the wandering, the self

yesterday I found myself in the home of a Burmese healer with one of my Thai co-workers. She told me that the whole street had Burmese people living there.

Today I rode my bike slowly down the street after school and tried to see if i could see any tanaka on people’s faces and I remembered what i loved about Burma – how much time I had that was unscheduled and that was not mine; how if someone said “hello” to me, i would take the time to look in their eyes and smile or sit with them to drink tea. i miss that, the wandering.

when i didn’t see time as my own:

i took a long walk in the early evening in a town called Pathein, four hours away from Yangon by bus but 22 hours away by a slow, slow Chinese junk boat. the guidebook said Pathein was known for its relaxed pace of life, as well as its parasols, which i think almost inherently imply slowness.  my traveling partner was taking a nap in the hotel.

i walked along the river, squinting into the setting sun and trying not to notice how everyone else was noticing me.  i turned left onto a nondescript street only because i saw a faded turquoise green building that interested me. it was a mosque.  after another impulsive turn down a shady dirt street, i found myself passing a group of men huddled around the back of a truck bed, playing some sort of gambling game.

they turned, i fiddled with the lid of my water bottle, fighting my western-sensibilities to ignore them, and when the traveler in me won, i looked at them and grinned.

they gestured at me to come over to their game and i obliged. they were playing bingo with bottle cap lids for markers. the caller pulled a number out and said it in english. everyone laughed; everyone always wants to practice english.

someone shoved the markers toward me and indicated that i should say the number. i did and i heard the translated number murmured through the group. since i had been practicing my burmese numbers for at least a week for that point, i shyly said “tiq niq’ (1-2) and the group erupted in laughter and betel-nut-stained smiles.

sometimes i wish i carried a camera in burma so i could show you what it was like those days. other times i know that it would have been impossible to capture what i wanted to capture, like the time our boat driver stopped our boat and jumped into Inle Lake and we all followed suit.

i think i am going to buy a camera soon, because it’s a shame not to have one in so many ways, but I’m worried about the hidden burden of stuff: not the cost, but the weight of looking after the camera, trying to take a good picture, worrying about the pictures and not losing them, choosing the best ones to show people…all of that. 

i’m excited, though, about re-engaging my creative side and encouraging the deliberate practice of wandering, which is easy to lose when the day-to-day becomes routine.

when school ends on the 26th, i want to get up early with my (future)camera and take pictures of the morning activities of people in surat.  the sunrises here are serene and special.  while i do my morning tai chi i hear a man with a broom come and sweep the street; the neighbor’s roosters crow; i watch an old lady wearing a sarong take her walk up the small side street and stand on the road, hands on her hips.


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