My alarm went off at 2:50am, I promised that I was going to meet the moto-taxi driver in front of my hotel in a few minutes. My mind wasn’t groggy like it usually is waking up before any reasonable human being gets out of bed. In my strange clarity I realized something ‘This is stupid, I’ll pay him and go back to sleep’. The night before I had learned that the train up north would leave at 4am so I asked one of the taxi drivers outside to meet me at 3am. “You promise?” the driver had asked several times, it seemed like he had been screwed over by tourists a few too many times.
However when I did more research I found that all the sources of information said the train was leaving at different times, the most common time was around noon and the least common was 4am. I realized this and went out to tell the driver but he was already gone. I could have not shown up, I could have just kept sleeping, but I don’t like how tourists give themselves a bad name just like that. Just the day before I was hearing about how the Myanmar government wasn’t allowing people to be on the temples at Bagan because a video of some tourists drinking and striping on one of the temples went viral. That kind of thing is a huge shame, because of that group of tourists all other people visiting Bagan will be allowed less freedom to experience the site.
I decided I wouldn’t make that driver think even worse of tourists, I would go to the train station at 3am anyways. For some reason this made sense to me before going to sleep but when I woke up it seemed crazy. I went downstairs at 3am, paid the driver for his trouble and went back to sleep. Later one of the hotel employees told me the train would leave at noon. I got a moto-taxi to the station but the train was suppose to leave at 4pm.
I got a bite to eat and waited for 4pm to roll around. It finally came but the train didn’t leave until 6:30pm. I was already about to lose my mind when the train finally began its lurching journey north.
Hours later I was surrounded by drunk policeman and soldiers who kept trying to hand me frothy white liquid in used water bottles they called “beer”. It didn’t look great but then they shoved a plastic bag full of some kind of cooked winged creature. “Bat” the self appointed translator policeman said. Now I had to try bat, and if I were to try the bat I better take a swig of the “beer”. It just seemed wrong to ignore their pairing of the two, it would be like eating the wrong cheese with a glass of wine. Or it would be like that if the wine was homemade and the cheese was a flying rat.
“Oh very good, thank you” I said as my internal voice was gagging. The bat was tough and terrible tasting, the “Beer” tasted rotten. They assumed I would love both and then instantly become a part of their drinking party so when I refused all other food and drugs they tried to give me they did appear somewhat perplexed.
The drinking had finally turned the soldiers and policeman into incredibly wiggly, rag doll sleepers. The one on the seat in front of me was probably getting sever spinal damage as the train bounced him up and down. Everything smelled like the awful “beer”. The policeman that had fed me the bat came over and handed me his hat. “Gift for you” he said. I was confused but I took the gift. I wore it so he could take a picture of me but it felt wrong to wear someone else’s uniform so I stowed the hat in my backpack. I had a sneaking suspicion that this policeman was going to get a talking to by his superiors after arriving back at the station. He then curled up on the floor cuddling a little boy like a teddy bear. I fell asleep sitting with my legs tucked up to my chest, it was understandably uncomfortable though and the lady next to me seemed like she was uncomfortable sleeping with only half the bench. I saw a space just my size on the floor so I tucked myself in between baskets of tomatoes and the sleeping policeman for a few hours of bone jarring rest.
“Be here by 5 or 5:30am” I was told two days later after a stop in Naba, my hip was still bruised from sleeping on the last train.
The train left at 9am. And naturally my western mind took “5 or 5:30am” to mean be there by 5 just in case. I have come to think of most of my preferences or ways of thinking as a factor of being raised in the US. Often they make my life harder than it has to be here in Asia. I think I’m in one world but I’m actually in another. Its like I’m from the moon but when I’m on earth I expect to jump just as high, its my expectation that makes it hard for me. In reality there are many intelligent and efficient ways of doing things here in Asia that only look bizarre because I don’t understand them from the minds that created those systems.
A few days later I was getting on a bus back to Mandalay from the farthest north that foreigners are allowed without a special permit. I had been told by three or four people that the bus ride was 9 or 10 hours. That sounded great to me since taking the train would take 30 hours. “We’ll arrive tomorrow morning.”one of my fellow bus-riders told me. The bus was scheduled to leave at 10am. “Oh okay, thats good” I said as my heart sank deep into my stomach. I wasn’t feeling very excited for a 10 hour bus ride but this news caused silent panic. I just didn’t feel up to it. “seat 43” I said when the guy next to me asked. “haha thats the back row.” He said. Now I was angry, I picked the bus because it would be more comfortable than the train. I knew that I didn’t have any right to be angry, but I was angrier still when I realized that my seat was not only in the back row but it was the middle seat. I was sitting in the middle of 4 other people. It is the worst seat, I don’t normally feel sad or depressed from things like this but for some reason this really lowered my mood.
10 hours later I was being elbowed on both sides while trying not to breathe because of the smell of shit or vomit. I had to brace myself with both feet just to stay in my seat.
I and everyone in the backseats had been launched into the air many times in the past hours. I almost hit the ceiling nearly 2 feet above my head.
Sleep was out of the question, if I fell asleep I would definitely be thrown down the isle where there were several plastic bags full of vomit sliding back and fourth on the floor.
I don’t know why but people puke on pretty much every bus in Myanmar, they had already handed out bags 3 or 4 times because the bags before were used.
I cringed as the guy next to me puked again. I thought horribly about how I had accepted some finger food he had offered me earlier. I don’t know where the smell of shit came from but it was continually wafting around.
The lady next to me had no sense of personal space, she couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes before she would shift around elbowing me and generally waging war with my bubble of space. The guy on my other side kept falling asleep and through unconsciousness he was waging his own little war. At one point he fell asleep in a way that made his hard knee caps slam into my arm over and over. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m now bruised.
I wasn’t very happy with the situation.
Eventually I reached a state of calm.
My music player had died hours before so I tried to hear the last song I was listening to in my mind. I still wasn’t happy when the lady next to me would wake up and elbow me a few more times before falling back to sleep and I was starting to freeze from the air conditioning but my mind wasn’t quite as cluttered. One of the worst parts of the journey wasn’t the external parts but it was battling with my negative thoughts. I was in such a bad mood that everything in my mind was stuck in negative loops. I got a headache from the stress of dealing with my mind. The calm helped the headache go away and by the time I arrived in Mandalay at 4am I felt okay, not great, but I felt better mentally than I did when I first left.
In the last week I have spent almost 60 hours in trains or buses.