I awoke this morning with a pounding headache and dreaded the thought of spending one and a half hours meditating but I did it anyways. The combination of meditation and some much needed intake of water cured me of my ills. I enjoyed the meditation so much that I stuck around a little while longer after most everyone left to lay down and meditate in my own way. After participating in the ritual of lifting the monks’ meal pots in the air, I ate breakfast (or any other sort of second meal) for the first time in a few days. A simple bed of cooked rice and veggies went well with a cup of congee and a sort of sweet milk tea and spice. While cleaning up my dishes I met up with Zay-yar-win who kind of followed me around like a little puppy dog out of the food alms giving hall. I showed him my room and he then taught me some more Burmese. Although my vocabulary is very limited at this point, I now know how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘dog’ without any help thanks to my friend Zay-yar-win. After sitting around with enough silence, he started helping me clean my room and fold sheets and clothes knowing that I would be leaving today. At no point did suggest this, so the gesture was so random yet unbelievably kind. To think that I questioned my decision to get a Myanmar visa and risk coming out here feels ridiculous now. These people are kind, thoughtful, and friendly beyond compare. The two of us walked side by side up the long stairway to the meditation hall before I went to spend my last session of meditating. After picking up my passport and leaving a donation for the monastery I packed up all my belongings and went about writing a letter to Zay-yar-win. I wanted to leave him with something special but I had nothing to offer. Sure money would have been something but would not be as appreciated as a letter that he could keep with him. Most likely he would need to get it translated but I needed to leave him with something to show my gratitude for his friendship. Once I filled up my buddha belly with the absurd amount of delicious food on offer for lunch, I left Pa-Auk Forest Monastery to see what Mawlamyine had to offer since it had already left quite an impression on me after that glorious sunrise. On the walk out of the monastery, I talked with a man who was in the middle of his two month stay at the monastery (which sounds a lot but some stay for upwards of a year and are not even apart of the monk order). Anyways, he told me a little bit about Buddhism from what he gathered thus far. Although I didn’t say this to him, what he described reminded much of the concept behind the movie The Matrix in which so much of what we experience is a dreamlike sensation that we imagine for ourselves. An example of how deep Buddha goes is the simple task of breathing in which we don’t even have the freedom to choose and control our own breathe. After that chat ended, I boarded a truck taxi called a songrattu for Mawlamyine. Accommodation is not cheap here for how little you get as far as standards go. Counting my lucky stars sarcastically, I am staying the night at Breeze Guest House in my own room for $8 but that room is practically a jail cell with just enough room to walk in and then collapse on the bed. After checking in officially, I met a guy who wisely dodged the sketch shack for other accommodation. During our conversation we got to the possibility that we might meet up again since he and his two other travel companions would be going to Hpan next as well so we exchanged information despite the likelihood would be less than stellar. Back to my hell hole of a guesthouse that I can’t describe in enough detail. Beyond the fact that my room is less than 5 by 7.5 feet, the toilet situation is quite peachy. I had the joy of acclimating myself with the invisible sit down toilet seat; hint hint, I get to awkwardly squat and I will leave it at that. From there I explored Mawlamyine and found that it did not have the intrigue that I hoped for when I first arrived. During my tour of the streets where most tourists don’t bother to wander through, I had short mime-like conversations with locals, smiled and waved at the cute little girls that looked in my direction as if I were lost, and watched some kids play a four sided game similar to hand shuffleboard. As simple as it was, I was content with entertaining myself with locals that smiled at the surely lost white Westerner. After that, I climbed to the top of Kyaikthanlan Paya for the city’s tallest pagoda and a spot that offered great views of all of Mawlamyine and the surrounding stupa-lined countryside and hills. Time passed before the sun finally set signaling a great capper to the day and what I thought would be an early night since I have gotten used to the monk time clock. After the sun set I chatted with a guy who just missed the sun grazing the top of the horizon before escaping into the shades of night. We began talking about New Zealand, a passionate subject of mine that holds no ends. As we talked further and further and as he mentioned his traveling group, it all sounded awfully familiar. When he pointed out his friends, I realized one of them was the guy I met earlier that day. We all got to know each other a bit atop pagoda (two Belgian guys and a English girl who met each other awhile ago on the backpacker trail) before we became the target of a paparazzi photo op. Mostly intrigued by Charlene the English girl, some Burmese women began taking pictures of their friends with us. Eventually it led to a complete group picture with around twenty in the fold (another random moment that will be making its way into the scrap book). The four of us gradually got away from the celebrity star treatment and followed the road down back to the city. They mentioned a boat ride that they wanted to take to Hpan which wasn’t my original plans since it is a bit more expensive but I figured why not join them for some added travel company. As we walked, we talked about our various travel experiences and joked about the random crazy things we had seen and done. I love how quickly we can go from complete and utter strangers to friends in the most seamless way possible. We made our way to my guesthouse to book tickets on the boat ride for tomorrow morning and score some beds at the highly recommended guesthouse in town. We would have to split two single rooms each so it ended saving me a bit of coin traveling with them (traveling through Myanmar in numbers is by far the most efficient way to go). We stopped at a grill street food stand to watch Toon eat practically an entire chicken (neck, skin, stomach, liver, feet). When he said that he would try and experience all that SE Asia has to offer, he was not kidding. After getting some bites as well, I joined them to a restaurant that was awkwardly quiet and dead besides the random, corny karaoke that went on on stage with cheesy 70s/Asian-flare keyboard playing in the background. Before I worked my way to end the night, I had a much needed conversation with my mom restock my traveling full and keep me going. Without her and the loved ones in my life cheering me on, I know for a fact I would not be able to continue. Traveling as I am will chew you up and spit you out but leave a stronger person by far. I took a shower under water that did not feel clean as the stench that I originally smelled upon entering the room grew more potent. Taking showers in bathrooms like this reminds me of the game ‘Lava’, in which the object of the game is to avoid stepping on certain spots on the floor. The twist in my conception of the game is that I must avoid dropping my soap and toiletry bag or God forbid my towel or change of clothes on the floor knowing the things that may have run across it. I need to fall asleep before I think about that any further. Good night!
Breaking Burma Day 89: My Good Friend Zay-yar-win