run but I slam into another boy, they are blocking all my avenues of escape now. They’re closing in, and with them, a sense of dread.’Not again, why can’t they just leave me alone?’ I think hopelessly.  I can guess exactly how this will go. If I fight they will beat me. If I run they will catch me. If I attempt to reason with them they will ignore me.
I can see all roads leading to the same outcome, I will hear their laughter as I groan and lay in the dirt until they get bored and leave. My mind is wandering off as the first knee hits me in the stomach. They don’t even punch me anymore, I think my ribs must be uncomfortable on their fists. I notice the pain spiraling out from the impact but I barely react. I don’t stop my body from convulsing or trying to shield itself. I just don’t do anything else, it doesn’t seem to matter what I do. It always hurts, it can’t be stopped.
The last time I tried to fight I couldn’t even make it home my eyes were so swollen, I just curled up at of the first tree I found. Each time I lose more of my self respect, each time I feel more pathetic. It doesn’t help that each time I come home bruised and bleeding my mom asks me how I can be such a wimp.

Another knee hit me, several more and they will let me fall to the ground before running off to the full tables of food set out by two parents for supper. They will be asked about their day and later tucked into bed with a pat on the head or a kiss. I will not. I’ll go home, nursing my injuries silently as I chop wood and make dinner for my mom as she complains about what a burden I am.

A slap to the face brought me back. “Are you in there freak?” one of the boys asked with his face close to mine. I don’t respond, they wanted a different reaction. “I guess we’ll have to find out for ourselves then” The same boy sneered. This is means they are bored, the sense of dread came back. “My dad says you’re cursed, he says you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near our village.”
I know what boredom does to kids like these. I winced as the boys holding me tried to twist my arms further behind my back. The boy leading the group pulls something out of his pocket “I don’t know why the adults let you live.”
“I say we should see if you’re even human under that skin” he flips open the blade of a small knife. Strangely I can feel the grip of the two boys that are holding me loosen a bit. “Tom, maybe we should go, its almost dinner time” another boy says quietly. “Don’t worry, this wont take long”. He is gripping the knife so tight that his knuckles are white.
He brings it up to my wrist, I can see a grim determination in his eyes. He takes a quick breathe like he is about to dive underwater. Deep inside my chest something breaks.
In a sound like wildfire, I hear an inner voice roar “No!”.
There is a flash of red.
The first thing I see is my bare feet covered in blood.
The second thing I see is a black shape like smoke in between me and the bully.
I’m confused, ‘Why don’t I feel anything?’ I ask myself.
Suddenly my mind catches up to speed as if the last moments were in slow motion. I look at my arm to see how badly I was hurt but I saw no cut. ‘But the blood’ I thought and then I saw the bully cradling his arm. But no, he was cradling the place where his arm used to be. “Get that thing away from me!” he screams, backing away. I see one of the boys fall over backwards and one of them runs, the rest follow. They disappear into the trees on the far end of the little clearing before I look down at the dark shape in front of me.
I’m shaking and my mind is wrestling with what I just saw. The shape turns to face me and the first thing I notice is a little flash of dark pink as its tongue cleans the blood from its lips.  Its teeth stand out in stark contrast to the dark of its raven colored fur. Its ears and paws tell me its some kind of dog, nothing like the village dogs but still a canine. It could be a wolf but I’ve never heard of a black wolf in this area. I’m expecting fear but it doesn’t come. Maybe its the relaxed posture of the dark dog or maybe my emotions were fried. Whatever the reason, I feel no fear when I kneel and stretch my arm out for the wolf to smell me.

I’ve always felt close to animals, they seemed to make sense in a world where not many things did. I could understand their body language better than I could understand spoken words and they never hurt me except for when there was a good reason, a natural reason. Like if I accidentally stepped on a paw or a tail.
It looks at my hand and then raises  from its sitting position to sniff me. “Good dog” I whisper. I feel my hand quivering from the adrenaline still in my body. ‘Bad things are about to happen’ I think. I knew that the villagers wouldn’t stand idle by when one of their kids lost their arm. I felt bad that I didn’t care about the bullies arm ‘Maybe I am a freak like they say’.  The dog walks over to me and sits close enough for me to feel its coarse hair against my side. Its comforting to feel the big animal close to me.
“Why did you help me? Where did you come from?” I ask aloud. He licks my face lovingly and then walks a few paces away before stopping to face me again. He stares at me until I meet his gaze. I’m struck by how familiar his eyes are, but his stare unnerves me so I look away. I’m trying to shake the feeling when I say “Well, I better get back before it gets dark. Take care dog”

I push my way through the dense edge of the clearing into the more open forest. I smell the hearth fire long before I see the little house. I don’t go inside, instead I go over to the wood shed and sit in the darkness inside. I usually think better in the dark and this was a situation I didn’t want to face. I couldn’t believe my bad luck. I thought about how the village would react and how my mother would react, something told me neither would be understanding. The boys who attacked me were just a representation of how the village feels about me, they think I’m cursed based on some rumor spread in the early years when my mom first arrived outside the village. She never told me what it was and made it clear that I wasn’t to ask about it. I barely even go to the village anymore, only when mother needs something. She doesn’t leave the cabin and makes me care for that kind of errand, well, all kinds of errands. Maybe part of why I’ve always loved dogs so much is because of everyone treating me like one my whole life. There is a scratching at the door, when I open it I find those some familiar eyes staring back at me. “How can you seem so calm at a time like this?” I ask the wolf. He just walks over and begins to lick the blood off my feet.
“Get in here!” a shrill voice cried. “Stay out here” I whisper.

I pushed open the door and saw her sitting in her chair by the fire. “I thought I heard something out there” She said almost to herself “I’m out of wood”. She didn’t even bother to ask for more wood, she knew I was trained well. I hate myself for being so meek. I went for a load of wood and set it down next to the fire. “You smell awful” she said finally raising her gaze slightly. “What is that filth you’re tracking in? Why do I keep you around when all you do is muddy up my life?”.
I know not to respond with anything but agreement. She’s not really speaking to me as much as commiserating with herself anyways. She couldn’t commiserate with me since, as she put it, I was the source of all her woes. She never lets me forget how the village hates me and how that makes it impossible for her to have a normal life.
“Is that blood?” her lips were curling in disgust “What kind of filth have you broad upon me now?”. This time I answer “A wolf or some kind of wild dog attacked one of the village boys.”, I knew there was no need to explain how the boys were attacking me before that happened. She ignored anytime I mentioned the attacks or said something like “Serves you right for being late with my supper”.
“So some wild beast came out of no where when you were with those boys and bloodied one of them up without laying a hair on you?” She mocked “How idiotic do you think I am you rotten, worthless mutt?”.

