Fly to: Yangon, Burma
Internal Transfer: 4 flights to Thandwe, Heho, Mandalay & Bagan
Visa required: Yes if British
Currency:Myanmar Kyat (MMK)
Time Zone:+6hrs30mins GMT
Day 9, 14/02/11: Burma - The Golden Shadow
Ah Valentine's Day and I can't think of any people I'd sooner spend it with, the beauty and warmth of this Sangha is really touching me deeply.
We walked up to the Kalaw tribal villages today where we visited a nunnery. It was liberating to be back in the countryside, to be able to wander, feel the breeze against my skin and stretch out my legs. The valley in which we found ourselves was semi-steep with lush, cultivated crop fields lining its floor.
Liz looked noticeably sick; as both the path and the mid-day sun rose she began to struggle. I felt for her every step, her desire to keep present when it looked like every part of her body was fighting against itself. I took her camera & heavier pack whilst Joanne took my pack, we continued in a stop start manner, Liz was committed to getting up to the monastery but I couldn't help thinking at what cost to her own health.
The sun was hot, the air dry and Liz was appearing more dehydrated & breathless with each step, Joanne poured cold water over her head and down her back to try to reduce her body temperature. As she did so a local guy came around the corner on his motorbike, after a translated negotiation Liz had her ride... though originally he did start to take her back down, hearing our squeals of 'no no' he turned the bike and their ascent began.
As we entered the village we were surrounded by a mass of children, the atmosphere was joyous, playful; the energy excitable. As we were sticking monkey stickers on the kid's hands & playing with them a little albino girl appeared, shielding her eyes from the unrelenting midday sun.
Inside the nunnery it was incredible to bear witness as (through translated dialogue) Roshi & the head nun interacted. This nun had dedicated much of her life to establishing this nunnery and a school in which the young could be educated.
Her love, passion & energy could be seen and felt within every one of these children. Covered in a simple robe of pink cloth the nuns had the most amazing auras, their colours shining with a full spectrum of compassion, love, hope; they were simply beautiful.
In the monastery we were blessed with a teaching from Roshi and then some meditation practice. The energy felt so pure that it was great to be able to commit myself to the process of being and to simply absorb what was unfolding. After we descended we returned to our hotel to pack up before leaving for the Lake.
The landscape en route steadily transformed, the lush green hills and terraces became dry, flat and arid. The base of the wide valley was now filled with cattle ranches, to the far distance one could still see the glistening rooftops of scattered pagodas.
On reaching the hotel, Paula, Joanne and I walked into town. We were just commenting on two beautiful Burmese girls when they made a bee-line straight for us. Introducing themselves as Mitisan & Tatisan; two sisters, aged 14 & 30.
Mitisan explained how her older sister had lost her husband to Leukaemia two years ago and how she now works as a hairdresser. Mitisan was still studying at school; her dream was to be a doctor though from where I was stood she had great potential as an international tour guide.
They offered to accompany us into town, introducing us to the weird and wonderful foods on small market stalls; the fish & banana leaf broth was actually pretty good. Eager to show us her hometown she enthusiastically took us down some novel and strangely exciting back alleys; Burma uncovered. We ended up at Tatisan's Hair salon, perfect; Joanne had been harping on about needing a hair cut so here was her moment to seize the day.
As we continued past the reservoir a drunken guy started pestering these two local girls; I assume for money though I wasn't quite sure. The energy around Mitisan had dramatically shifted, from a free & easy going young lady to a vulnerable, self-conscious young girl.
From her furrowed expression, her tone & body language it was obvious that she was telling the guy to 'do one', meanwhile Tatisan reached into her bag and pulled out some Chat (money). She looked him directly in the eye and told him 'go!'.
It was hard to stand by and watch as things unfolded, clearly there is etiquette and ways of dealing with things/people, but the incident angered me somewhat. These girls after all were so open & friendly; I guess I just experienced it as a complete abuse of male power.
As we traversed the water's edge the girls introduced us to the unusual pastime of flower popping. The flower buds that had reached maximum swell (before blossom) were to be banged directly into the forehead and in doing so they burst with a delightful 'popping' sound.
To begin with I thought it was a windup, 'ha let's see how stupid these westerners are...' but it worked and it was really good fun. The five of us laughed and laughed, it was such a great way to spend the afternoon and to interact so simply and so beautifully with these local women was particularly poignant.
As we walked back my heart felt nourished; deeply happy to be here and even happier to share it with the people whom I am; I was just about to say to Joanne, 'watch ou...' When before the words had left my mouth she was already looking down at her foot... trust Jo to find the only poo in the vicinity and my, was it a prime specimen!
As we reached the hotel, Mitisan raced off to get us a watermelon; Paula showed Tatisan the Star Constellations and though initially impressed I'm now starting to think Orion's Belt & the Big Dipper are the only ones she knows... mind you that's two more than me!
At the hotel we drank beer; hmm this is becoming a bit of a theme. Sam & Bpae cooked Green Thai Curry which was gorgeous. On the table in front of us were tiny love hearts, such a sweet gesture; a gesture however that merely served to give Joanne the opportunity to induce my blushes. 'Emma, read it out, tell me what mine says...'