Category: Burma

These Burmese Days

By the time I arrived in Bagan, the Dutch boys and I had become good friends.  One of them had been travelling for 7 months, the other, just 1.  They were friends from way back it seemed.  Lesser-Skaarsgard asked me what it was like to travel alone as a woman.

I was surprised by how naturally, and immediately I responded.  “Easy!”  I hadn’t felt threatened once, except for a moment in Koh Samui when a man started to follow me back to my hotel.  He was a Westerner.

I wonder whether it’s the Buddhist influence in South-East Asia, that makes it feel safe.  I want to learn more about Buddhism, as everything I think or say is based on uneducated interpretations of things that I’ve seen and heard.  But ultimately, there’s something
very reassuring about spending time in a Buddhist community.  There’s an inherent respect for others, for elders, for monks and nuns, for mothers, for women….Not necessarily in the gender-equality sense.  There was definitely a shared frustration among the female travelers I met, but that’s another issue, for another time.  The monks are humble, yet command such great respect, and you get this feeling of acceptance, of a willingness to help.  And the children….how wonderful it is to come across a group of children, and not have to avert your eyes and cross the road.  Heaven forbid you make eye-contact, and spark an elaborately confrontational, “You lookin’ at me!” monologue…The kids I fear in the UK, are a bit like Ubud’s terrorists of the Monkey Forest.  Heart-rate picks up as you walk quickly and quietly along the path, praying to something you didn’t know you believed in for protection…silent steps, everything that means anything to you, clutched firmly, discreetly out of view…out of view of those unperturbed eyes – just watching you, toying with you.  Will they, or will they not…bully you?  Somebody launches a sling-shot at one of them causing trouble, tree-branches shake, hoots blast out from way up high, “For God’s sake – don’t ANGER them!” you growl, head-down, muscles clenched, pace picked up even faster…

Its only when you’re out the forest that you relax and laugh to yourself…they’re just monkeys, what’s the worst they can do?  (looking behind you one last time, flinching at the unexplained rustle of a lonely leaf next to you…)

I did my yoga when I got to the hotel.  Short primary.  Headstand was terrible, and I missed out two seated postures, but my Bhujapadasana was alright!  I like the Dutch guys, would be happy to venture out with them, but I think some sort of drama struck, so have left them to it.

I didn’t see any temples on that first night.  The sun was already going down, and I wanted to rest up for an early start the next day.

Woke up at 4.  Meditation until 5, yoga until 6.  Having breakfast now.  The children across the street are playing.  It’s good to see them play!  They work hard, have to grow up fast.  We take our youth for granted.

I rented a rusty one-geared bike (was getting used to them by that stage) and ventured out onto the dusty, sand-covered roads.  I had a map, but got lost time and time again…one time – straight out into the desert, where I seemed to ride over undulation, after undulation of sand, spying the tip of a stupa to my left, certain that the map had pointed me in this direction.  It was only when the water in my backpack had run dry, and the sun was climbing to its peak in the cloudless sky, that I questioned how many hours I might have left to live…  An elderly couple appeared out of nowhere, astride an ox and cart.  They were surprised to see me, way out there, and grinned and grinned, mumbling words I didn’t understand.

I dismounted from my bike, and they looked a little nervous as I approached them, creased and crackling map unraveling in front of my face,  loosening the blue string of my straw hat, knotted tightly beneath my chin.

“Here!  Here!”  I pointed at the map.  To the shape of a pagoda on a timid yellow line to the South of New Bagan.  They both peered down at the map, politely.  Proud, toothless grins, “No pagoda here!” they say, and point their arms behind them, in the direction from which I came.

“Go back?” I questioned.

“Yes yes!” they say in unison.

“Thank you, thank you, Jay zu tin ba de!”  I bow my head…

“Where from?”  They point at me, nodding their heads.

“England.”  I say, and then the floodgates open.

A torrent of excited banter from the man, whilst his wife sits quietly, nodding her head. “Rooney….football….England.  Good.  Manchester United.  Man City…”

I keep nodding and smiling, “yes, yes.  Rooney good!”  Trying to share this excitement that he appears to feel for the funny little chap back home.   We finally parted ways, and I sighed to myself, and brushed the dust from my face, swirled the final drop of boiling water, trying desperately to dampen the insides of my mouth, before tentatively perching on the scalding black seat of my now, flat-tired, one-geared, rusty bike.