Before I can say anything I’m distracted by a glow growing in the room. I look through the window and see a crowd of flickering torches. “They actually came up here.’ I thought. The village had always avoided this cabin. I thought they’d just wait till the next time I came to town. “Ah, I see they’ve come for you.” She said with a wicked look “Get your useless ass out there and deal with the mess you made.”
“I know you’re in there!” one of the torch bearers yelled “Come out, we know you’re in there.” I could fill the panic filling my chest and running into my arms and legs. There was no shelter in the cabin, my mother wouldn’t help me. She hated me for causing her isolation and the village hated me for god knows what reason. There wasn’t any safety in the world for me, and I wasn’t even sure if I deserved to be safe. I had been a burden my whole life to everyone around me. ‘Maybe the world is a better place without me’
“I know what you’re thinking, you think I love you and if you hide in here until they come in for you that I will protect you.” she said in a low voice “You’re crazy if you think I care, I never wanted you. Your father was a worthless beast and you’ve proven to be even more of a waste of space than he was.”. I felt so empty, I had no fight in me. There was no where to go except out the front door. “I won’t burden you anymore” I said before opening the door.

Immediately two men grabbed my arms and dragged me away from the house. I didn’t care where they took me, I stared at the ground and waited. “Your monster ripped my sons arm off!” one man yelled. ‘My monster, I wish it was mine’ I thought. The smoke from the torches hung in the air making it hard to see in the darkness. “There’s only one way to get rid of a monster.” another man yelled. ‘Couldn’t they just get it over with’ I just wanted to turn into dust. They were pulling me along the path towards town. ‘Whatever they are going to do will happen when we get to town’ I reasoned. Something made me look up and through all that smoke I saw two piercing eyes staring back at me. It was like time slowed as I stared into those fierce loving eyes. I was seeing through a gap in the crowd, and just before it closed the wolf winked. ‘Is this real? and if it is real, why would the wolf be here?’ I could feel sparks of some faint hope finding tiny homes in my mind.

We were almost out in the open, almost to town when there was an enormous sound, it shook the trees such that a shower of pine needles drifted down.The men gasped and spun around searching for the source of their terror. I could even feel the men near me shaking as they continued to grip my arms tightly. The pine needles started to catch fire as they drifted down onto the torches. The light illuminated a dark shape sitting quietly in the middle of the path. It was hard to tell at first what it was but it was blocking the path to town. The men moved closer hesitantly, holding their torches out above their heads to see more clearly. First their was a flash of fiery eyes and then for a moment the shape was clear, the glistening fangs smiled back under pointed ears. “Wolf! the monster’s here!” they men yelled as they brandished their torches. Someone threw a torch but in front of everyone’s eyes the wolf melted into smoke and flew through the men towards me. Half physical, half smoke the wolf would slide around one man as smoke and push aside the next with a punch of his paw.

He was circling me as the wolf in seconds, the men backed away and I felt my heart soaring. I didn’t know what I expected to happen but the feeling was ecstatic. I ran a hand into the wolfs thick fur and thanked him for giving me such hope, I still didn’t quite believe I would live but it was enough to know that someone cared for me.
The men seemed too scared to do anything. “Kill the monsters!” someone yelled and I knew it was over. “Run now friend, you may still live” I whispered. In response the wolf said “Get on my back”, the words were clear as day despite the chaos around us. I didn’t know how a wolf could possibly carry me anywhere but as I swung my leg over his back I could feel us lifting up. In one long moment I was sitting on top of a massive beast, he jumped over the ring of torches and ran wildly through the woods. The wind whipped my face as tears began to stream from my eyes. “Thank you” the words sounded empty compared to what I felt. Someone cares whether I lie or die! and that changes everything.

The shouts of the men disappeared into the distance but the wolf kept running, for hours he ran. Finally he deposited me on a mossy bed in a dark forest. I threw my hands around his neck and hugged him tight, “Thank you, no one has ever done such a thing for me. I love you.”. The words came clearly again “What if I told you that there is only one person here in this clearing?”.
“What do you mean?”
“Who do you really think I am? Do you think I am but a wolf, or a monster like those men were yelling? Think about it.” He said staring down with his now gentle eyes.
“Are you a monster?” I said with hesitation.
“Are you? I cannot be anything that you are not.”He said patiently.
I wondered what he meant.
“Why do you think I saved you? Why didn’t I run away and leave you to die in their hands?”
“I don’t know, no one has ever protected me.” I said still grasping at his meaning.
“Each one of us has to protect our self” he smiled down at me “No one outside of our selves can help us until we ask. To ask, we must want to survive and if we don’t love our selves enough to want to survive… Well we almost found out what happens in that case.” he said with a chuckle.
“Are you trying to say we are somehow connected like the men in the village said?”
“No, not just connected. How do you think we’re talking right now?”
I paused for a second before replying “Your mouth doesn’t move, I could hear you in the mob just as clearly as I can in this clearing.
It can’t be sound, so it must be in my mind” I reasoned.
“Who has access to your mind like that?” He asked.
“Ah, I do? are you trying to say that you are part of me?” I said with a growing sense of certainty. It was starting to make sense.
“Yes, I am you, that is why I would do anything to protect you.”
Tears were forming in my eyes “I love you too, how could I have not heard you sooner?”
“I am the part of you that loves you no matter what. There is no way you could have given up on yourself so completely without ignoring me so completely.
I will protect you against any enemy, even from the other parts of you that diminish you.
I tried to speak to you and love you from within. I spent years trying to reach you. Your life was yelling your worthlessness so loudly that you chose to hear them over me. Eventually there was no other voice you could hear, that’s why I became more than a voice. The old stories about someone being half man, half wolf were not fantasies. I think most people just assumed that meant only one body.”
“So am I a werewolf?”
“I will always be with you but not in this form.”
“How can I ever thank you?” I asked with my watery eyes.
“Love me and accept me as part of you, I am you and all I have ever wished is to be accepted as part of you.”
I hug him tighter, my tears running like rivers down my cheeks “I do, you are welcome with me always.”

With that the body that was once all black fur and fangs dissolved into the same black smoke he had taken the form of in order to rescue me from the mob. This time I knew what to do. ‘I am you, I accept you’ I thought while taking a deep breathe. I took in the smoke and as it filled me I began to feel more whole than I had in years. It was like drinking a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter’s day. I felt warmer and more in love with each breathe until all the smoke was gone, there was only me in that little clearing.
The sun was poking through the trees. I held my hand in one of the beams of light, checking to see if I had any darker hair or sharper claws. Nothing.
As I walked out of the clearing I felt a new sense of confidence in myself.
‘I am smoke, fire and fangs. I am man and wolf.”
There was no going back now.


