It’s been a week since I departed from the country that defined the past two years of my life. I’m not sure my brain has processed the reality of not working for 8 hours a day 5 days a week with 18 hyper energetic children but, I don’t feel any negativity towards being in a different country. It almost feels as if it never happened, as if I’ve climbed up and over the Great Firewall of China and my memory has been completely wiped (much like some of the country’s catastrophic history). My brain works in a funny way though and I ought to train my ability to retain information better. It’s something that has been really getting me down recently. A week or two ago I was sat with the Beijing Wave team and we were discussing the extensive list of films I had never seen when Spencer asked me which 3 Star Wars films I had watched. A blinding flash of white numbed my mind and I couldn’t see. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t see in my brain which three I’d seen. I had watched them because Jack had suggested (aka demanded) I watch them during our 17 hour hangout last year. I felt like I’d failed him because I couldn’t remember. The other women didn’t know what was going on inside my brain and their voices began to raise in desperate question. I felt like I wanted to cry. I just could not remember. Eventually, it came to me that I’d watched them in backwards release order because I remember Anakin killing a shit ton of children.
I’m currently in Hpa An (pronounced pa an), a small town in Myanmar that sits peacefully next to an 800m high mountain called Mt. Zwekabin. This is the third of eight places and has been the most challenging, mentally and physically, so far. The day I arrived felt all kinds of crap. I was just finishing up my eyebrows, clothes spread across the bed and bits and bobs not packed, when the tuk tuk driver knocked on my door to pick me up and take me to the bus terminal. I panicked thinking I had a spare 15 minutes before it arrived and began shoving wet clothes into my bag and spluttering apologies to those waiting on me. The bus from Bago to Hpa An was 5 hours with a 30 minute stop halfway. During this stop I took it upon myself to try something I’d seen dotted on sidewalks in both Bago and Yangon, I’m travelling why not? The women at the cart took a leaf pasted something white across the surface, sprinkled on what looked like spices, placed a round orange thing with a flowery centre on top and nimbly folded it all into a little square. I asked for one, not having the faintest idea what it was, put it in my mouth and began chewing. The fiery taste of menthol exploded in my mouth and I wasn’t sure whether this was a good thing. I gulped and I swallowed the entire square as eyes from the German couple I met fell upon me. The guy questioned what I just did and asked me whether I knew what it was to which I responded with a “no” and then a description of what it tasted like thinking he was unaware and wanted to know more. He looked concerned and proceeded to inform me that I had not only incorrectly consumed this thing (apparently you should just chew it, not swallow the fucker), but that it was a betel nut, a highly addictive nut that can be compared to nicotine.
During the journey I studied Google Maps to find and pin the hostel I would stay at and to my annoyance it was permanently closed. No email, no heads up, nothing. I guess these kinds of scenarios will trip me up a lot during the next 6 months so I’ll just have to regain my balance quickly.
After getting settled in the new hotel (which cost a bomb in comparison to the rest) I took a stroll to lake Kan Thar Yar to sit and read If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio peacefully. I always feel calmer next to a body of water. Little did I know my I was silently falling into a depressive state that would swallow me whole by 9pm. As I walked back to the hotel I just felt overwhelmed by loneliness, I had seen so many couples in the morning and couldn’t help but think how easy it must be travelling with someone else. Travelling around Asia on a scooter is incredibly efficient and I just don’t know how to yet, which I know is a huge setback, but if you’re with someone it’s almost guaranteed they know or have the confidence to try it and chaperone you around. This thought haunted me and I wanted to kick myself in the shins. It wasn’t just this though, I thought about the “friendships” I have in Ilfracombe and my gut twisted; I thought about several people who have left me on read and a lump grew in my throat; I thought about how I feel I could be ready to love and be loved again and I felt numb. I put myself to bed at 9pm unable able to cope with the toxic feeling surging through my body. The following day my period showed up.
It’s Saturday 2pm and I’ve almost been awake for 12 hours. Before dawn, as the Big Dipper twinkled high above my head in the navy blue sky, I set one foot in front of the other and began my ascent up Mt. Zwekabin for sunrise. The second challenge. I wasn’t sure whether my legs would be able to hack it. My whole body has been aching since the first day where I walked over 12km in burning heat. “Nevertheless, she persisted” – I defeated the mountain in 77 minutes and whilst on my period. I felt like a badass bitch. This was the second sunrise I’ve gazed upon and my god was it beautiful – the sun creeping up from behind the distant hills as the skies danced in purples, pinks and blues. There are so many more viewpoints to explore accompanied by so many more sunrises and that makes me happy.
Yangon, the capital, was the city I devoted my first full day of travelling to. I woke early eager to throw myself into this unknowing journey with my home in a bag. I tended to the growls of my stomach and went on my way with eyes wide and alert in new surroundings. I noticed that many locals had yellow paste upon their cheeks and forehead at first I thought this was another version of Asia’s whitening obsession however, the paste is made from bark and acts as a form of protection from the sun. Shwegadon Pagoda was the first thing on my itinerary, followed by an abandoned amusement park and then on to collect my train tickets. Pagodas in Myanmar are shaped like handbells and this fuck off huge one (although not the biggest but certainly the most sacred) could be seen from my hostel street a 40 minute walk away. The thing itself is situated within a sacred area where you must tread bare-foot and cover the length of your legs. Skirting the perimeter of the fuck-off-huge handbell were smaller handbell shaped pagodas and surrounding those is 7ft white wall with little cubby holes full of Buddha statues. When standing under the pagoda you notice diamonds, 4531 to be exact, flirting with playfully with the sun. A handful of spots around the wall were dedicated to a golden statue of Buddha labelled by a different day of the week. I saw Buddhists washing the statues, presenting food and burning incense at each spot. Until that day I had never come into close contact with Buddhist Monks but their burnt orange robes, bare feet and shaved heads soon blended into my peripheral vision. As expected I was one of very few foreigners whose feet walked the warm tiled floor of Shwegedon Pagoda meaning that I was a spectacle for many locals. With two years in China under my belt I’ve become immune to the staring, curious whispers and photos papped “without” my knowledge, what I wasn’t prepared for was the politeness from Burmese people. As I set up my tripod to shamelessly take photos of myself in front of the fuck-off-huge golden handbell a young woman tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to her phone with a polite pleading smile. I understood her gesture and courteously agreed to pose next to her. And then her and her mother. Then her, her mother and her husband. This continued until I’d smiled next to all 12 of her family members and then happened again 5 more times with different families. I didn’t mind so much because it made them smile.
It’s now 7:24pm, I’m on what feels like an overnight moving fridge to Mandalay. The A/C is on full blast and the shutters on mine are none existent.