It was odd, after the trip to Shan state- Burma is over. I find no other convenient way to redo this trip like the one I had. As the matter of fact, my short trip to Burma wasn’t that pretty. This country, basically, has been globally acknowledged as a savage land or land of the barbarians. My friend of friends having this statement right before I went there: ‘That doesn’t even a country!’
Even though I didn’t really mind at first, but apparently I couldn’t get this thought out of my head when I crossed the border and stepped into the land of…
PART 1: What is the word of the country?
Every city, every country has a single word to defines it. The first word that popped into my head is ‘dust.’ It might be unfair if I defines the whole country as dust because I hadn’t travelled anywhere but Shan state. So the word ‘dust’, which appeals to me on a personal level that it can use in two different terms, referring two difference meaning. Which means the actual dry dirt in the form of powder, you know because it’s cover every surfaces in every corners , every street - everywhere, and another obnoxious metaphorical meaning I loved to use it in term of the state of dirty unclear view to the whole country.
When you look into the houses or temples, you see no real enclosure. Every doors here is half-close, half-open. Like the whole country itself (Like everything around here.) Unlike other big developed countries that manifestation many of pleasure and easy to get overwhelmed. But every door is protecting with guards and you have to empty your pocket to participate. During my short stay here I didn’t have to declare myself what to do in order to experience Burmese’s pleasure. Their definitions of pleasure are unbelievably simple and it doesn’t required lot of money. They like dirt or used to dirt. I can tell by looking at their feet, hard-rock and black as stone, their children wearing dirty-torn clothes as if it doesn’t get laundry for years. But they seemed to be happy by this statement. There is political issue as well as poverty but I decided not to discuss it on my blog. (So you can get why I used the word ‘dust’ as metaphoric.)
The question I’ve been asking myself is “What’s makes them happy?” that’s the main question I’m going to answer while I’m exploring several tribal villages around Shan state. It was a big question. (In truth, it’d be easier to have something to stick around while I’m doing short-schedule trip.) And it can be answer in a hundred ways. Would it be the state of unknown, lack of information that makes them worriless? Or would it be tasks that matter to them and they have more time to spare for sitting by the deck made of bamboo of the long shared bungalow, sipping tea and roasting rats?
I walked up the hill to visit the tribal village. The road is very dusting and dirty. My guide name ‘Moe’. She’s Burmese and speaks my language perfectly, a bit slow, though, like when I’m speaking English. At first I find it easy to entertain myself by mimicking her voice, which sounds hilarious. Other than my tour guide it seems like I couldn’t speak to anybody. She told me that the tribalian (I created the word myself; from civilian.) they didn’t pay attention to the Burmese government. They provided their own living, their own currencies, which is supremely odd because there’s no house open for a groceries store up there. It like they just loved to collect the coins. And they can’t use these coins outside their village anyway. It’s unacceptable from the outside world. Whenever the work is done, the price is deals, they find the way to transfer the acceptable money into their coins, very specific coins, which valuable upon how old it is.
She also told me that, Burmese is one of the extreme Buddhist land. If you read my blog before, remember how I told you no matter how poor the country is they’re always rich in something? For this land, religions seem to be the only thing they’re rich of. Beside the forest and wild lives animals they infrequently touched. 95% of their populations, minority or majority ethnic are Buddhist. So they have a temple close to the village. But there’s also Christians as well, the story here is interesting; according to the story I heard from my tour guide, that long ago there was a vast scale of ghost worshipper village. And if a couple delivered whether a twin or a cripple, the babies has to be killed immediately and the couple whose released this deformed infant were exile from the village. Later there’re a group of tribalian make a move against this idea and decided to build their own village and provided their own believe. This is where Christ take part in the area.
When I arrived at the tribal village called ‘Mou Ban Hha.’ I felt the urge to take of my shoes and run into the temple of the village. I’m Christian, by the way, but I couldn’t resist the celebration vibes when some group of people are preparing a feast or gathering party. I took of my shoes. I ran. I snapped the pictures of the whole temple. Here’s the thing I found very strange. That it doesn’t matter what your religion is. To get these pictures you have to drop down on your knees no matter what. You caught your breathe; you’re holding your camera steady and elaborately inhaled-exhaled. You even pray so you can get the nice photos.
