9th May 2012

I’m in Bangkok International airport.  Somehow I’ve managed to get from hospital bed to departure lounge.  There are going to be lots of monks in Burma.  I want to learn more about Buddhism.  It was that quote from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, in the Power of Now that hooked me…”The luminous splendor of the colourless light of emptiness” – “your own true self.”

Its how I’ve made peace with Brendan’s death.

I can’t believe it.  I’m going to Burma.

After 8 years.   This is it!  Explore, experience, the colours, the sounds, the everything….this is it.  You’re going to Burma.”

When I was waiting at the gate, monks on either side of me, ticket stub clutched in my hands….I felt weak from my illness, but something had happened to me when I was in hospital.  I hadn’t quite surrendered, but I was beginning to feel connected to each moment.  I’d learnt so much from all my teachers and friends,  been tested by the unexpected, and now…right now…sitting at the gate, everything started to click into place, and I wasn’t just understanding what everyone had taught me – I was beginning to feel it.

10th May 2012

I just spent an hour with a lovely little girl (12 years old) and her grandmother…who’s 56, but looks about 90.  They sell mango and Chinese tea on the roadside outside the Shwedagon Pagoda.  I’m in the park now, waiting for Adrienne.  Fingertips stained flourescent yellow from the fruit I dared not eat.  A storm of dragonflies has just whipped up into a frenzy.  I gave the girl my small hand-mirror.  The one with a cat on the back.  They listened to my I-pod.  Die Antwoord, and Bon Iver.  The little girl said that she didn’t like her grandmother very much…that she’s crazy.  She smoked cigars and picked rotten flowers to put in my hair.

The monks are beautiful.  So serene and striking.  I wonder if they’ll speak to me.

Birds circling overhead.  Yellow specks falling from the sky.  It doesn’t feel real does it?  I better go in…

* * * * * * * *

Bats and dragonflies.

Monks in saffron.

Blue sky, pink clouds as the sun goes down behind the gold-plated stupa.

The rumbling, monotonous toll of bells on every corner.

Tour guides talking shit.

Swirling, flourescent. disco lights behind the stillness of Buddhas’ heads.   WTF?  This is some crazy-ass-shit!

Yet strangely quiet, and still.  Everyone walking clockwise.  I want to take a monk home with me.

It’s quite comforting, the sound of wind chimes dancing and chattering at the top of the stupa.

They offer water.  Cleanse the statues with gentle scoops of water.

Upright and regal.  Their right shoulders bare and sloping.  Lean and muscular.  Is it wrong that I want to touch them?

People chanting.  Gossip.  Kids playing.

Doom, doom, doom – bells tolling.

Bats swooping.

Sun is going down against the blue…pure…rich….cloudless blue – like “The luminous splendor of the colourless light of emptiness”.  Nothing.  Eternity.

Female monks in pink and gold.  Shoulders wrapped up tightly.  Not exposed.  Tiny features, shaved heads, like aliens.  Getting lost in those eyes of hers…

Camera died.  And maybe that’s right.  It’s impossible to capture this…as it is.

Magnificent.  Spectacular.  Brilliant.

They pray.  Thumbs to forehead, third eye, bow down.  Legs gathered neatly by their sides.  So elegant and upright.  They bow down.  Hands to heart space.  Forehead to floor.  I wonder what they are praying for?

I stayed there for hours, just watching the people.  Waited for the sky to turn black, and the gold all around me to glow brighter and brighter.  I can’t explain.  I simply can’t explain, what it was like.  A collision of faith and suspicion, holy and tacky, pure and superfluous, chaos and tranquility….I couldn’t dream any of this.  My imagination isn’t rich enough.

I met a man, about my age, named Soe.  His English was faultless.  He’d lived in Paris for years.  Gave up being a monk, so he could pursue his studies.  It seemed like he hadn’t been back home for a while.  This was a holiday for him.  He’d just completed the tourist trail.  Yangon to Mandalay to Inle Lake to Bagan.  He showed me round, told me to stand on these chalk markings towards the back, and look up at the great diamond at the very tip of the pagoda’s spire.  Red, orange, yellow, green, blue…with each step forward it changed colour in keeping with the seven chakras.

He told me that the word for the chattering wind chimes was: tintinnabulation.  I liked him, but he kept asking me questions.  Kept looking behind us.  And something inside me was sparked.

I’d already drawn a lot of attention to myself, by simply writing, and I knew that at some point on this trip I’d be followed, investigated.

I’d decided after meeting with E, a week before, that I was going to put all my judgments and opinions to one side.  This particular trip was not for any other purpose than to observe, and to see a country I’ve always wanted to see.  I’d done a lot of research and the arguments for both sides, continuing to boycott, and travelling conscientiously were equally strong.  It was difficult to tell what was morally right.  I guess I have to accept that I know full well a certain percentage of what I spent would have gone directly to the military government, and certain things happened that I will write about later that made me uncomfortable, and uncertain of what I should do.  But, ultimately it was one of the most wonderful, and inspiring experiences of my life.  I didn’t want to put forward my opinions, or ask questions about the elections, and political strife.  I wanted to speak to people, as people.  I wanted to be quiet and peaceful.  Open to everything that unfolded….moment by moment.  When Soe asked me what I was writing.  I was truthful in my response.  I said I was writing about the beauty of this place.   I’d left my other diaries behind, didn’t want anything on me that would give away my thoughts.

When his questions continued, “Why are you here”; “Why now?”; “I think you know more about Myanmar than you let on…”   I looked inside myself…Probably, he just wanted somebody to talk to.  Probably he really was a monk for 15 years.  He probably did leave Burma to study in France, because his master said he could…but the something inside me told me to play it safe, and so I listened, and steered our conversation onto Buddhism instead.

I asked him one last question before we parted ways, “What are they praying for?”

He told me that they were paying their respects to the mind of Buddha.  To enlightenment.  Something that they aspire to in this life, or the next.