Impressions in Burma

I was standing in a shanty town where four roads met at awkward angles. I could met out a few stars in the pieces of dark sky above me. Looking up I could see the buildings leaning towards the street as if they were growing organically into any available space. To one side there was an extra second story room that they had built straight out from the rest of the building without support, it look like someone had pulled out a drawer big enough to live in and just left it out. I was watching the hotel employee who had lead me here walk over to a metal sheet. He banged on it a couple times and I realized it must be some sort of home, a minute later a man slide aside the metal, he got out and rubbed his eyes before rolling his motorbike over to me. Apparently he only needed 60 seconds to go from being fast asleep to being ready for work. I gave him a little extra when he got me to the train station.

“1.70 Kyat  for life insurance” I had noticed an extra charge on my train ticket. I chuckled to myself as I stepped over baskets of tomatoes. I wondered what 1.70 kyat’s would do in the event of the train derailing. Would it pay for a tenth of a body bag, or maybe a one hundredth of a shovel to dig my grave? How much can .0014USD buy in Myanmar? I decided that it would not buy much even in a country that charges 1.30USD for an eleven hour train ride.

I smiled back at the man staring at me from the seat cross from mine. He had the sort of face that looks as if its always smiling. He looked friendly and very poor, he carried a little cloth bag with a few items in it. A few minutes later he bought a beer and the man next to him bought whisky, he offered me some of his beer and I shook my head no and smiled in thanks. He wore only a button up shirt and the long cloth skirts that most of the men wear here in Myanmar. His feet looked like a dried lake bed, a bit cracked and well worn.
Hours earlier a nun was sitting where he now sat and she gave me coffee, bananas and crackers. She explain to me that the crackers were healthy and that she was a very health conscious person. She began to wipe the filthy windowsill before resting her elbow there, she sat on a news paper and told me more about how picky she was with the brands of food she would buy. Her knowledge about what was healthy was very different from mine. She told me that the Ritz-like crackers were healthy, she told me that she smoked but only “light cigarettes”, and she wiped the windowsill but didn’t think anything of eating with her hands after touching other parts of the dirty train. She explained that she became a nun to pay back the debt from her mothers sacrifice, normally she would have taken care of her mother as she grew old in order to pay the debt of her mother raising her back but since her mother had died when she was young she had to pay this debt back through forwarding the good karma of being a nun to her mother.  She seemed to give as if she thought of me before she thought of herself, if she had food but I had no food it seemed only natural that she should give me her food. She always gave me the better piece or the higher amount.
Later when the man sitting across from me showed the collection of coins and other items of personal value to him that he seems to carry with him everywhere I did not realize that by trying to give him a coin I had gotten in Malaysia he would give me one of his coins. I felt bad at first because it seemed that these coins were of great value to him, but I  also knew that sometimes giving is a greater kind of wealth than having. I once heard that refusing a gift can be a selfish thing, to not allow someone to have something worth giving is truly proving their lack of wealth.
So I took the coin and thanked him profusely, I took the breakfast and lunch I was offered in the same way. I want to learn how to give so readily, the Burmese people are great teachers.

Just a few short paragraphs for my devoted readers delight.


They greeted me as if I were Michael Jackson instead of just Michael Clark. Their smiles were so genuine it was contagious. I asked for a ticket to Naypyidaw. “High class?” one of them asked me. “No, low class.” I said in response. He looked as if he thought I was confused so I assured him I did in fact want a seat in low class. At that point his expression told me he thought that was wrong in some way, I’ve run into this while traveling. Many people don’t understand why anyone would want to have a less comfortable seat or circumstance when they could have more comfort. “Twenty-eight thousand” he told me. That was such a low price that I asked “Twenty-eight thousand Kyat for a low class seat from Yangon to Naypyidaw?” He confirmed that I would indeed pay about two dollars and fifty cents for a ten hour train ride. I attempted  to thank them in Burmese and they began laughing raucously while slapping each others backs as I walked toward the train.

I’ve had an image of one of those trains in India where all the people ride on the top if there isn’t room inside the cabin for months. It just keeps circulating in my mind, I’ve planned to get on a train in three different countries but each time something happened to make me choose the bus. As I walked up to car four where I was suppose to be seated I saw that the windows had no glass. I’m sure I was smiling like a fool as I climbed up and walked down the isle looking for seat number twenty-eight. It was a dingy, wooden floored cabin with wooden seats made of plywood painted blue. The faces were unusually straight for Myanmar as I sat down. The wooden seat was about as soft as wood usually is but I have had five months of practice sitting on terribly uncomfortable furniture.
I noticed a pair of eyes peeking just above the seat in front of me. They were staring at me and when I stared back my trained politeness made me look away. Each time I looked back they were still staring.

The train lurched, shook and there was a sound as if we had just been a part of some kind of collision. The two guys sitting on the bench facing me started laughing and I laughed with them as we pulled out of the station. I leaned my head out the window like I had been wanting to do for months but when I looked forward there were those eyes again. They were still disturbingly direct, however this time I could see who they belonged to. She was somewhere between sixteen and twenty I’d say if I had to guess. She stuck out her tongue at me, I just looked back wondering if it was an appropriate response to return the tongue pointing or if I should just smile. I decided I better just smile and pretend I wasn’t wildly confused. I’ve used this tactic many-a-time on my trip, just smile and attempt to not look as confused as  I feel. She continued to catch my eye and stare for the next 6 hours.

The whole train was a terrifically old style, it was satisfying my vision better than I would have hoped. We rolled past shanty towns, garbage heaps, and apartment buildings that were being consumed by vines. The dust poured into the window anytime we passed the spot where a road crossed the tracks, my eyes soon became sore from trying to blink away the dirt. Slowly my skin got dirtier, I couldn’t see a change in color but I could feel the grit all over me. After an hour or two we were surrounded by vast fields with specks of color where it seemed a whole village of people were tending to a single field at a time. I was amazed to see huge heaps of hay being transported by wooden ox drawn carts. The vast, flat landscape was only broken up by little bamboo-hut towns full of children playing hacky-sack  and adults working the fields. The trained stopped at each town long enough to take on the various sellers of train-treats. The were several  distinct types, the tea or coffee guy, the cigarettes or candy lady and the rice with curry boy.

They would pour on yelling what I would assume to be their sales pitch but quite honestly they could have been yelling about what they had for breakfast or who they planned to vote for in the next election. They would walk up and down the isle. If anyone so much as let their  gaze linger on their platter of merchandise for more than a second they would stop in front of you and (again I can only assume) say something like “Come on, you know you want some.” My favorite part was watching the women walking up and down the isle with a whole sliced watermelon on a platter balanced atom their heads. I could barely walk down the isle without falling over even with holding onto each seat as I moved along. They were able to walk without holding onto any of the seats, they didn’t drop a single piece of watermelon.

‘I wonder if this thing has a bathroom’ I looked around and saw that there was enough room in the back of the car. I found that it was a bathroom and to my glee it was just a hole in the floor that led straight onto the tracks. I was having the the of my life, everything was filthy, everything was loud, everything was uncomfortable. It was like heaven for me. As they say “Life’s about learning to dance in the train” Or something like that. Being shaken around like a rag doll anytime we went over a bridge probably looked something like what the kids are calling dancing these days.

