Leaving Htan Sant Village

February 1, 2014

When I left Htan Sant Village, Myanmar yesterday, my host family presented me a complete traditional outfit as a departure gift and a thank you for coming to their village to teach. It’s customary to not smile nor put your arms around each other, both which are difficult for me. Don’t let their stern faces fool you, they’re some of the jolliest people out there. When language is a barrier, people communicate with smiles. From the left to right: Jo Minh, Maung oo, and Chit La. I’m gutted today bc I really miss them and life in the village.

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Ten Days Left in Myanmar

February 1, 2014

Flight booked out of Myanmar on Feb 11th. Bittersweet. Quick stop in Malaysia before Sri Lanka then gettin my India on! Getting near the end of the trip. About 4 months left if I penny pinch adequately.. Meaning no more beer.. Ok some beer.. Then it’s time for Australia to work which should be fun in itself.. But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

Excited to tell you about my time in the village but I’m still wrapping my head around the past 10 days. In short, I’m having trouble formulating words, even my journal is blank. If only the feeling could get transposed to paper it would be much easier. Miss y’all.

(OH, and I would kill for a Chipolte Burrito.. with queso).

A Funeral, A Wedding Party & A Communal Bath

January 23, 2014

I’ve been to a funeral, a wedding party and bathed with 30 Burmese at once in the past three days and tomorrow I am getting picked up and heading a couple hours into the mountains to live with a tribe to teach English for a week or so. Needless to say these past three days have been a journey. I got off the bus and walked to find food and within a block in this tiny town of Hsipaw I was called from the street to have tea with two locals. It turned into one of them owning a gold shop and him inviting me to his shop the next. The next day I went to the shop, handled too much gold to know what to do with, handled HeADy CRysTalZ and saw a different side of Myanmar. The man, who goes by Mr. Gold, said a friend passed away and invited me to the funeral.. So I went. It was an interesting procession. We all showed up, gathered in a long line of cars and drove to the cemetery. At the cemetery they welcome you with a bag as a thank you for coming.. Inside the bag was a fruit juice packet and laundry detergent. (No joke). We drove up to the family, spoke to them through the window, and then drove off. That was the entire process. Later that night I met back up with a different group and we watched a movie in English. This is how they practice and learn. Then today, Mr. Gold took me to a Chinese wedding party where we all had a feast. I ate so many different parts of a pig I didn’t know what was what.. I do know one dish was made of purely pig nerves.. It didn’t taste too bad but the texture was a tad bit unsettling. The wedding party was fun and we stayed for an hour or so and then I got dropped off at my hostel. I switched hostels today bc the first one was charging $15 which is robbery and found one which is $7 which is way more like it. Still expensive, but accommodation in Myanmar is a little more expensive than other places. I met back up with the other group and one of them asked if I wanted to go to the hot springs. I obliged as it’s freeeeeezing up here. This morning I could see my breathe and there isn’t much instillation where I stay. And of course I have one long sleeved shirt that’s been getting use for the first time since Mt. Bromo, Indonesia. Glad I didn’t toss it. So my friend drove me fourth five minutes to this tiny, tiny village outside Hsipaw. We then arrived to this hot spring area about the size of a swimming pool. There a lot of people all taking a communal bath in the springs. So into my underwear I went, of course everyone stared and laughed, and into the soapy water I submerged. My friend advised me to enter on one side in particular stating that one had cleaner water than the other. (Remember this is all one body of water the size of a swimming pool). Anyways, I agreed and entered on the side he suggested. We bathed, oh yes with soap, shampoo and all, and then got out. I borrowed a towel to use to wrap around myself as I took off my boxers to put on my dry shorts and then guess what happened… Oh yes, the towel slipped off and I showed the entire community my white, pale ass. Ahhhh so embarrassing but only a handful saw. Hah! He then drove me back after refusing payment for the tea, gas and entry fee for the journey. These people are so hospitable. I just love it here. They are all just so happy you are here and especially since the borders just recently opened they are excited to see people finally allowed inside. (There are still a lot of parts of the country where we aren’t allowed to go and are blocked off to foreigners by the government. These areas still have forced labor and other oppressive tactics, including rape, handled by the government. It’s beyond horrible. But that’s for another post.)

