Burma

Old friend, new friend

This morning I wake up early. Stretched out on the self-inflatable mattress. I open my eyes. Find myself on a children’s playing ground in Yangon. The street lamp illuminating the court goes on and off. Trying to remain still and quiet. Mice are here. Sure. Mozzies, too. Bothering, not biting, though. Got my arms and feet and ankles covered in good old DEET. Good because it works. Old because it is still the same bottle I had bought in Vienna about half a year ago.

Before I got here I had tried to reach a friend I had met at Pa-Auk forest Monastery. He had offered me to stay at his place. Now that I am here it proves impossible to reach him. His phone is broken. Emails he ain’t answering. Stranded in this city, I feel truly homeless. The hotel I find charges $60 for a night. It is around midnight. Anyway the price is out of question and at this time doubly so. I decide to check out the park near Inya Lake. But after some 20 minutes after I have settled down there with all my stuff and laid down on the ground…police comes whistling and pushing people outta there. So annoying. Not easy having a good time. All the time there is talk of danger danger when the actual troublemakers are those who all the others ‘others’. There are no strangers really. But once you get it into your head that there is ‘us’ it is impossible to live in a world without ‘them’. It’s reciprocal or as the Old Man would have it, idapaccayatā, dependently co-arising phenomena.

Some youngsters say hi. I high them back. They ask me if I drink. I say yes, water, and show them my half-full bottle of life elixir. It turns out they are quite drunk and full mayhem. They have a friend who is a taxi driver. I tell them I do not want to go to a hotel. They start their talk of ‘dangerous, dangerous’. It seems impossible for them to imagine a scenario where a man with a backpack takes rest in a city without checking in somewhere.

Together we drive to a hotel. The receptionist says ‘no foreigners’. When I come back to the main entrance the taxi is gone. Good riddance! Nothing is more pestering (and humiliating for everyone involved) than people not able to help you but desperately trying to do so.

•••   •••   •••

From the corner I have chosen to be my resting place for a couple of hours I can see people passing by. They do not notice me. If they do, they do not seem to be bothered or about to bother me. I get up with the first lights turned on. I take a look at the time: 4:30 am. I pack up my mattress and bid farewell to the mice & mossies. They pose no threat. The only fear I have sometimes is caused by men’s behaviour.

I listen to the early voices and the birds cheerful chirping. A night in the streets of Yangon. I witness how the city awakens. Slowly slowly it is getting louder and more crowded. I feel a bit lost to be honest. And also cheerful. Depends on perspective. Always does. A new day arrives and I am up for it. It feels so fine to be up early. I check email. Maybe Daniel has answered in the meantime? As I assumed, no he has not. At the food court on Kan Street I have break the long fast. Rice again. Omelette. Then palata with beans. Tea. Sitting there I notice slight irritation arise. Also, it becomes clear that I can communicate effectively when I feel secure, happy and relaxed. On the other hand, as soon as I am pissed at something or someone I am seemingly unable to make myself understood. The more I try the more I get shaking heads, raised hands palms up, shrugging shoulders, smiling faces and sad eyes. When I am tense I make all the people around me tense as well.

•••   •••   •••

I start talking to the people around me. Ask some monks about the names of the vegetarian meals they have and then point to it, look at the maung (boy) who takes the order and say tabue (one). Easy. They leave soon. I stay and drink tea.

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The food court in front...

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... and the kitchen in the back

I don’t know my next step. I had planned to stay here in Yang on for some days but now that my host in spe is unreachable this option falls short of realisation. I simply do not know what to do next. So I drink tea. My neighbour at the next table looks like a busy man. Or maybe he is a student (a busy one)?

I tell my neighbour that I would like to take a bus to the west coast. Where does the bus to Pathein leave? Which bus terminal? How do I get there? and so on and so on. This gets the tongue rolling. His name is Kyi Thu Shein. He is 37 and works as a CEO of his own consultant company. Speaks Burmese, Japanese, English. He is very helpful. After a couple of minutes a man appears next to him. It turns out to be his personal driver. He seems to be in a hurry somehow, like he is treading air or trying to remind his sahib that they shouda be goin by now. Kyi Thu Shein suggests to bring me to the local bus station to go downtown. He asks the driver to stop at the ‘Royal White Elephant’ Hotel so that i can check WiFi email again. Daniel has not written back yet. So we start rolling. Soon it becomes clear that he actually gives me ride there. No need to take a bus. Well. This is only the start! I feel like a prince escorted to the best ticket vendor for a bus due west. During the ride I mention my work as an Ohashiatsu practitioner. My profession in Austria. He takes a detour to let me see Mary Chapman School for the Deaf – The Listening Eye. They learn to practice shiatsu there. Also manufacturing handicraft. Nice!

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Students learn shiatsu and handicraft here

Along the way we talk about staying at Myaungmya, his hometown. We drive to the ticket office downtown. First one: no more seats. Second one: Double price for foreigners. Another: Bus leaves at 12 pm. but at the far northwestern terminal. Hmm. It is perfectly clear for him to bring me there.

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About 45 minutes through heavy traffic. During this time my newfound friend makes all the necessary calls to prepare my visit.

The roads are so congested it sometimes appears better to take my bags and walk. But I stay seated, grateful for the air-conditioning and the protection from the exhaust fumes mixed with sand and fine dust outside. When we arrive Mr. Shein asks around and leads me to the right ticket office. I buy a ticket for Myaungmya. It is about 9am. Bus leaves in three hours. Until then, I eat a whole pineapple, cutting it up with a knife I borrow from one of the many shops and food stalls at the terminal. Some rice and beans again before departure. Yangon, see you later!

•••   •••   •••

At some point during the drive thru the concrete jungle to the bus terminal I was so astonished by the generosity and willingness to help, by the sheer unbelievable abundance from which my friend was giving… so inspiring… so grateful for that experience… I was moved to tears in this taxi. So friendly, so helpful and so hospitable! Beyond words.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, my dear friend Mr. Sun-Shein!

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