Myanmar is such a crazy blend of new and old. Just on the train I watched a seventy year old man playing Tetris on his phone, we rumbled past villages made entirely of wood and at the end of it all there was Naypyidaw.
My guidebook described it as “a soulless town”. The train station was massive, mostly glass and metal. It was so unlike anything I had seen in Myanmar.  The military government built Naypyidaw from scratch starting in 2002 It looked as though the train had taken me on a hundred year long journey straight into the Twilight Zone. Its been an intriguing few days but my whole journey felt like seeing five countries in the space of ten hours. Each village was another world.
I just kept thinking ‘These places exist’. In three months when I’m sitting on some couch in Seattle I will think back to the time when my train companions offered me betel nut and I hope it still feels real, I really hope I remember their faces.

Mind Your Step

“Wait, there is a half an hour time difference from Thailand time?” I asked someone at the end of a long day of travel, I didn’t need an answer. I knew there was a time difference but somehow I had forgotten about it at all crucial times during the first two days in Myanmar. “Oh, you’re ready to go?” the employee at my hotel had said with some surprise. I had wondered why he was surprised, by my understanding at the time I was five minutes late. Turns out I had lived my entire day on an assumption that was wrong, funny thing that.

I hopped on the back of the motorbike at 7:09am Myanmar time. I barely held on as the driver sped off down the bumpy, pot-hole ridden roads. We ran through a four way intersection with just a casual honk and not a bit of speed lost. The mist was thick, and it made everything softer. We drove through packs of dogs and past magnificently golden pagoda’s that contrasted starkly with the brown of the rest of the town. I wondered how you could grow up in a place where the only well kept buildings in town were the Buddhist pagodas and not become a Buddhist. Buddhism is so bright here, the colors of the monks robes, the shining golden pagoda on nearly every hilltop, all of it opposes the dull colors of everything else. It’s a sublime show of belief to live in a dirt floored shack while you go to pray in a blinding golden heaven of a temple.

These were the thoughts that were interrupted when I arrived at the bus station. A young man approached me to ask if I wanted something to eat. He was probably in his early twenties  and he had a tattoo of a heart with an arrow through it that read “I love you” inside the heart. I found it interesting that despite speaking Burmese as his primary language the tattoo was in English. I sat down after pointing and nodding at some friend breakfast treats, he said “Coffee” and I said “Yes” with an emphatic nod. I wasn’t expecting to get breakfast this since I was still under the impression that I was running late. He brought me four spring roll type objects and a toy cup sized coffee. I sat in the mist soaking up the laughter all around me as all the good-old-boys slapped each others backs with the hilarity of their last joke. I loved seeing their happy faces, its been so easy to feel comfortable since I’ve been in Myanmar. Not everyone is kind or easy to deal with but even the most aggressive taxi drivers have helped me find a bus after I told them that the taxi was too expensive for me. I’ve felt the Burmese people’s kindness radiating everywhere I’ve been, perhaps that’s why the heat is so thick in the air here.

‘8:36, they’re leaving a half hour late’ I thought to myself without realizing that they were leaving precisely on time and I was the one who was running on a different schedule. The bus pulled away and I spent the first hour thinking my own thoughts and practicing breathing. Maybe its the infectiousness of the hippie ways here in Asia or maybe I’ve always been more of a hippie than I like to admit to myself. Whatever it is I’ve been practicing breathing every morning and many moments everyday for a week now. It has helped me to pull myself out of bed in the morning, out of the depression that usually fogs up my mind in the early hours. When my mind started to feel tired I put some music on and let my thoughts wander. I think long bus rides keep me sane, they give me time to process and time to just go with the flow. I don’t have to know the route or even the amount of time the bus will take to arrive. I make sure its going where I want to go and then I can have a few hours without making any big decisions. So much of travel is a storm of voices and foreign surroundings, everything is crying out for attention. So many decisions and many of them could lead to danger or a very uncomfortable day. To have some time each day to not have the decisions demanding my attention makes my mind a lot easier place to inhabit.

‘For the love of god, why put a bus station an hour outside of town?!’ I thought after hearing from a taxi driver that I was still so far from my destination. As soon as I had stepped out of the bus I was surrounded as if I were a dead gazelle and they were hungry vultures. They picked at me with their questions. “Where you go? Where you go?” they each asked until I could ignore them no longer. “Tokyo guesthouse, city center.”
One of them told me it would be ten thousand Kyat, or about 8 dollars. I asked where the bus was and eventually got through to them that I just needed to know where the bus was. One of them grabbed me by the arm and let me in a really awkward way. I felt like a toddler who’s parent was dragging them inside after too much playtime, it wasn’t comfortable but as I looked around I saw that the men seemed to use touch differently than I was used to. I let it go as a cultural difference.

By the time the bus got me sort of close to my destination I tried using my faulty sense of city direction to find my way. I learned to navigate in the forest, not in the chaos of Yangon. Perhaps its not the craziest city I’ve been in, perhaps. There wasn’t many motorbikes like some of the other Southeast Asian cities, it was mainly taxi’s and old buses. They barely moved and everywhere I looked there were people. It was hot and in a few minutes I was soaked in sweat. I had no idea if I was heading in the right direction, I was following the largest sum of other tourists. I took a right when I saw a group of four tourists come from that direction. I walked for a few minutes before I saw one guesthouse, but when I looked inside it was dark and a little less than inviting. I asked one of the other travelers walking by where might be a good direction to find lodging. He gave me clear information, that is the funny thing about asking for help while traveling. If I ask a local who certainly have better information they will struggle to communicate what they know and if I ask another tourist they will probably have much less information but a higher ability to convey what they know. This time the information lead me straight to a hostel.

I thought I was taking the hard way but it wasn’t hard, each step lead to the next. I could have been stressed, I could have been worried about all the steps at once but this time I didn’t. This time I just dealt with one step at a time, each step on its own was easy. Only the entire sum of steps thought of as one action seemed hard.
Sometimes the challenge is best fought in the mind.

Borders Make a Difference

“The old motor is stronger” he explained to me on the way to the boarder. I could feel my excitement growing as the little motorbike chugged along. I had meant to cross into Myanmar the day earlier. I had woken up early for the long journey but when I got to the bus station at 9am I found that the next bus left at 1pm. I’ve learned there is no sense in being too attached to the exact location I’m in, I’ve had great experiences in boring towns and bad experiences in fun towns. My driver stopped and pointed me toward the Friendship Bridge that connected Thailand to Myanmar. I always get excited at this part, it always seems silly to be so exhilarated by changing location by a few hundred feet but still I walked forward with a visible eagerness.