Sooo did I find Mr. Books? Yes! I did. I found him today. I heard he was sick but went seeking him anyways. Upon arrival I asked if he was Mr. Books, he nodded, I introduced myself and asked if I could speak with him… Then he shook his head and waved me away and turned around. Not the warm welcome I was expecting. So I walked into the street and had a moment of.. I dunno.. Defeat? It sucked, I came all the way here to see him to find a school to volunteer at and this is how he “greeted” me. So I took a moment and said in my head, “OK, Universe.. I need a clue here.. Gimme a sign.. What the hell do I do now?” So I came to my hostel, which was just a block away, and upon entry I asked the trekking guide in the lobby if he knew of any schools. Then BOOM, my questions were answered. He told me of a village a few hours in the mountains, there are no busses that go there, no taxis can get there, only a motorbike can make it to this village. There, they could use help as they have one or two teachers and often have to cancel school all together because for whatever reason the teachers have to do other things than teach. He said that they have been looking for someone, anyone to come stay with them and help teach and organize their English “department”. He said they should be glad to have me and he made a phone call and then just like that, he said someone would be here sometime tomorrow to pick me up. I am going to Htan Sant Village, north of Myanmar, high up in the mountains. I will be there for a week or more seeing what I can do. If I like it I may go back to Thailand and renew my visa and come back, but that’s getting ahead of myself. All I know is tomorrow I need to buy a jacket and toilet paper, bc I ain’t left handin’ it. . I am really excited and a little nervous bc I have no clue what to expect. No idea what I’ll eat. No idea where I’ll sleep. I have faith the villagers will take good care of me and make sure I am warm and fed. This is gonna be epic. So bedtime for me and tomorrow I’ll get picked up sometime and head into the mountains! Definitely no wifi or anything there besides some huts so everyone take care and I’ll see ya when I see ya! Teacher Justin, round two!

Mandalay, Myanmar

January 20, 2014

Alright! Time to head out from Mandalay. I had a greaaatt time here the past three days. I never left our neighborhood nor did any sightseeing.. But what I did was much more valuable for me. The photo I posted before with the road and the cows is the front road of my hostel. When I arrived I saw two kids trying their best to fly this tiny kite so I went out and helped them. The two kids turned into a crowd and we tried fairly unsuccessfully for an hour or so to try to get this kite flying. The string kept getting stuck in the electrical wires which was terrifying at first but the kids seemed to have done this before and no one got shocked. It smoked a couple times on the strong but that’s it. Well, the next morning I woke up and walked I to the courtyard to find six pairs of eyes peering in through the gates. It was the neighborhood kids waiting for me to wake up and come and play with them! Haha so I got dressed and went to the road and became a human jungle gym for the morning. One by one it was their turn to play “airplane” and yes, I got a workout. Next the older kids came and brought a guitar and handed it to me. I feel bad for their ears, but I sloppily played the handful of cords I remembered which sounded horrible when played in the order I chose. But they liked it, I think. They also came up to me with various sliced fruits to try. They were sour.. Extremely sour. They all got a kick out of watching my facial reaction when I tried them. On a side note, right now in front of me they are doing some sort of construction and the men are on the second story and the women are transporting the liquid cement up the ladder to the men by balancing bulge buckets of cement on their head. My tabled is already covered in a line of dirt from the air and my lungs have a hefty kick to them. Ok, back on track, the kids gave me these fruits and them along w the parents laughed as I tried them. I brought out my smaller camera and let the kids hold it and take photos and have roughly 150 photos yesterday of me and the kids all taken by the kids. The photos are priceless. So Mandalay was a nice experience. I didn’t see anything touristy but sure did gain a lot by just mingling with the kids and families all day yesterday.

Today I head to Hsipaw, a rural mountain town. I am VERY excited because I am starting an adventure. I was told by a backpacker about a man there who goes by the name of Mr. Books. He is a local who goes around from village to village visiting the schools in an effort to make them run more efficiently. His thought is that education is the only way to make any change in his country. This is a concept I firmly believe in. Being a country where human rights are violated at an astronomical level, most of the population are so uneducated and illiterate that they have no clue what’s happening to them. Mr. Books is supposedly an inspiration and my goal is first to somehow find him. After I find him I want him to place me in a local school for me to volunteer for a week or so and ideally have a host family I stay with. This sounds like a far fetched plan but I think I’ll be able to pull it off. If not, it’s worth the shot and the experience. But first things first, I need to get to Hsipaw and find Mr. Books. Next the volunteering and host family should fall into place. I’m really excited about this, it’s gonna be good. Let the hunt for Mr. Books commence!

