“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.