I had only taken about a hundred steps in Myanmar before it was clear that the boarder separated more than just two sides of a river. It was immediately more chaotic. I just needed to change money, withdraw money from an ATM and get a bus to Mawlamyine. Somehow I thought it would be easy. Right after getting my passport stamped, in the same building, a guy was running a travel company. I sat down to get some information and our conversation went like this:
Me “Hello, I want to go to Mawlamyine”
Him “Ah yes, we have a shared taxi to Mawlamyine”
Me “Okay, do you have a bus to Mawlamyine?”
Him “We have a shared taxi, its good, just four people”
Me “How about a bus, do you have a big bus?”
Him “We have the shared taxi”
Me “Okay, how much is the shared taxi?”
Him “It’s 13000 Burmese currency”
Me “That’s expensive, I want to find a local bus. Is there a bus station?”
Him “Its very far”
Me “So I’ll get a moto-taxi, how much for that?”
Him “I don’t know maybe 1000, there are many. They have the vests.”
I thanked him and left. I was surrounded by four more guys with the same offer. I ignored some and said no to others as I walked to find an ATM. One guy followed me “Where you go?” He asked. I answered and the same conversation repeated. I have had so many conversations like that. One person wants to sell something and I don’t want it but they persist. I try to get helpful information and they try to sell their one thing. Its like asking a surgeon to fix you, he’s gonna cut you open. He just is.

I walked into a bank after trying the ATM without it spitting out any money. I had to change some of my crisp US bills into Kyat. I’ve never seen a bank like this one. There was  suitcases full of bricks of money behind the counters and more hustle and bustle than I’d ever seen in a bank. Pretty much across the board banks are quiet, well air conditioned places. Not this one, it looked like one of those stockbroker pits where they all wave pieces of paper above their heads. I found the counter where I could change US dollars and almost laughed looking behind the counter. They apparently had no vault or just didn’t use it. There was a block of Kyat as big as a mini fridge  just sitting on the floor. It was kind of a joke to my western mind. I could not imagine something like that existing in a bank back home.

The fun was far from over though!
After I got enough Kyat for a day I got myself a moto-taxi to the local bus to Mawlamyine. My driver took me past a dusty market to a little bus station. He had some conversation with the lady working there, she waved her hand in a No sort of gesture but my driver just pointed to a chair and said “Mawlamyine”. I sat down and gave myself to the unknown. I wasn’t very confident that I would actually be sitting in a local bus to Mawlamyine anytime soon but I kept hearing the people around me say the name of the town I was going to so there was a glimmer of hope. Just then a guy I didn’t know handed me a phone for an unknown reason. I took it and held it to my ear, this was a tactic I had seen many times in Asia. If they don’t know English but they know someone who knows English they call that person to transcend the language barrier.

“Hello”, “Hello, dosf dkoudjf jou keojd car, djei” That is about how it sounded to me. It went on like that with me repeating the few words I thought I understood. Eventually I was pretty sure It was another person trying to sell me a shared taxi ride to Mawlamyine, I said yes and hung up. After another half an hour of waiting I got up to get a snack but before I could walk off the lady working at the bus station told me to get on the back of a motorbike for “bus to Mawlamyine”. A few minutes later I found myself in a shared taxi heading to what I thought would be Mawlamyine. This ended up not being true though, It drove for hours only to drop me at the bus to Mawlamyine. For reference if I was in Thailand the distance from the boarder to Mawlamyine would have probably taken two or three hours.

Five hours after leaving the boarder I arrived. I had a headache from not eating and the heat but I was happy to find that the moto-taxi drivers knew the guesthouse I had looked up the night before. I sped off but was not lucky enough to have my first choice, I was however lucky enough to find a place to sleep at the third guesthouse my driver found.
Its expensive here in Myanmar, I spent over my budget just for the room and ride from the boarder. The room was 20USD. I will have to get used to this after Thailand’s ease and inexpensiveness.

I also noticed that people here have beards, that may sound odd but I haven’t seen beards on local people more than a few times in months. The food here is more like Indian food, the people are incredibly diverse ethnically and it all just feels old world.
My first impressions are encouraging and my dinner was delicious so its hard not to like Myanmar so far.

The Fox and the Willow

I look to the left and see a fence across a wide grassy field.
I look to the right and see the place where the field is narrowest.
A short sprint along the edge of the forest gets me there. I pause for a moment, my ears swivel while my body holds totally still. I hear nothing and my black tipped legs propel me to the fence where I duck under before pausing again.
This time I see a little trickle of smoke past a wooden fence, the boards are all the way to the ground. I see one place where I might be able to dig my way through. I make my way over in short pointed dashes with pauses to listen in between. It only takes a few seconds to enlarge the gap under the fence. When I’m through I skirt the edge of the fence until I find some tall grass to hide my red coat. I see a square building, its the place the smoke was coming from, and I see several smaller buildings to the right of it. I timed it so the last light of the day would allow me to see the compound before the darkness came to hide me. As I waited for the sky’s reds to turn to purples and then finally to dark blue I licked my lips and thought about dinner.

The light had hardly left the sky when I silently padded around the fence line until I reached the back of the small building with the faint sounds of ruffling feathers. I looked back the way I came one last time before running up the little ladder into the long awaited feast. Immediately my world was filled with feathers, beaks and frantic shrieks. It was glorious for a few moments before I started to notice the shapes of wings and scaly feet were clearer than when I entered. I whirled around to see that a shaft of light was streaming through the door, I focused past the birds around me and heard a large animal moving outside. I was trapped, fear sent its signals all through my body and before I knew it I was hurling myself through the only way in or out of the chicken coop. I was fast but the light was blinding, I ran into the rubbery foot of the huge animal. It kicked out and I went flying a little closer to the stars than I was comfortable with. Luckily I landed away from the beast and unluckily the kick had done something to my rear right leg. It wasn’t a pretty run but I was running. The fear was making any pain in my leg irrelevant for the time being. I was out the gap in the fence before the light found me. I didn’t slow down until I was well into the woods on the other side of the field.

Now I felt the pain in my leg, it throbbed angrily and I knew it would stop my movement soon. I set my sights on the little river that flowed its way through the thick forest before merging with the great river to the south. I had explored the many hiding places when I was younger and I wanted to be somewhere safe before my leg slowed me down.

I was limping badly and many other aches had appeared as my body calmed but I was still able to move when up ahead I spotted a fine hiding spot. A great willow with long branches that formed a kind of natural fence. I knew I could curl up in between a fork of the roots or a hollow of the tree. The brilliant green of the vine-line branches would hide me while I recovered.

