Saturday, 28 July 2012

Footsteps with family

Being on the road for 10 months, one begins to miss her family, Skype is great and the email updates too, but theres nothing like a good hug and conversation human to human. Their faces were becoming blurry, pixelated images in my mind, and hugging a computer screen to say goodbye does not adequately fulfil my needs for family affection. I was off to Burma for a month, a country I have dreamed of visiting since I was a child, and she decided to come and join me on this adventure.

At the airport I landed an hour before her, I eagerly stood thinking, have I changed, do I look different, do I act different, does she look different, does she act different?? Deciding to calm down I plonked my heavy bags on the cool floor and sat, soon realising I had chosen the wrong spot being close to a bin every ten seconds there was a taxi driver lifting the lid and spitting a red substance down, then look up giving me a wide red smile and asking if I needed a lift somewhere, ‘no, no thank you, I’m waiting for my mum to arrive.’ Ha! it was so sweet to be saying this.

My uncle Bob, my dads sisters husband is of Burmese origin, born and raised in Burma till he was 17 years old when he moved to Australia with his family. He was one of my favourites growing up, and his loving and caring nature, enthusiasm and giggle at everything personality intrigued me most of my life. Mum told me that when we were living in Sydney up until I was 2 years old he would look after me often, and when we first moved to Coffs Harbour mum said that I ran up to a large Aborigional man hugging his leg, pulling me away she said, ‘whos that el?’ and I replied that’s my Bob dad, clearly missing his company. 

I remember thinking it was so bizarre when Bob would come out for breakfast wearing this skirt wrapped around his round waste tight and tucked in at the front, but now after being through Asia for so long, it seems like a necessity for anyone to own and use. During Christmas visits to Sydney I often met with his loving family for Burmese food, (that I thought was really strange, but now love) and received hand me down traditional clothing from his mother, beautiful longis (cloth wrap), bags, and tops. I was given books on the Dalai Lama, and Burmese culture, beautiful pages covered with images of women with rings around their necks stretching up like a giraffe, shy children with the deepest brown eyes, streets lined with saffron and maroon coloured monks, and shelters built from organic materials or anything they could gather that protected them from the weather. It was a culture that inspired me, doing paintings and drawings of Burmese children; and I know that I have forever wanted to connect with the people and land of this country.

After hugging in the airport for a good amount of time all people watching and smiling, mum and I headed for a taxi into Yangon, there was one driver in particular who either needed to spit a lot or just really wanted to give us the lift into town. Sure enough he grabbed our bags and led us to his car which was parked out of the terminal in a back carpark, a pirate taxi that broke down about 10 times on the highway during the 20 minute drive into town. It was a hilarious entry into this city, and though tired and frustrated, all we could do was laugh as the driver stalled and stopped and fiddled with the engine adding oil and jolting the car in the middle of hectic traffic. We got to the room and unpacked, talked and talked and it was like we had never been apart for so long.

The next few days were spent exploring Yangon, going to the Schwedagon Pagoda, local markets and visiting Bobs Auntie Mai Mai. The Schwedagon was beautiful, blue skies speckled with clouds, the gold of the Paya was luminous and the tinkle of noise coming from the bells and jewels hung from up high relaxing and mystic. We walked circles sitting and observing the people coming to make offerings and smiling at the beautiful children everywhere. Getting lost we eventually found our exit and went to have a coffee at one of the local road coffee shops.

Visiting Auntie Mai, I must admit I was a little nervous or shy or something, a new family member to meet for the first time. But when we arrived to a beautiful large white building surrounded by bright tropical flowers, vines and entered to meet the family, all nerves were gone. Mai was softly spoken but full of information, she hid it well but I could see that she was so excited to meet us talking of day trips to go shopping at the Gem warehouses and clothing outlet stores, she loooovvveesss shopping, and we were a good excuse to go. She was wearing the most beautiful clothing, a green and pink embroidered longi with traditional side button-up matching top, small pearl earrings, an apple jade bracelet, and her hair in a low neat bun. She was so beautiful and meeting her reminded me of the first time I saw a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi, so resplendent in dress but with this notable strong woman detail in her eyes, noting the experiences of living under a military regime.

Mum has done a lot of travel in her life, and as dad says, shes the best travel agent, knowledgeable, organised and planned, but leaves a lot of room for change, spontaneity and relaxation. After a few days in Yangon we caught a bus early one morning to Bagan, the town of one zillion kabillion Pagodas. We arrived super early, slept our energy back, and then walked around this sweet town. The road was so dusty and full of motorbikes, the people smiling selling snacks on the side, horse carts, bicycles,  the smell of rubbish burning, the giant trees; they all reminded me of Baucau Timor Leste. I felt home again when breathing in this thick chemical smell of plastic, how I became to love this smell so much I do not know, but its not just the smell, its when its mixed with the thick heat, dirt and dry winds. The feeling I recieve when I smell this is head raising and eye closing, it reminds me of returning to Coffs Harbour from being away. The car would go up this hill near the Big Banana and from the top you have a view over the whole city down to the beach, with the windows unwound, you get a revitalising fresh damp breeze touch to your cheeks, its salty and cooling and I knew I was home again. Somehow the smell of burnt plastic now too has this nostaligic feeling attatched to it.

After being lost in nostalgia for a day constantly saying to mum, ohhh this reminds me of timor, oh that reminds me of timor, and mum continually replying 'yess el I know you miss East Timor', I collected my feet and mind back into the now and started appreciating beautiful Bagan. We only spent two days here, and such a special atmosphere was appreciated during these days. Everyone seemed to live their lives out in the open street, they are used to tourists and it’s a very comfortable place to be travelling. I was kind of shocked by this a little, it was so established, it was so easy, and boy did the children have a skill for English around the pagodas. It was hot, and ma and I opted for horse carting it around the instead of riding the bike, and I was glad for this. We saw the bike riders sweating and the paths were so twisty and turny to each Pagoda, for sure we would have got ourselves lost. Arriving to our first stop and empty of tourists, this beauty had a small staircase up three levels, we were able to climb rite to the top and look out over the flat stretch of farmland, shrub and scattered temples. It was a magnificent view and with a cool breeze brushing your neck, dust twirling in the dry farm land, standing high and gazing, you certainly felt in another world.

Pidgeons eagerly awaiting someone to feed them

Schwedagon Pagoda

Lunch with Mai Mai and Oung

Enchanting garden

I want this car!

At the market, made beautiful by a lady putting thanakar on my face

Temple in Bagan

What a beautiful lock

Sand paintings.

Eating locally made yoghurt and Molasses with a beautiful boy

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