It’s a full moon today, which makes it a public holiday. There is some spiritual reason for this, but as with most explanations of culture, the “why” isn’t so important – it’s what it creates. Community, connection, joy. The driver who picked me up at the airport took me to the Snake Pagoda en route to Mandalay, so I could experience what happens on the day of a full moon.
The Pagoda was crammed, festival-like – some people praying, some splashing water on statues, some crowding to see the iconic Buddha surrounded by two live pythons, most people just hanging out, eating ice cream or rice and curry, connecting. Couples sat close, sharing intimacies like moving each other’s hair off their faces. Families cheered their babies’ tottering steps. Teenage boys, hair stylishly lightened and swept up, wearing their hottest clothes, looked like teenage boys everywhere. One wore a faux leather jacket complete with studs, showing off. Community centre in every sense.
One of the most constant lessons for me in traveling that I also need in life is to be present to what is, to not be trying to anticipate or weigh whether I made right decisions, to fuss with what I could be, should be doing, rather than what I am. To be in the place that I am and nowhere else.
En route to Mandalay from the airport, I noticed many moments of regret when I didn’t ask the driver to stop so I could take photos, found myself pushing against what he wanted to offer me – four mangoes, a trip to the snake pagoda. And when I went with it, I realized I never would have seen those moments of community.
My hotel is rather tired, though the people are very helpful, and I’m realizing that when my local agent made reservations, she didn’t pick the best of the $50/night options. I had a few moments of resentment, thumbing through the guidebook wishing I could just go to that OTHER hotel, because then everything would just fit, perfectly. Then I realized that this is part of why I’m here – to accept what is, to not be grasping at some other option. To be grateful for a big clean room with many windows, a quiet street.
There are many “oughts” when traveling – a long mental list of what one should do, a worry about missing out on the thing that might create magic. I tried to map my day today, alone in Mandalay, but I had been awake since before 3, and navigated a flight I didn’t fully understand (garbled announcements, no noticeboard, two stops, a plane with an airline name on it that didn’t match my ticket), and was tired. So I randomly stabbed at a restaurant in the guidebook and had the hotel take me there on a motorbike, and had wonderful fish curry, then walked about 10 blocks to find ice cream, then headed back to my hotel for a nap. My hotel is very obscure – it’s not in the guidebook and it’s residential and out of the centre – and I had to try to get my moto driver on track, when I was pretty uncertain myself but I knew he was taking me in the completely wrong direction.
I napped like the dead, then woke up feeling oughtness about Mandalay Hill at sunset – it’s “the thing to do.” A bit of rushing to get another moto from the hotel, then more than 1700 steps. I had to convince the moto driver I didn’t want to take the escalator, but to have the full experienced of the covered steps, the kiosks and pagodas en route, barefoot.
I’d heard it Mandalay Hill was a place where monks go to practice English, and discovered that it’s a routine thing for monks and young people to go several times a week, just to engage in conversation with foreigners. Native English speakers are a jackpot. A young woman named Mya befriended me before the 100th step, and we climbed, sweating and smiling together. We stopped on the way at a pagoda so she could pray to what she referred to as “my Buddha.” I think she meant her god, not that particular icon.
At the top, Ashin Nyanathiri, a 27 year old monk pounced on me. My imagined perfect sunset casting a rosy glow over the city didn’t happen, but I was suddenly taken from outside to the inside. Ashin invited me to his monastery, then offered to walk back with me to my hotel, which he said was very close to his monastery. We walked through the dark busy night, about 45 minutes, sharing a bottle of water with two straws, while he told me about his life – his father passed away, then his mother passed away, and his four siblings are paying for him to attend university. He has taken a vow of celibacy and wants to be a missionary, to teach English. He is glad that Canada is a democracy country. It is often too hot to sleep in Mandalay. He takes meditation at 4 am, then breakfast, then goes to the university. He is in awe of my English and told me I must be a teacher, told me several times that I was safe in Myanmar, and that I was his mother, his sister. He was tired. So tired.
Like my moto driver this afternoon, Ashin took me to the wrong hotel. But then found a guy with a moto he knew, who knew my hotel, who took me there. I knew it was close, but couldn’t quite find the small lake, the waterfall where I saw a couple bathing and flirting earlier today. I was oddly unemotional about it, un-anxious. I knew I would find it.
It was a day in trusting the flow, trusting the place, that the universe would deliver me safely. My noticing more than I ever had to when I traveled with Finch, when I travel in Africa and stay at known places, have a net of people. My knowing my first moto driver was going the wrong way, being calm about trusting that we would find someone who knew.
Today was about noticing thoughts of alternatives, what could be better, different (a different hotel, wifi that actually functions, a missed photo, the meal I could have had while I was walking with Ashin). About being grateful for this tired, frayed hotel, that the deserted kitchen could produce a hot Chinese noodle soup for me. Grateful that I have so much and am where I am.
(Wifi too slow for pics)