I slid through the branches and was amazed to see a dark opening in the trunk, it didn’t even smell like anyone’s home. It was a small opening but when I pushed through It opened up. There was enough room to curl up comfortably in the rich, soft soil. I was aching terribly at this point, and my leg was causing me to whimper in pain as the throbbing turned into a sharper pain. The pain was intense but I couldn’t help but feel an incredible gratitude for the safety of my temporary home. I whispered a “Thank you Willow.” before laying my head down on my tail. “You’re welcome fox.” My head shot up causing a great deal of pain such that it was a few moments before I could speak. “Who is that?! I can’t smell you.” The voice came again, “Ah, but I doubt that. With a nose like yours I’m sure you can smell a squirrel five feet underground even with a swift wind.” I couldn’t hear where it was coming from, I sniffed the air again. “But I cannot smell any squirrel. Where are you hiding?” I asked as my eyes searched for what my nose could not find. Again the voice came “That’s because I’m not a squirrel and I’m not hiding. It seems like you are though”. It was impossible to tell where the sound was coming from, it sounded like it was coming from everywhere. “May I ask what you are hiding from?” the voice asked. “Only if you tell me who and where you are first” I said as my eyes gave up the search. The voice laughed, “I’m  the walls sheltering you and the roots you’re curled up against”. “You’re the Willow?!” I blurted out. “Well don’t you think its a bit presumptuous to say I’m ‘The Willow’ on a riverbank full of Willow trees?”
Could this be some kind of hallucination from the pain? I thought, and out loud “Okay Willow, I’m not sure if this is a dream but could I please stay the night? You see I’m in bad shape and I’m not sure if the man is searching for me”. “Don’t be silly, of course you can stay the night, and many more if you promise me two things.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. Tree’s don’t usually talk to animals, they talk too slowly to understand. Somehow this Willow was talking at animal speeds, that or the man’s kick had rewired more than just my leg. Whatever it was I was curious “What do you want me to promise?” She began hesitantly ” Well, I’ve always wondered what was beyond this forest. If you promise to tell me stories of the lands beyond this little glen and to not sharpen your claws on my skin than I will let you stay.”  “If all you want is stories then we have a deal. However I don’t sharpen my claws like that, that is a cat thing.” I said.
“Very good, now rest. Trees are patient, when you are ready to talk I will be ready to listen.” I drifted off before really being sure that the whole conversation hadn’t taken place in a dream.

I opened my eyes and blinked away the last remnants of the first good nights sleep in days. I had spent the last three nights inside the Willow. At first I couldn’t sleep deeply from the pain but with time and a couple trips outside to scavenge some goose eggs I was beginning to feel myself again. “And how are we feeling today?” I still wasn’t used to the way her voice seemed to come from all around me. “Still stiff but I may be out of your hair soon.” I said as I stretched my right rear leg, I winced and laid back down. “What do you mean? I don’t have hair.” she asked in a puzzled tone. “I just mean I think I’ll be able to leave soon.” I said as I looked up into the Willow’s cavern. “Oh but don’t you know that the time you spent resting is barely a blink in the life of a tree? I could watch you grow from a pup to an adult in what feels like a few deep breathes” She explained. I had never thought of it like that. Truth be told I hadn’t known trees could be like this, none had ever tried to explain what it was like being a tree. “Can you remember when I used to explore these banks after I first left home?” I asked. “Well of course, you don’t think I’d make the effort to talk to just any creature do you?” she answered. I thought about that for a moment “So why did you answer my gratitude when I first arrived?”
“When you were still a pup I could tell you were too curious to stay in this forest forever. I have wondered for a hundred years what its like past my neighbors. When you thanked me for a service I can’t help but give I got the last piece of information I needed to begin to talk” I marveled as I tried to understand what it meant to know a place as well as this Willow knew this forest. How many lives has she seen come and go? I wondered. “Is it hard to talk?” I asked. “No, not so hard. Much like chewing for you is easy but finding food to chew on is sometimes quite hard. It was hard to find your mind, even with years to do it. You see I have no mouth, I can’t just speak my words into empty air like you animals. I have to know who I’m talking to first.”

“I’ve never waited that long for anything. I wish I could be as patient as you are. You were right to see my curiosity, I can’t hold onto my wonder. I swam the great river and crossed the mountains to the west but how could anything compare to watching a hundred generations grow and die? Tell me what it is to be a tree” She answered, ” If you tell me your story, I’ll tell you mine.” So began a conversation that lasted for days. The only breaks were when my hunger or weariness would get the best of me. Those days ran by, the Willow would tell of the little miracles she had watched. The time a family of owls lived with her or the time the little stream almost knocked her over after the snow melted in the mountains. I would tell of the men I had outfoxed and the endless fields of grass full of hoofed beasts. I could sense Willow’s eagerness to see the distant plains and mountains, she began to speak more and more of what she would do if she could run. At the same time though I longed to have a hundred arms and a thousand toes, to eat sunlight and drink the deepest well water. I longed to shelter a hundred tiny lives under my branches and not have to fear the mans kicking feet.

One day on an excursion closer to the mans home I heard the clucking of the birds. I decided the man couldn’t still be on guard after so long. Maybe I could slip in. I very cautiously moved closer, I paused at every change of cover and sniffed the air for any sign of danger. I knew the layout better this time, I maneuvered along the outside of the fence until I was right behind where I remembered the coop being. I would dig here so I wouldn’t have as far to run once I got inside the compound. I dug slowly, taking care to pause to listen. It was well into the night by the time I had finished the hole under the fence. I had to pause anytime I heard sounds coming from inside the fence. The man was in the yard and there were a few other animal sounds I didn’t recognize. It was quiet now and I expected the man to be fast asleep. I ducked under and moved to the front of the little bird house, I didn’t recklessly charge in like I had years ago. I was older and wiser now. I slowly stalked up the ladder, when I reached the top I peered in before sliding in with the sleeping birds. I only needed one, I stood still as I scanned for the fattest of the birds. It was a hen in the back of the building, but the ground was soft and I thought I could make it there without waking any of the birds. I took one step and heard a loud sound behind me. It was nothing like the noises the man made but it was coming from the mans house. I was instantly reliving my last experience in this yard. I turned and leaped out of the hen coop. As I leaped I could see the door to the house opening, as the light spread across the yard several big animals were pouring out the with it. They were making a terrible noise. I could see they weren’t men, they were like me but much bigger. They could not have heard me, but if they were like me maybe they could smell like me. I knew then that all my time outside the fence had been my undoing, even an average animal nose would have sensed me.Despite my dire circumstance I grinned, I still had one advantage. The animals were too big to fit through the hole under the fence. It was my only exit. As I landed my claws dug into the earth and I just managed to shift my direction despite the momentum I had from the jump. I was running for the hole in the fence when a sound like cracking rock erupted behind me, no time to turn, I was through the hole and into the trees.

