My second morning in Mawlamyine (formerly known as Moulmein, in the country formerly known as Burma) was a little surreal. I was having breakfast on the patio of a 100 year-old house-turned guesthouse with about five other travellers and one of the Burmese house owners.
As we sat around the wooden picnic table, sipping our tea or 3in1 coffee mix, with a boiled eggs and toast our host began to talk to us about Buddhism.
“In Myanmar, it’s the Buddhism that is traditionally from India. In East Asia it has been adapted from the original Buddhism.” He continued to give us a brief rundown of the history of his religion. He then spoke about how the town of Mawlamyine was a hub for meditation.
Having lived in Korea and China, and my heart was looking to return there, I knew what he was talking about. Monks in Korea wear grey. The tiled roofs look different. There aren’t as many monks in the morning begging for food. But this wasn’t Korea, or China. Or Japan. I was in Myanmar.
I remembered how I met a traveller from San Francisco a few years prior, somewhere in the middle of China when I took myself on my first real wander with my backpack. The guy told me how he’d just finished a three-month meditation retreat in Burma. My eyes lit up in awe. His backpack was smaller than mine. He had no plan after the middle of China. I felt like an amateur as we walked to a local noodle joint on a busy road in Changsha and he continued to tell me about South East Asia. I felt a little better about myself when I was greeted by the restaurant owners who remembered me from the day before, and I could stomach our spicy Hunan-style vegetable soup a little better than my San Francisco friend.
And there I was, two years later, sipping tea and no specific plans (and the same backpack) I felt a little more hardcore, a little more figured-out.
One tip I have for everyone is to approach strangers; people who seem inspiring. People who do scary things, people who are out of your league and people with stories to tell. By surrounding myself with some of those people sometimes, it helped me get to where I am today (which is still confused, and that backpack is now on it’s last legs).
“…..the Buddha say…” our host continued as all us travellers were soaking it all in. I’d spent a few years in Asia at that point, on and off. I thought about how my friends at home must think my mornings must be everyday in Asia. Breathing in balmy air, looking out at palm trees and people on motorcycles rushing by while I sip tea and an elderly local teaches me about the ways of the Buddha.
But it was a first time for me, and the travelling couples around me. I sat alone, but that gave me the chance to talk to our hosts in more depth. One of the brother’s I learned, was Catholic. His English name was Anthony (after St.Anthony). He spoke of the global village and his hopes for Burma. I wasn’t sure if he was 60 or 95. He was skinny, sweet, and full of life. He did the books of the Breeze Guesthouse so diligently.
In Myanmar in the summer of 2014, there weren’t many desktop computers. The train stations didn’t have them, the wi-fi was very slow, and hotels and hostels checked you in the old-fashioned way, by writing in your name (with a pencil and everything). The big notebook with graph paper must have been a few years old, with every guest who’d walked through the doors of his guesthouse filling the pages. He added each one in small print, to save as much space as possible.
Anthony told me about how his family’s guesthouse was originally built for a British shipping engineer, over a hundred years prior. The decor on the second floor, where guests were allowed to dine was reminiscent of 19th century England. Beautiful wooden picture frames hung on the wall; well-kept over the years. Dark hardwood floors that shined and creaked a little, as Anthony little grand-niece crawled around. Some of the most beautiful buildings I walked into that summer, with the exception of all the temples, had been turned into guesthouses. This seems to be the way of the new world. But I still recommend staying in one; it sure beats staying in a boring, concrete hotel. Why give money to the big names when you can support Anthony and his family? And I swear, their home has one of the best views in Mawlamyine.
I learned a lot that summer in South East Asia, and especially my few weeks wandering around the backroads, temples, markets and trains in Myanmar. A country that is in the process of figuring their shit out is the perfect place for an individual who is on the road doing that very same thing. If I don’t say it enough: Thank you, Burma.
I realized that too many options doesn’t mean happiness. It means chaos. I think I’m more of a simple girl. I’m happy with one job and one group of students to take care of. I’m a one-on-one person, and I help people best when there’s more attention to detail.
I spent the beginning of 2016 thinking and thinking and then worrying about what to do next, and here I am a year later doing the exact same thing. Will my time in New Zealand ever come true? When will South America come into my life? When will I be in the big city again? There’s always Maldives.
My modest plans for the year are to read more books (maybe even write some of my own).
And Plan B? Maldives. Or Antarctica.