I thought of all my cyclist-enthusiast friends back home, and what fun they would all have out here…lifted my feet up, let out a half-having-fun, half nervous squeal, as I wooshed down the side of a sand mountain, and then got wedged into the up-side of another….

Its 3.41 pm.

50 degrees.

Fuck!!!  5o DEGREES!  The breeze is like a bloody hair-dryer.  I daren’t move for fear of generating more heat.  Movement =  energy.

No wonder all the locals go into hiding at lunch time.  I was cycling around and it was like the twilight zone.  T-shirts covering faces, roads empty, could practically hear the hay bale dancing down the street.

Had a mango for lunch, and a bowl of peanuts.

All the boys have their guitars out.  There’s no other way to describe it, but they wail.  Absolutely wail.  Its terrible, but wonderful at the same time.  So much feeling goes into it.  Earnest, passionate feeling.  You have to smile.

There’s a crowd of them forming.

They’re starting to take their shirts off…I can’t help but look.


Bagan is a beautiful, holy place.  There’s something like 2,000 stupas and pagodas stretched across this arid, desert land, with bursts of pink Bougainvillea and orange Poinciana.  You rent a bike, try not to get lost, and just amble up to whatever temple takes your fancy.  Each of them has a story, some violent, some romantic.  Some are ruins, with bars up on the windows, and all you can see of the frescos, is under dark shadows.  People pray, monks, and tourists climb the outer steps, so they can look out for miles, sit in silence and absorb this strange spiritual energy.  You become quiet inside, and can imagine retreating from the world, and spending months at a time, meditating in the hallway, under the cool, white gaze of a buddha.

It seems to me, that we lack this serenity in Western society.  How important and wonderful it is to find silence every now and again.  A silence that is regarded in such a way, that many people can share it in the same moment.  One of the greatest things I’ve taken from this trip is understanding what silence is, and how enriching life feels when you allow yourself to sink into it.

I suppose it’s quite a difficult thing to comprehend.  That silence, that nothing, that stillness can be so energizing.   Always relying on external stimulation, it feels strange to slowly come into contact with a movement, a vibration, an energy all of your own.  We talked of such things in the intensive in Koh P, and there were times when I crossed over from intellectualising, to experiencing, what it all means…never intensely, but enough to carry it with me.

I see colours.

And that beam of white light is still there.  Solid…but not.  Can’t describe it.  It just feels stable…unflinching.

Like a light saber, more than a fire.  What is that?

And the colours.  I see yellow still – in my right hand and hips.

Orange in my groin.

Blues and purples in my head.

Red in my left shoulder.

Green down the rest of my left arm, with red fingertips.

Light blue in my stomach.

Black at the base of my spine.

Dark colours in my legs, green on the soles of my feet…

My whole experience in Burma, was in this perpetual state of always being aware of this energy inside.  I couldn’t always make contact with it, but I knew it was there, and I honestly believe that I could do that, because I was surrounded by so many people, whether they
be monks, or nuns, or ordinary Buddhists, who are experiencing their own energies, their own truths everyday.

I still wonder whether it was the right thing for me to go to Burma. Did I betray my Burmese friends and colleagues?  Have my actions supported the junta, or has my presence, along with the rest of us westerners, wedged that door open just a little wider…

Its hard, nay, impossible to tell what impact we’ve had on the people we made contact with. Whether it be through conversation, through tender, or through laughter…it doesn’t matter, I think what struck me most about the people I met, and what resonated most, when I sat back and became a wallflower, was their light, their energy.

On the one hand I fear for them.  This time of transition that lay ahead, however genuine or otherwise, is monumental.  Repatriation of civilians, (there are over 300,000 EDP’s in Thailand alone),  international businesses chomping at the bit, hordes of tourists (possibly conscientious) looking to add another untouched country to their list.