As I trotted back, feeling very lucky and very foolish, I felt rain started to fall on my back.
I looked up and saw a sky full of bright stars, it had never rained without clouds before. Then I realized the wetness on my back wasn’t coming from without, it was from within. I hadn’t made it out safely. My legs were starting to go numb and I almost fell. All I could think about was home, Willow. Nothing in me questioned what was happening, there wasn’t even any fear. I just kept moving towards Willow. The pain wasn’t bad and I knew the way very well. When I arrived I went straight to curl up next to my old friend. The pain was beginning to numb my mind and burn my body. I still wasn’t afraid, I was home. Uncertainty is scary but certainty is calming. “Fox, what is happening?” Willow asked. I didn’t answer her question, it was unlike her to ask unnecessary questions. I knew she could see the blood and feel me slipping. “Thank you.” I said. “No, no. You are here, stay here!” Willow pleaded. “How many lives have you watched? How many deaths? How can you of all creatures be afraid of death?” I asked her through my thoughts. I had learned to speak this way over the years, as my body lay dying, it was now the only way I could speak.
“Too many to count, but I’ve never thought of death like this before. Trees see life as life, no life is more than any other. A death always makes room for more life so we rejoice as much as we mourn.” Her mind was wavering, the words seemed more fuzzy. “But you are specific, you are you and the place you will give up will be filled by someone else.”
“What is a fox to a tree?” I teased. Something broke in me then, I felt it all at once. I was terrified, I was devastated, sorrow was pouring from me like the blood from my back. It just wasn’t for my death, somehow I still couldn’t fear that. These emotions were for Willow’s pain. “I’m sorry to joke, I’m sorry to have such a greedy apatite for the mans birds and  I’m sorry for having such a short story to tell you.” Tears were tickling the edges of my animal eyes on their journey downwards. “You stupid fox, don’t be sorry.” She said with compassion. “You may have lived a short life compared to a tree but your story is no  less long.” She was crying now, not water like animals but little pieces of herself. They were gently falling around me, forming a kind of death bed. I imagined the way some of her would grow up through me and in a long off way I would continue helping her grow. “Do you remember the hole in my trunk that you first crawled inside?” She asked. “Of course, it fit me like it was made for a fox.” I answered. “What if I told you it was made for a fox? What if I told you that I made it in the hope that by making a place for you, maybe, you would eventually find your way into it?”
“Then I’d say you better thank the man for giving me a reason to need your safety.” I said looking up into her branches. Breathing was becoming heavier, the pain had stopped and in its place was a deep cold. I couldn’t feel my body, I couldn’t move except to rattle out shallow breathes. “Goodnight Willow” It was time. “Goodnight Fox” I knew she was holding so much back to say those words. “Thank you” I whispered aloud.

I let go of something then, I couldn’t tell what it was. It was like dreaming, everything made sense. I let go without seeing or feeling or sensing but I still knew I let go. I expected that I would become invisible to myself at that point, like a shadow in a dark room. The dream kept going though, nothing happened for a long time. I was dreaming but there was no plot line, it wasn’t boring. It was new but nothing about it was surprising. I had no eyes, no  ears, no feet, no hands, but I had something. Part of me began to wonder what it looked like, I couldn’t see or feel though so the shape eluded me. Slowly there was more of it, more substance. The dream began to have rules again, there was up and down. I pointing the closest part of my substance to a top towards the up and the closest part of myself to a bottom I pointed down. Now the growth felt fast, I began to have skin again, and toes. I was wondering where my fingers would be when suddenly my top was blinded by light. I tried to look around but soon realized I could not see, still I knew there was light all around my head. I tried to stand and walk but I was too heavy. I remembered a long time ago when I was a very, very young fox my first steps were like this. I waited for my body to catch up, slowly though I felt my skin’s roughness. As it grew it became very hard and there was no hair at all. I counted my toes, I knew there was something wrong when I counted past four but when I counted thirty six toes and tried to count my left rear leg I found that I had seven legs. I counted again, and it was still the same. As I puzzled over whether to be glad to have so many legs or sad to have an uneven number I felt more toes sprouting out of the legs and some were even growing out of other toes. At this point my first arms were coming out of the part of my body that was in the light. ‘I’m not a fox’ I thought to myself. I knew foxes only entered the light once they have all their legs, no fox got new arms or legs after they were in the light.

‘A tree! Tree’s grow new arms all the time!’ but then I wondered how I could be a tree, I was a fox. Then I wondered how I became a fox, I couldn’t remember. I settled on knowing that I must have became a fox at some point, and if I became a fox maybe I became a tree the same way. ‘Willow!’ I shouted in my mind. ‘Willow is a tree, maybe she can tell me how I became a tree.’ Thoughts were flooding in and my mind could hold all of them, then I realized the thoughts weren’t flooding in. My minds space was growing and the thoughts were able to expand as the space for them was growing. I could think more clearly as my mind grew. ‘I went to sleep next to Willow, I don’t know if that means I am still close by but Its worth a try to reach out to her. I tried to remember which way I was facing when I went to sleep. ‘No the the way I was facing when I died’ I wondered how I could have forgotten that. ‘Does she know I still exist?’ I wondered. I couldn’t tell which way I was facing now, I had no front or back. I decided to reach out in all directions, that seemed like the advantage to having so many arms and legs.

I found a root and held on, I think it helped connect me because my hello Willow thought was answered with “I’m a reed, but hello.” I apologized for the confusion and asked where the nearest willow might be. He said he had heard from the other reeds that willows were all around but he said he didn’t have a very good sense of direction. I thanked him for the help and continued spreading out. I had learned one other thing from the interaction, reeds and willows almost always grew near water. I had learned that when I was a fox. It was a good sign that I was near some kind of water. From this information I knew to spread my legs or roots in the general direction of the reed. I needed to stop thinking of my body as an animals body, I kept getting confused with all my names. I had no feet, hands, toes or eyes but I kept using words like see or I’d call my largest part my body instead of my trunk. It was very new.

I kept expecting to become impatient with my blind search, I knew back when I was a fox it would have been maddening. As a tree it felt okay to wait. I was calling out and stretching out until the snows came and I buried my energy deep in my roots where it wasn’t quite as cold. I couldn’t feel cold the same way, but it seemed natural to hibernate. When the days started to lengthen I started moving my energy upwards again. This time though I was sprouting many new leaves from my many new branches. As my leaves opened I saw, not the way I used to see. It wasn’t the same colors or feeling but it was seeing. I strained to make out shapes. If I could see I could find Willow so I send as much of my energy into my leaves as I could. They opened wider and my vision started to clear a bit, I could see some shadows around me but one in particular caught my eye. I reached out and found a hold.
“You know you don’t need to touch anything you talk to right?” She said quietly.
“Willow! I found you!” I said with glee. “I’ve been here the whole time watching you grow. I could hear all you said, I’m glad you finally found your voice.” Willow said in an amused tone. “Oh, how do I talk without touching? I don’t think I quite have the hang of this yet.”
“Of course not, I didn’t know how to speak for a hundred years. I would have waited that long for you to learn but I am happy that it wasn’t that long.” She said ” But about speaking, its hard to explain. You have to find something to hold onto in your mind, the way I found your gratitude when we first met. Once you know it, its easy to find again.”