Money is worth nothing here. And foods are more sacred. I was surrounded by a group of adorable kids of ‘Mou Ban Hha.’ I gave them foods and snacks and toys. Surprisingly some of them speaks my language so that I gave them compliment of their appearance; ‘You are cute.’ And then I walked inside the temple where men do all the paper decorate and women were out cutting woods and hunting animals. The brimstones outside the front gate smelled like pissed and rats. I joined the group of men who neither speak English, obviously, nor my language. I helped them decorate the temple and derived from the facial expressions of them that I am allowed to do the work. For about half an hour I cut, I glued, and I prayed that I would have more time to stay in this village. I would helped them through the celebration and deliberately become one of them. Even though I couldn’t speak Burmese, or read Arabic, but who says I can’t learn. I also have faith in learning and observing. Eventually someone that does speak my language show up and we sat down next to each other and began to talk. I really sure loved this village and its people automatically and unconditionally. They were giving me the happiest moment of the year (so far.) When I told them, through the guy who can speaks my language, that I can’t stayed here for long even if I wanted to. One of the guy who smoking joint close to the gate of the temple leaned to me and gave a warmth-smiled that says ‘Welcome.’ But he actually said Thai proverbs; despite he couldn’t speak Thai, ‘Do good get-good, Do bad get-bad.’ Then he offered me a joint.
They’re watching me.
They’re all laughed. (Big gasp.) I felt embarrassed.
And I leave. That fast like a grain of sand inside a sand-glass it’s time to flip it. It’s time to move on and start counting again.
PART 2: It would be a sin if you didn't buy it.
Everything here has to be done early. Morning market open at 3 in the morning when the electricity still out and it was cold and dark. For me it looks dangerous just to walk down on the street, alone, to this market. They sell stuffs under the candles light. And it’s not romantic or anything but undeveloped. I occasionally run into a few tourists, and they speak the language I didn’t really have a clue where they come from. This part of Burma clearly wasn’t a tourist place.
The traditional domestic tribal houses are made of pines and bamboos. They’re elaborately made by the hand of the carpenter. You can see the crack at the pine columns or a scratch of the tools on the materials on the wall that can give you the feeling that this is not just a house. It’s an artificial work of the artisans in the past. This house contained the spirit when it was built. The house made by hands represents the spirit of human being. That’s what keeps this house alive, amidst all the dust and poor sanitation system. I sat down at the front porch facing west. They didn’t really care that too much sun may burn their skins. All they care about is to use the power of it as much as possible. Because that’s all they gotta do to make a living. I tried to snap a picture of the hog; black skin-pig. But turned out I couldn’t get one. They’re afraid of me; a harmless tourist, clearly unarmed unless they count a DSLR to some sort of weapons. I don’t understand why they’re afraid of me. Not the tribalian (they’re not afraid of them) who is the one that raises them and wait for them to get old enough in order to turning these innocent creatures into a meal and put it on the table.
Everything in the market has originate here; a house, a village. But market is, always, where the money goes. So all the hard works in the sun were result on the bunch of stand selling vegetables, organic meats and wild-flowers. I have to admit that I hadn’t exchange money in my pocket into Burmese currency, but luckily my tour guide lent me enough money just to by breakfast. The thing is this market reminded me of the day when I was young. I used to live in suburb in the south part of Thailand, back when I didn’t know how to use or speak your language. I instantly relieved that the food here has the taste from long ago, that I couldn’t recall in the big city, once I learn how to write and speak in your language. Everything has changed; this market and the rituals of waking up early in the country is gradually disappears in the clutter of dust. And within the next 10 years. Who know what would happen. There’s one thing to be sure of; it won’t be the same anymore. Because the world is moving so fucking fast these days. I tried to catch up with my thought while looking at the flower stand and the old lady, who has a face that may looks indifferent, but she’s very kind. She gave me a smile, the smile that could makes an angry man put his gun down, while used the gestured, waving at me to buy her beautiful wild-flowers.
I walked out of the market. Stunned by the stone-cold fact that these people didn’t really have much of a choice. The country has suffered from many things from a disaster to political crisis. They lived in the world where foods and religious are more important than the information. (Surprisingly they lived with dirt and insanitation households, but they just hardly get ills. I’m jealous.) That’s enough distraction to keep them busy for a day. Tomorrow they will just waking up and start doing the same thing no matter what.
When the sun came up, there’s no need to use candles anymore. The foods they couldn’t sell got stale by the cold. I got myself a meal. And it was delicious. I would love to change the word that defines this country from ‘dust’ into the new word which is . . . I don’t know, foods, perhaps. But wasn’t it strange if I composed the sentence that says; ‘Burma is foods?’ It doesn’t get along with what going on here. Maybe I should find some specific word that defines foods in particular like ‘sticky rice.’ Which sounds cool to me, but there’re sticky rice everywhere around here. (South-East Asia.) I have to kind of stick onto something that stands out so you can get the picture clear. I’m pretty sure that I’m wrong. The next 10 years; I don’t think this gonna be the appropriate word that can use to defines Burma anymore.
