yangon & bagan, myanmar: reflection
Upon arriving to Yangon on Monday, I was met with Cyclone Mora and hours of torrential downpour. I took to the closed rooftop of my hostel to catch up on some blogging before taking my night bus to Bagan. As I was only in Myanmar for a couple of days, I was fitting a lot in with two night buses (10 hours each, one to and one from Bagan). My friends Ivy and Sooyeon had recently gone to Myanmar so I was grateful for their transportation and guide recommendations! The night bus was incredibly nice with food, blanket, movies and reclining seats quite like an airplane. It was quite relieving after being caught in the rain and with a long journey ahead of me.
I was met in Bagan by my driver, Co, with the greatest smile ever at 5:30 AM and a lovely welcome sign to greet me. We were off to explore this beautiful land for the day. The Bagan Archeological site has over 2,000 temples and pagodas spread across the beautifully rural land. The sites are incredibly breathtaking. My first site was climbing up four floors of one of the temples to look out and I saw temple after temple after temple. It was unreal.
Throughout the day, Co walked me through temples and pagodas, taking our shoes off each time, entering a different look and feel depending on where we were. Some temples were plain inside, some extravagantly decorated in gold, some lined with beautiful artist murals. I was grateful to have Co with me to explain the meaning of each and learn more about the incredible history and beliefs. It is so amazing that these buildings and this culture have been preserved. Even following 2 earthquakes in the last 30 years, the buildings have needed repair but have themselves withstood.
We visited over 15 temples and pagodas and drove all throughout Old and New Bagan. I went to a lacquerware site and learned how the pottery is made. I ate lunch at a place called "The Moon: Be Kind to Animals" :). Co made sure to find me a vegetarian place- so kind!
At the end of the day, I visited a village and was walked around with the head crafter of the village. She was such a sweetheart and was so happy to show me her home. I was so grateful for her to welcome me in. As we walked around the 600 person-120 home village, I saw the shacks where people lived, cooked and bathed. In this weather, the rain came through the roofs and sides, making everything incredibly wet and muddy. There was little to no protection from the elements and people slept amongst the rain. Cyclone Mora has devastatingly displaced a half a million people in Bangladesh and Myanmar with this storm alone.
As always on my travels, I became extremely existential. I start questioning why was I born where I was born when I was born with the privileges I was born with when others have it a lot more difficult? Why do some kids have to start selling things as work at such a young age? Why do some people not even have basic needs, such as a roof over their head? Although I have worked hard to be able to travel as I am, I have had so many opportunities and advantages that have led me to where I am. I am so grateful for those, however, want others to have the same possibilities.
While I travel, I try to do my part to help the community. Shop and eat locally, greet locals with a friendly face and engage in conversation. I want to contribute to funds that enable those less fortunate to be able to travel too. I participate in open dialogue and try to positively impact the community as much as I can when visit.
I think about relativity and empathy. At the start of the day, I was concerned about being wet for my night bus home, but throughout the day, I was reminded how lucky I was to have a dry bus to go to and the luxury to even get dry. It makes me think about the scale of relativity and how the definition of something "bad or good" or "tough or easy" will be different for different people. It is a nice reminder to be open and empathetic to what all people are going through and how we can each play a role in helping one another.
As I was waiting for my night bus back to Yangon, I met 3-4 of the bus staff members. They did not speak very much English but we had the best time communicating via body language. It is amazing the smiles and laughs you can have without any words!! The more and more I travel the more I continue to see how we are all just "human." Of course, we are from different places or cultures and have different beliefs, that is what makes things so real and interesting, however, at our core, we are all one. All the same. All human.
With so much negativity in the world and in the media, I think of how much good there could be if people could have the chance to see and get to know one another instead of being pitted against each other with hate. In each country I have visited, I have been welcomed with nothing but hospitality, generosity and kindness. I see and hear of the fear instilled in some people and some places and think of the beauty of this going away with more exposure and awareness... only further showing the importance of dialogue and connection. Jiezhen from The Hidden Good in SIngapore said it best. It is not about pretending there are bad things happening in the world. Those need to be addressed, however, it is about focusing on and each of us bringing out all of the good and good people in this world.
On my bus ride home, I was feeling quite sick with nausea. I met Emilie, the sweetest French girl, and we ended up riding back to downtown together, getting dinner that night at Rangoon Tea House (one of my favorite restaurants this trip!!! Thanks, Jin! I love Burmese food) and back to the airport the next day! So grateful to have met her. When I got to my hostel at 6 am looking rough after no sleep, rain and sickness, the staff gave me my own room to rest and shower in until my room was ready. I was SO forever grateful to them for their kindness.
I explored Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon- a beautiful place full of Buddhas and gold. I was thankful to learn more about the religion and customs while here. I returned to my hostel and rested in my cold, dark and quiet room. Taking the time to rest and decompress as my body was telling me.
As I say and think every time I leave somewhere, there is so much more to see but I am so grateful for my time here. The kindest, most open, gracious people in the most beautiful place.