Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Travel log- Burma pt 1

Square one

One of the randoms that happen every now and then- Siew’d been in Burma for a week for em’ pro bonos, typical white collared pro bono- nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that this was in Burma, of all places, ol’ Burma, land of green livery, neatly pressed and matching shiny waxed shoes that em’ greenies march around and lord over other people in, but never in the sacred places, never in the shrines and golden temples and never before Buddha, the unmoving Buddha with his palm across his lap as a sign of peace that so deludes the land, Burma. 

I had no intention of being there, but Siew said he’d book a room for two anyway- that I’d be welcome to join him but I wasn’t sure when the sea would summon me, still I told him I’d be there-nevermind the sea, it’d be waiting for me today, tomorrow, and the many weeks after like a lover waiting for the return of her beloved, knowing not the hour or time of day he might return but always expecting, never relenting- demands too much of a young man with little to waste living for corporate giants with their agendas- world dominion and constant churning of liquid gold- makes the world round they say- but only round in some parts of the world whilst the rest of the world at large remains an untouched squalid square, like the land they call Burma. 

Still, the giants compensate well to play the cog and that is an end in itself- to earn to keep a living and sufficient to allow little travels like these, but sufficient is a relative term and bears different meanings under different soils; to have more than sufficient in Malaya makes you rank close with the Gods in Burma, not that they believe in God- Karma and Nirvana but never God- which in some ways, make them seem like nicer people (than Christians or Muslims) because striving to do good to others is their salvation, a salvation defined by an eternal state of peace and nothingness after many cycles of buddhistic sanctification- but God forbid that salvation is attained by works and that sufficiency be a measure of fulfillment. 

And so, after pulling a forty-winker (rather, thirty-nine: sleep never suffices), I stood in Yangon in open-eyed wonder at the magic of coloured paper sheets and what it can do for you: intrinsically of little worth (save what it symbolizes), but trade it in and in return, gain the experience of being attended to by beautiful people in a cabin hovering over the clouds whilst having a siesta to wake up in different world altogether. Different worlds! Only separated by two hours and a half but worlds apart- not just the people, or the buildings, but the air, the sun, the smell and gravity- I didn’t take steps in Burma, I bounced- and the colors: so much red, so much gold, so much black and so much death; ask lady history, but she demands a serious audience- I’m no good for that. 

It is always the first glimpses of a new place that confuses- everything is new, everything is amazing and everything is novel- blinded by the lust of newness, I spent (too many) worthless frames capturing the mundane and ordinary and think to myself what exotic people they are- heavenly handsome savages- poor souls, they must be defended at all cost, don’t let the imperial capitalists in, save your people and save your nation and build yourselves a heavenly utopia- I’m glad frames don’t immortalize thoughts, because the romanticism wears off and all that is left are just frames- mundane and ordinary, with many longyis to spare. Don’t get me wrong, they are special people nonetheless, only less so with thoughts put on a leash, but I like freedom, and I am ill in that way. 

Longyis- similar to the Malaysian “sarong”, but both men and women don it, almost as a matter of national pride- it bothered me not knowing if it were offensive that I wore shorts in a land of cloth people, but we shouldn’t live to please people, then again, neither to offend them (and I prefer to be at peace with all mankind), so I had secretly intended to get myself one- maybe plain, maybe tartan, maybe floral- but then I spotted the young of some cloth people donning shorts, and thought to myself- ah, they are less of the savage I think they are, maybe they even speak English (which I later found out that they do and further tarnished my romantic obsession with the natives), so I settled for being the normal tourist- shorts, trainers and a huge, shiny camera. 

The coloured sheets bartered in Burma is pronounced “chart” with a silent “r” (spelled as chat). Seven thousand of em’- that’s how much it takes to get from the airport to the city centre to where I’d rendezvous with Siew- he said he’d leave the keys at the counter, but when I got there, they told me that he’d be in his room- I wasn’t too sure what to expect, it’d been, what, three years (?) since we’d done a trip together; we’re stiffer now (he was stiff even then), and perhaps less game for adventure- who knows what age does to the soul?- but if this is gonna be anything like the last, it’d be a blast (we jumped Adam and Eve and became freemen of Tryfan our last trip). So in my mind, I dismissed age, but my limbs begged to differ.

Friday, 9 August 2013

On seasons

You could see it in their eyes: what it feels to be normal, to be kicked out of routine- a routine of twelve hour shifts, thirty consecutive days at a time, living on a floating vessel a (few) hundred miles from land. Coming from an upper middle class society, I’ve been spared from much physical labour and I find it strangely enchanting to watch the labourers at rest, and in watching them, too, be at rest. Half-days off for Raya has done all of us a lot of good in becoming more human (albeit, not so good for project progress). 

I’ve always found seasons one of the most  brilliant of God’s abundant creation, and found it rather unfortunate that we don’t get seasons in tropical countries. Brilliant mainly because: 

  • I love how seasons give different flavours to the same scenery. 
  • I love the diversity in the way people dress and look- there are ways the weather can help us look pleasant, but being a one-season nation, we have not understood this- we are a nation of shorts and tees and slippers and jeans. We will never understand summer dresses and we will never understand cardigans. 
  • I love snow. A lot. 

Apart from the immediate foreseeable benefits - there’s the added benefit of time keeping. I mean that life, when measured by yardstick of days, could easily spiral out of control and leave us in a rut. And what’s to stop us from doing so? 

It’s crossed my mind, that the closest thing we might have to seasons (in Malaysia), is the month of Ramadhan (that happens once or twice each year, depending on the Hijrah calendar). Obviously, its a whole lot different from seasons as understood in temperate countries, but it bears some resemblance in the fact that it imposes a change to life (as it normally is), for a certain duration each year for the fasting muslimeen. But for the kuffars like myself, it is all bazaars, rendang, ketupat, ayam percik and serunding. 

Still so much practice to notice God in each and every season


Disclaimer: Second bullet point does not absolve the reader’s responsibility to practice grace in addressing my lack of taste and fashion sense.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

On returning

Took me by surprise- internet usage is being regulated on the barge: website filters on facebook, whatsapp, etc. It feels weird to be so disconnected. Just imagine, about a decade ago, none of these existed- I wonder how they survived. But they did, and I suspect that I will too. 

So, it’s back to the books for me (too many movies- they’re starting to wear me out). Thank God I brought along some of my favourites- Lewis, Morrison. And I guess, there’s writing; haven’t been writing (and journaling) much, as you can see from the blog (maybe I’ll finish up a short piece on my trip to Burma earlier this year). And there’s hanging out and chatting with colleagues. And there’s day dreaming, just like in the old days. So I guess, there’s plenty to do. 

Spent a greater part of the past two months offshore which is quite new for me. Juggling commitments that I’ve made outside of work is significantly harder due to limited resources (connectivity for example), and the fact that I cannot be physically present elsewhere since I’m- here. And though I try very hard to be present at significant events, alas, I can’t. So I’m beginning to understand the thrill of sailors returning home, military personnel from lengthy missions, Ulysses from his odyssey. But our citizenship is in heaven. And here is Lewis to say what I came here to say. 

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy
 and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Phil 4:1


Read the rest of Lewis' weight of glory here.