Misery in Myanmar

The New Year celebration in Myanmar is called Thingyan and goes from April 13th through April 16th. It is a Buddhist holiday that celebrates the start to a new year via song, dance, and primarily water throwing. What is water throwing you ask? It is a tradition in which the children of Myanmar in particular stand out on the streets and gleefully toss buckets of water on passersby to wash away their sins…

and I HATE it.

 

My friend Claire and I were recently traveling through Nepal when we decided we wanted to tack on another country to our itinerary before heading home. After much discussion and debate, we settled on Myanmar. We booked our tickets, procured our visas, and flew into Yangon, the largest city, on April 8th.

Upon arrival, we found out that we were lucky enough to be in the country during one of their largest and most joyful holidays, Thingyan or the Burmese New Year. This sounded like a pretty wonderful and serendipitous festival to be a part of… or so we thought. After finding out that tourist transportation in the country would essentially be shut down for the next two weeks, the same amount of time we had to explore Myanmar, we started to become a little wearier of the impending celebration.

After booking bus tickets through a quasi black market bus stand, we ended up in the iconic ruin city of Bagan on April 12th, the day before the festival. I awoke on the 13th eager to rent a scooter and cruise around the area to explore. Prepared for the craziness, I wrapped my camera in a waterproof bag, stuck my phone in a Ziplock, and hopped on my moped. Within 10 minutes I was completely soaked from head to toe and grinning from ear to ear.

But the charm wore off quickly. When I was tired from the ride and the 100+ degree heat, I headed back to the hotel to get some lunch. Around 6 PM or so my tummy began to grumble again, so I walked out on the street to find a quick and easy dinner spot. 200 yards down the road I encountered my first heartless nemesis. I bowed and begged the 6 year old not to soak me but alas, he chased me all the way back to my hotel, once again sopping and not so thrilled about it this time around.

Fast-forward three days and I am utterly sick of this nonsense. I haven’t left my hotel in Mandalay since I arrived 48 hours prior. I survived a 7-hour train ride where I was thoroughly soaked via surprise attacks through the windows. I was absolutely tired of the miniature monsters dunking five gallon buckets on my head while trying to haul my 40-pound pack through the city.

So, this is my mindset when I wrote this actual entry in my travel journal… enjoy:

 

SUNDAY, APRIL 16th

  • Currently lounging in the reception area of my hotel/jail cell/hideaway around 0900

Going on day three of my incarceration here at “Nan Bwe The Vibe Hostel”. My life is a blur of one cabbage-filled breakfast to the next. I am unable to tell the days apart – all of them now filled with hours of failing crosswords, pretending to be reading so as not to converse with fellow inmates, and searching for that next hit of deep, dark, satisfying Wi-Fi. My only true alliance here, Claire, was released yesterday leaving me to fend for myself in some Stepfordian dystopia akin to those of Huxley or Orwell.

“Are you going to the water festival today?!”

“This sun is SO NICE, isn’t it?!”

“The kids are just sooo silly, aren’t they?!”

Nay, nay, NAY!

This festival breeds torture as a means of entertainment and the heat adds only another layer to the brutality. As for the *monsters you call “children”, they sit outside my prison, foaming at the mouth, waiting to claim their next victim. This place has become a gladiator’s holding cell, a dog’s cage in a kill-shelter.

“Why don’t you just have fun with them a little and go play along?” a beaming girl squints as she gloats through a plastic smile.

Play?!

There is nothing playful about a swarm of wasps or a pack of ravenous wolves. They move from prey to prey reveling in the final hours of their chosen target. Cackling like hyenas with a cornered buffalo. And why would a buffalo purposefully leave the safety of the herd to subject itself to such madness? It wouldn’t! The buffalo would sit quietly by an algae-ridden pool and order overpriced shit-sandwiches for delivery until the foul pack of beasts forgets about the cowering buffalo and grows the taste for zebra instead. Leaving the buffalo time to quietly, quickly, and inconspicuously slip into a taxi (with windows!) and escape this rotting oasis of a prison to the nearest airport and safety beyond.

At least this is my plan.

Yes, it still leaves holes for error or discovery: the journey out of the hotel to the taxi itself and from the taxi to the assumed safety of a demilitarized zone, the international airport.

But what else am I to do? Sit in this prison surrounded by wooden puppets with permanent smiles and eat myself to death consuming copious amounts of rancid cabbage and the local hooch? Nay, I will not roll over so readily exposing my belly to the beast.

I will fight until the last moment – until either safety or death by bucket bombs and water guns wielded by snarling gremlins no higher than my hips. I will resist this means of termination with every fiber of my slowly withering being.

Because what is a life without risk or fight but only a quiet, pitiful death.

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