However, if I may admit another thing not entirely flattering to myself, this Burmese market isn’t really giving me a second looks. It like I’ve been here before. Sticky-rice, chicken and small coffee shop beside the street. These things are all too familiar to me. The kind of things that you neglect when you’re getting older. So I just enjoyed what I’ve been missing for a long time. I talked to people, a very small talk like; ‘How are you doing?’, ‘Good morning.’ This morning market giving me a wonderful time that I was once there before. I found no other way to recall all the feeling when I was young other than eat, and walked, and when I’m stuffed and no more Burmese money to buy food, imagined that I’m eating all the foods I see insight.
And, man, those flowers were so lovely it would be a sin if you didn’t buy it . . .
PART 3: Even if I could, I wouldn't.
Burmese is completely irony on its behalf. They’re complexity mixed up from variable rituals and believe. I also went to the city called ‘Mongla.’ It’s the city nearest to the border of China. This town is unfamiliar to the tribal village I went before. I see the sign on top of the restaurant written in Chinese. Mostly everyone here speak the language. Above all, this town is foreign enough for a backpacker who wanted to explore Burmese but unintentionally ended up here. Wondering if he’s still in Burma.
I see zero westerner. No matter he’s expatriate or tourist. There’s no English speaking here, but all the signs were written in English nevertheless.
I was pissed and very angry. I’m telling you why.
This town known for the place of casino and prostitution. No English speaking, no doubt, but this city has the right to do it because this is not completely Burmese. They’re called themselves ‘Special Region.’ Regardless to the Burmese law and the military government. So this city promises difference vibes from all the poverty tribal villages and no shaky and dusty road. Just hearing there’s casino and discotheque, you’d assumed that it would be fun. After a long walk uphill and downhill, that makes my breathe warm and my nose hurts. It could be some sort of relieved to spend the night in this city.
Things turned out quite the opposite. This city is fairly fascinated the way isolation towns in those horror movies can possibly offers. My guide told me that all the gambling business here are moving into another town nearby, so they could manage this city as the bridge between China and Burma. Some sort of cliché border town with duty free shopping center, and a bunch of guest house and restaurant. (But still a prostitution.)
I use this picture to show you why Burma is fundamentally irony on its behalf.
I visited the tribal village where good hearts are greater than money. But this city, money is everything here. It’s like living in the outskirt town of China. I lost the ability to communicate with people either language or gestures. I tried to fit myself into the place but it wasn’t quite fit me. After all, from what I saw in the market that morning. This city is absolutely alienate and extremely exotic in the depressed-disgusting way. It required a lot of gut to live.
You can’t take a photo in this market. It’s prohibiting because they’re selling some sensational stuffs. Like bear, tiger, deer, snake, monkey- they’re all dead, and put the bodies on the ground like vegetables, and another thing that made me burst into tear is . . . dogs.
I couldn’t dare to walk in this market. I turned around and start walking out of the market immediately. Seeing that dog’s dead body giving me the feeling like seeing corpse. I couldn’t stop walking until I get to the bridge, which is the landmark of the city. And I think how insane these people to walk around the dead animals bodies like it nothing to them. How sane am I? And even maybe I’m the one who overreacted. There’re two sides in every issue in the history of the world. This is how we are. This is how the world works. To set an argument up and make a big headlines out of it.
I slowly moved my feet on the bridge and stopped at the top of the stair. I thought, is there a zombies invaded this territory? Who am I to set myself as a judge to say what’s right and what’s wrong. Its right for them, I try to understand. But it just felt so fucking wrong in my opinion. And I’m fucking mad and despair that I couldn’t do anything to stop it. What is dead is dead; I couldn’t do anything about it. Even if I could possibly get a photo in this market and show it to the world, I wouldn’t. I’m never coming back into that market ever, ever again. This is fucking disappointed. And I pissed the fuck off.
At the end of the day, all these feeling are gone. Because this is the down side of travelling with the group of people. I didn’t really have enough time to participate any events despite there’re so many events that I ran into. It’s only gave me a vaguely recognition of the place. Not in deep, just a little below the surfaces. It wasn’t love, it wasn’t hate. When my final day in Shan State has arrived I have to set the moral compass back to normal and carry on.
It felt as if she’s an acquaintance you met in the cafeteria each day at lunch. The one that you don’t feel like talking to her. But you recognized her almost immediately. Even though you haven’t seen her for years. You still remember her –yes, Burma is a her. Her face, her scandals, this aggressive, fiercely bitch!
It’s that feeling when you watch the end of ‘Lost in Translation.’ The urge to smile and cry at the same time. And I feel so graceful and relieved that the cloud of dust behind me slowly fades away.
And pretty soon all these dust will disappear and we’ll see who standing behind.
Follow this link to see a photo-set of mountain and tribal village in Shan State, Beautiful :):):)