On the other hand, I am in awe.  How can we – tourism, commercialism, consumerism – ever break their spirit.  A spirit that has withstood so much, for so long.  It seems to me, that they transcend what we know and understand as reality.  Afterall, what does the outside world really matter, when we can look inside ourselves and truly experience, “this is my body, and this is real.”


10th May 2012

In Shan state, on way to Inle Lake.  Dusty roads.  Horse-drawn carriages.  Monks playing football.  Bus of nuns.

At some roadside place, gulping down hot water.  Shoulders are as red as my Thai fisherman pants, and I’m on the road to nowhere.

Che, Bob and Rooney.  The international language.

Crisps and rice for dinner.  Small boy, red shirt – beautiful voice, kind eyes.  Older men – no English, but like photos and Rooney.  No teeth, from chewing that red stuff…

Flies are milling.

I attract a lot of attention.   Mostly positive.  Shy glances from young girl, hiding behind her mother.  Teenage boys cat-calling and whistling, but not out of rudeness, to simply practice their English, “Good Evening!”, “Hello!”  They giggle a lot…

I can’t believe I bought a monk puppet.  What the fuck am I going to do with a monk puppet?

Arse is raw.  Cycled round the river on a rusty one-geared bike.   That boy is wonderful.  A little businessman.  So confident, so self-assured.

I want to be back at Aquarius Inn, sitting on the balcony….meditating.

12/13th May (?) 2012

“Now I offer you banana and green tea…”

Well – hurry up then.  I’M STARVING!  It was a long day today.  The lake was beautiful.  Absolutely beautiful.

Ducks are bigger than the children.  Herons guarding each water-way, upright and tall.

Children.  If you smile and wave at them, their faces….their faces light up.

The fishermen –  they steer the boat with one leg wrapped around the oar.  So graceful – poetry.

We saw pagodas and monks, ducks and cattle, farmers and fishermen.  Kids at school.  We swam in the lake.  Ate coconuts on the water edge.  Argued about lunch, and laughed when our tour-guide walked face-first into the post.  Mosquitoes are eating me alive.

12th May (yesterday was the 11th, not the 12th), 2012

I’m sitting in a Burmese tea-shop waiting for my bus to Bagan.  The stools are tiny.  Like children’s….but I’m talking kindergarten size.

Its great watching everyone.  Sipping their tea/coffee.  Reaching above their heads for the lighters that are tied to the door-frames.   Cigarettes are bought, 4 or 5 at a time, in small tin containers.  Cups.  Those little ceramic cups, resting in a bucket of water.  3 of them.

Its quarter to 7 and starting to get hot.  There are two other westerners waiting for the bus too.  One blonde (a lesser Skaarsgard), the other a straggly, long-haired brunette with a beard.  He’s ill.  Keeps coughing and is wrapped up in a black hoody, despite the morning heat.

We haven’t acknowledged each other.

The travelling scene here is a little bit strange I think.  I REALLY liked the French girls I met.  We went for dinner last night and exchanges addresses – a lovely pair!  But, the German girl – who was sweet enough – reminded me of what its like to be with travellers…and why I prefer to go it alone.

When you’re on your own its easier to talk to people, but you can also become a wallflower.  Observe everything.  I’m kind of happy like that.  Ambling along, at my own pace.  Taking everything in as it happens.  Eating what I like, when I like, where I like.

As soon as other travelers get involved – the precious arguments happen about how much we’re willing to spend for a bowl of rice.  Sensitive issue.  Emotions run high.  “Well, YOU can eat here and pay THAT, but I’M going to go somewhere else…”

Fine then.  Fuck off!  Its about 50p we’re arguing over…would you do that back home???  Walk out of a cafe over 50p?  I hope not.  So, get over it!


On the bus now.  Observations:
– Buses/planes…. could rock up ten minutes early, half an hour late…nobody really knows, or could possibly tell, but when they arrive, heaven forbid you’ve gone for a toilet break.  You have precisely 30 seconds to pay for your tea, gather your things, find your ticket and board….otherwise they just take off without you.  Not a second thought.

– Traffic here is chaos.  Rickshaws, early-morning joggers, power-walkers, motorbikes, stray dogs frolicking about, horse and carriages, trucks, buses, cars, EVERY form of transport you can possibly imagine from the beginnings of time, moving recklessly, to the sound of illogical beeps.