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Realized Explaination for my Delay

January 18, 2014

I think I found out why I was destined to stay put in Yangon the extra day. That night I went back to the corner stand where my little friend stays with his mother as she sells water and snacks. I stayed put for nearly two hours this time. I sat there and played his one Hot Wheel type car making every type of scenario/game imaginable. Eventually people one by one came and gazed in. I looked up and at one point there was a semi circle around me of nearly 10 Burmese looking in at me with curiosity. So one by one I approached them and introduced myself. Their reactions were a mixture and each amazing. Some would giggle and bashfully extend their hand while looking for approval or comfort from their friend nearby. Others would straighten their backs and extend their hands with a firm grip. Others would become so shy when they saw me approaching them they would grab their friend and hide behind their back. These were my favorite as I would just say it’s OK and wait a few seconds until they came around and felt comfortable to shake my hand. The handshake still was filled with them laughing with uncertainty and avoiding eye contact. When I did this I noticed that loads of people were gazing in who we’re standing even father back. I waved and some came up eager to shake my hand. The curiosity of the Burmese is amazing. Along with the Lao, they are the most curious, under exposed culture I’ve met to date. It really makes my time here beyond enjoyable. It’s nice to find someone as curious about you as you are of them. We both have something to gain from each other. I met a man who spoke good English telling me that he is a masseuse and has a chair across the street, in the street, and that he works all day but wants to be a tour guide but doesn’t think he can do it. He said he is 23 and too old to switch professions, doesn’t have time and said it would never work. I sensed a lack of self confidence so I tried to convey that if he wants to do it that it’s possible. He has the English and the personality so go for it. Unfortunately, I am not sure how easy it is to just pick up and go for it but hopefully if it’s possible and he just needed the extra push, that I was able to help. OK.. So my main point, I got side tracked, imagine that.. Anyways, while I was sitting there playing cars with the boy I decided to snap a photo of the family. His father had just arrived, and a family of three, just like mine, were all present. I snapped the photo and the following day made it my goal to find a camera shop to print and frame the family photo. So the next day the hunt was on. I found a place and upon entry a man quickly helped me choose the photos I wanted printed out and afterwards I picked one to have framed. It took a couple hours so I wanted around and after collected my gift to the family. I walked back to their stand and upon arrival it was closed as they were not there. I hoped maybe they weren’t open yet so I grabbed a bite to eat with a friend and afterwards swung by and to my excitement found the father at the stand. The mother was not there and the boy was in school. It made me happy to hear that he was attending school. I then told him I had a gift and presented to him the framed photo. He thanked me and gave me two Coca Colas and waters where he refused payment. I was initially slightly disappointed that the boy nor the mother were there to see their faces when I gave them the gift. Then I remembered, that this isn’t about me, it’s about them. Therefore I curbed my self pity and focused on what’s important.. Whenever the mother and the boy get back to their stand they’ll have a nice portrait they can always keep of the three of them. It makes me happy knowing that in Yangon there is a family with potentially their first family portrait, nicely framed in their possession. I’m so damn glad I forgot my phone and was obliged to stay there that additional day.

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An Unexpected Delay

January 16, 2014

Well I got to the bus station, loaded my bag underneath and sat in my seat. I reached for my iPhone to listen to music and remembered I left it plugged in at the hostel! I had a moment where I thought “Meh, I don’t need it. It’s weighing me down” and then realized I should probably hop off the bus and come back for it. So back in Yangon I’ll remain for one more night. I had to separate from my travel partner and ultimately now pay full price for a room but I could bitch and moan but what can you do. I’ll take this is a sign that I’m not suppose to be in the next city, Mandalay, quite yet. Something is keeping me in Yangon and tomorrow I’ll make myself vulnerable by being amongst the people and see why the universe decided to keep me here. Bring it. // Photo of Yangon, Myanmar.

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The Betel Nut

January 16, 2014

I had a cultural experience last night with the “betel nut” here in Myanmar. The Burmese, both men and women, chew on betel nut and I’ve read it has the same effect as a cup of coffee or maybe a cigarette if it contains tobacco. When we approached a man selling them, he laughed suggesting “are you sure” when we asked him if we could get some off him. We had a vague clue on how to chew them but luckily our new friend put one in his mouth giving us a proper demonstration. Anyways, he wrapped three nuts in a leaf and handed them over. We sat there and chewed them for sometime. They had a potent, herbal taste and made your tongue and cheek semi numb.. and they produced loads of saliva. Needless to say, as you walk the streets the smiles are filled with red stained lips and teeth from the betel nut. The ground has red spit stains throughout. I saw this in Laos and remember the first time I thought the ladies mouth was bleeding but then my ignorance was curbed once I noticed everyone around her had the same red colored grin. It was am experience for sure but after 10 minutes I found myself spitting it out. Maybe next time I’ll go for 15.

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Can I Bring Him With Me?

January 16, 2014

This little fellow is a burst of energy and full of laughter. He sits with his mother all night as she sells water and snacks on the corner on our way home. I always end up spending 10-15 minutes there playing with him and unfortunately tomorrow it’s goodbye and time for the next city. So I said my goodbyes moments ago and honestly am a little bummed. Can’t I just bring him back with me? If it were just that easy. Goodnight from Myanmar.

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