Willow taught me how to speak and how to listen to the other lives around us. She showed me how my leaves worked like eyes, they were all little light receptors. Little by little she helped me learn how to be a tree. We were finally moving the same speed. The winters came and heaped snow on the ground, Willow helped hold some of the snow off me. The summers were dry so Willow showed me how to drill a deep taproot. The fall came and with it sporadic storms, they scared me but Willow would tell me to reach my roots wide so I could brace myself against the wind. It went on like this for years, I grew stronger and I needed less support with every season. I could tell that Willow still wanted to see the world.

One fall there was a particularly bad storm coming our way. I could feel the thunder when it was still miles off. It hit hard, Willow tried to hold some of the wind off me but it was still nearly uprooting me. The lightning was striking all around us, and our leaves were falling around us like a green blizzard. Suddenly there was a sickening crack, I looked up with the few leaves I had left expecting to see one of Willow’s branches broken but there was heat and a flickering light. It was fire, it was lightning. Of course it struck her, she was the tallest tree now. “Fox, I’m okay. This is okay.” Willow said. I knew she wasn’t feeling pain, I had learned that trees don’t feel like that. We just feel without pain. If our bark is cut we sense it so we know to send sap to keep out infection. There isn’t a need to feel pain since we can’t move the way animals do. There isn’t the same immediacy when all action is slow.

“What can I do?!” I shouted as if the wind affected the clarity of my voice. “Not a thing. I’m so happy, I have grown all my years so that someday I would be tall enough to catch the lightning instead of you. Even if you could stop the fire from setting me free I would not want you to. This is right.”  Willow said in an ecstatic tone. I knew then that she was right, I could not save her and even if I could it would be selfish. “But are you sure you can find another life?” “If a 8 year old fox can do it don’t you think a 300 year old willow could also?” Willow said in a teasing tone. I knew she wasn’t sure and covering up her uncertainty with humor but at the same time I knew it wasn’t as much of a joke as Willow thought. I had found another life, Willow would too. I had to believe that. I looked up at her with the eyes she taught me to use. It was a beautiful scene in a tree sort of way. She was so bright and the fire made it looked as though Willow was dancing, all the flickering of her halo. It would slowly end her life but trees die slowly. If a tree could smile I knew Willow was smiling. “Fox, you’ll be a good willow.” she said as the ashes fell around me.
“And you’ll be a good animal, whatever life you find”

Willow didn’t die right away, we talked in the hours she had left. I told her again about being an animal. “Is it really as grand as it sounds?” she kept saying. “Even grander” I would say. Her voice kept getting fainter as if she was getting farther away. Eventually it slipped away entirely. “Willow, I’ll make a place for you!” I shouted out towards the place that she used to live.

The day after a storm is always the same, it felt too quiet the way it feels the moment after hearing a loud sound. It felt like that ringing in the ears. Some small animals crawled out of their holes to scavenge the fallen leaves and nuts. A few birds started to rebuild damaged nests, some even had to make entirely new nests since the storm had pulled the whole thing away. A dark bird landed in a pile of ash next to Willow’s scorched trunk. It began to take a dust bath in the ashes. It was hard to distinguish between the feathers and the charcoal, they were both the same glistening black. After the bath it picked up a twig and flew up to one of Willows branches.
I watched the scene and began to feel a sense of excitement. ‘See you soon Willow’.

Life in Pai

Walking into the Circus hostel was like walking into a casting session for some viking movie, there was certainly enough matted hair and forearm tattoos. There was more formations of dreadlocks in that field of hula hoopers than I’ve ever seen in one place. I took in the air of intense desire to be the greatest hippie on the hill and felt a little out of place as I was led past the smoking hut to my dorm room. Despite feeling a bit uncomfortable with the number and brashness of the people I was glad to be around people after my week and a half of solitude while I recovered from being sick.

I came to Pai wanting to rest up before crossing into Myanmar. I expected Myanmar to hold many uncomfortable bus rides and a busy itinerary since I heard it can take forever to get anywhere due to the lack of good roads. When I saw the Circus hostel I immediately knew that rest was not what was going to happen. I had several friends that told me they loved it so I was willing to put aside rest for a few days while I explored the ecosystem of the Circus hostel.

At 2am two days later I was shaken awake again by someone stumbling in. The dorm was built almost entirely out of bamboo and the floor had so much flex in it that it was essentially like sleeping on a trampoline. No one could even roll over without everyone else feeling it, or at least the few people not intoxicated into numbness.
I decided to not extend my stay.

Despite getting very poor sleep for the three nights at the Circus hostel the days were spent happily riding around to the various sights around Pai. The days always started out eating a slow breakfast at noon at one of the restaurants that serves plenty of humus and pesto. Later when the Germans of the group got a plan together the rest of the group revved our bikes and would speed off to a hot spring or a canyon until dinner.  After a few days of being around humans constantly my introvert needed to be alone.

I found a hut next to the river where I could start the relaxing part of my time in Pai. I wasn’t sure how I would fare after leaving the hostel. I thought I would end up alone for the next week like a hermit. Weirdly enough I wasn’t alone, I met people nearly everywhere I went. I met new people and I met people from months ago, I was rarely alone. Through this experience and a virtual buffet of hippie conversations about introspection and self improvement I began to think about the stories I tell myself. Specifically I decided that I could not continue telling myself that I was bad at making friends when every walk down the main street led to many friendly greetings and short conversations with the people I had met in the days previous. It was so obvious that I was lying to myself I wondered how I could have missed it for so long. How can I think I’m such a bad social animal when the only times I’m alone is when I want to be or when I am in a town where no one else speaks English.

Pai is a place full of people telling themselves stories. Some people tell that story with clothes or tattoos, some people tell it with social media and some people say it in the undercurrents of their own minds.
I tell myself I can’t make friends after making five new friends in a day or I worry that I’m out of shape after not getting good exercise for a week. I don’t even think lying to myself is always a bad thing but if I’m going through so much effort to keep the conspiracy that I’m weaker than I actually am from surfacing then I’m pretty sure its time to free up some of that energy. I see people that don’t seem to look at anything cool directly, its always through a screen. If they see a waterfall its through their smartphone as they take the picture. I thought that was too bad but when I’m seeing my entire life through film that tells me everything is harder than it actually is for me then its much worse than a smartphone screen.

If Pai is anything its a place where most people can find their niche. Whether you are obsessed with hula hopping, kung fu, barbecued chicken there is something for you. I honestly didn’t expect to like it in Pai, I thought I would end up eating a lot of meals alone and spending most of my time researching my trip in some isolated bungalow but I lied to myself if I thought I could spend ten days in a place without making a friend or finding a routine I enjoyed.

I even ended up with a bell bracelet that jingles when I walk. I think I better get out of here before I end up at the night market selling my own line of handcrafted, locally sourced, ethically traded and organically grown chopsticks.

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