– There’s some weird shit on the telly.  A monk praying or chanting, images of gold buddhas with the retro, disco, swirling lighst behind their heads…

– Monks are shaking tins on the side of the road for donations.

– We begin to wind up into the mountains…

– PLEASE make the Burmese love songs stop!  PLEASE!

– They’ve stopped the bus now.  Hosing down the overheated engine.  Smoke is billowing out.

– The monks keep looking at me strangely.

– Its only 9am.  Have a good 8 or 9 hours left…..


its about 1.30 pm.  7 hours into our journey.  Truth be told, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it so far.  They’re all protective of me.    Want me to be happy.  Got to choose what film to play.  I went for “The Last Samurai”.  The driver dashed across the road to another bus to pick up a Tom Cruise, action DVD collection.  He forgot to put the hand-brake on.  We started to roll down the hill…

Bearded German, actually he’s Dutch, is actually quite hot!

Monks are smiling at me now.

I’ve been thinking about love a lot.  Trying to process what Matthew said.  That we are the source of our own love…no-one else.  I drew a picture to help me understand…I think what it means, is that I mustn’t waste my time on a sponge.  Its about finding somebody who is open and loving too.  Non-attachment – being together ignites the love you already have.

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.

E – “are you religious?”

Me – “no.  But I think I have something spiritual going on…”

E – “then you are free.”

A natural silence hung in the air, and I looked across the table at him.  It had been eight years since we last saw each other.  Politically, so much had changed.  Suu Kyi had been released, the monks had marched, the NLD had just won the first democratic bi-elections; we could talk, for the first time, about what it might be like for him to go home.

Can’t imagine going back soon…still a long time.

He told me about the peace talks happening between the KNU and Burmese government.  There had been a ceasefire since April or June the year before, but still they didn’t have much freedom, just a little bit of space to move and attend the peace talks.  E accompanies the KNU as a journalist.  Reports his findings and distributes to Karen nationals inside and outside the Karen State.

Me – Is there still fighting going on?

E- The fighting has stopped, but the violence is still happening in the sense that they still fear the military and land mines.  The government is still a majority military and there are no guarantees.

What’s been happening in Burma over these past 60 years, the rape, the violence, the killings, is like some sort of dark secret the world doesn’t really want to face.  You could live in Thailand all your life, the length of which shares its border with Burma, and not know what’s happening, and perhaps most distressing of all…not care.

I was in Koh Phangang when the results of the election came in.  The guys who worked in the place I was staying in were Burmese, and it was a real wake-up call.  Lolling about on the floor cushions, sipping at a Mocca shake, and listening to the stories of all the travelers and their various reasons for escaping the world.  None of them were as formidable as what the guys taking our orders and cleaning the tables must have come from, and yet they never said a word.   A copy of the Bangkok post was sprawled open on the table by the bar, and I could hear the muffled sounds of a radio out back.  They had smiles on their faces, and a skip in their step, but carried on working as if it was just another day.

I gathered the Bangkok post and settled in the far corner.  I’d woken up early, so I could read about it before my yoga session with Matthew and the group.   When I read that Suu Kyi had won, I felt so uplifted and hopeful.  Eight years ago I had written an article about the NLD Convention, and how the military government’s “road map to democracy” was a farce.  Ethnic minorities refused to attend, for fear of being imprisoned or killed, the NLD boycotted due to the undemocratic conditions, and a road-map that ultimately ensured on-going control of the SPDC.  Colleagues of mine back then were often challenged about why they persisted in working for such a lost cause.  No-one could have ever admitted it, but at times it did seem hopeless.

I opened up the newspaper.  There was a whole section dedicated to the election and potential next steps for Suu Kyi, for the NLD, for Burma.  I scanned through page after page, wanting to read about the people.  What would happen to the people?  Would the guys working here be able to go home?  What would that be like?  Returning home, after so many years of exile.  How many families must have been separated, how many loved ones lost…

There wasn’t anything there.  All I could see was speculations over what big Corporates would establish themselves in  Burma once the borders had fully opened, and the impacts all of this would have on the economy of neighbouring countries.  How China and the US, were waiting on tenterhooks.   I tried to imagine what that would be like, on such a momentous day, to read in Foreign papers, what freedom might be like…

Me – What about the world’s response?

E – US – main concern is Chinese influence, not human rights.  Will try to influence Burma.  American companies are coming for business, not the people…

Me – What would be the one question you want answered about all of this?

E – Why the government wants to make peace.  What’s the honest reason?  Main attitude is to secure business.  Suspicious.  Want to see social, ethnic problems, political issues discussed.  People’s lives.  People should be part of the change.  Government, NLD, US, EU – all the main actors, what about the civilians in the process of change?

I could see the frustration and the hurt rising up in him as we talked.  I was going to Burma in a few days time, as a tourist, and I couldn’t help but feel that I had betrayed him somehow.  I wanted to reach across, and assure him that I wouldn’t forget everything I’ve learnt, that always, when I think of Burma, I think of him, and the others I worked with.  Their stories I heard and wrote about, are stories that never go away.

Me: What about going back?

E: Some have gone to other countries.  Going back…no original life…insecure….have to start their lives over.

Me: What about your home?

E: I can’t go back.  My village has already been taken by the government.  Land used to belong to the villagers on the border, and now it will go to the government and the businesses.

He wasn’t sure if when they returned, they would be free to set up their lives and start again, wherever they wanted to, or whether the government would decide.  Once again, I tried to imagine what that would be like.  Returning home after all those years of exile, and being told that you must build your life in….I don’t know – Staines or something like that.  A place you’ve never been before.

Me: What about the recent elections?  Suu Kyi winning, is a massive step in the right direction, do you feel inspired?

E – Its only the beginning.  On the ground – still so many problems, still unhappy and sad.  Not celebration time yet.  In the last ten years, I’ve never been back to my mother’s village.  This year, in March, I went and I was happy to see my relatives.  Happy to see many villagers.  They inspired me.  I see lots of things that inspire me to work harder.

Me: What have the lives of the villagers been like?

E: In hiding this whole time, around the jungles.  No stable place.  Army in search, they have to flee.  They are killed if caught.  Families, men, children, women.

Me: What about living as an EDP?

E: Illegal.  Everytime you go outside you think you will get arrested.  You have to bribe the police, or go to prison.  You get sent back to the border…

Our conversation was interrupted as the waitress cleared away our empty mugs, she glanced at us both, and bowed her head.  I smiled back, “Khab kun ka”, putting a screwed up napkin and spoon onto the plate.  When she was out of ear shot he continued.

E: I’m not happy in Thailand.  “Smiling people” for Westerners, for Burmese, they look down on them, don’t show any smiles.

Me: Is there no support from Thai people for what’s going on in Burma?

E: No real support.  A few Thais are aware, but depends on Thai media.  Read it in a negative way.  Just about immigrants stealing jobs…

We stopped talking right there, about Burma anyway.  He looked tired, older.  I felt that to carry on he would sink deeper, even though he was happy to continue.  We spent the rest of the day walking around the shops looking at cameras and sharing stories.  Updates on everyone else I worked with 8 years ago and how they were getting on.  Married with kids or still single, they were all still working ceaselessly and passionately for their cause.

We had lunch in a run-down cafe just around the corner from their office.  They relocated a few years ago, and it was nothing like I remembered it.  Tucked away, so discreetly, it would be too easy to forget they were even there.  We trekked to Victory Monument, where he was catching a bus back to his home along the border, in silence.  Glancing up at each other occasionally, I smiled at him.   When we said goodbye, I embraced him, and kissed him on the cheek, clung to his hand, not wanting to leave him.

Matthew said that with yoga and meditation and everything else we were doing, we’d become more sensitive,  and as I walked away, I carried some of his pain with me.  My shoulders shook, and I turned my face away from the crowds, as I crossed the overpass towards the BTS station.  I thought of all the things I had seen and experienced.  The struggle I was working through in facing up to all of it, and making peace with my past, and acceptance of my present.  What about my Burmese friends?  How will they ever find their peace?