35. I’m so zen. Yangon-Hpa-an

For a second I really thought we would just die there. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere, in 40°C, where barely paved road and a dog licking his balls were the only thing we could see. We couldn’t get to Yangon in one day. Probably not even in a week. There was no cars at all and even if local people took care of us they couldn’t do much to help us. After a whole day of hitchhiking that brought us only 80 km closer to our goal we took a night bus which we luckily found in Gwa, small town on the west of Myanmar. It was a good move as after arriving early in the morning we had the whole day for exploring the city.

But there was not much to explore. The Bogyoke market with hundreds of ready-to-spend-all-my-money tourists was probably one of the most interesting places, not even mentioning Shwedagon Pagoda that maybe was impressive but the Burmese heat and 10 000 kyats entrance fee didn’t make it very tempting so we decided to take few pictures and go home (What is home…?). Probably there are plenty of interesting hidden places there but we simply didn’t care and there was no one to actually show us where to go because, as I maybe mentioned, couchsurfing doesn’t work and isn’t even allowed in this country.

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Thabarwa center

The only time cs helped us was when we found a great meditation center near Yangon, called Thabarwa center. I heard good and bad things about it but in the end we could experience it ourselves. It was basically a meditation center and hospital in the middle of the village, a small community living together in order to help the others. All was based on donation, foreigners had their separated building with dorms and meditation halls. For me volunteering was crucial, though. At the start no one knew what to do as there was no leader or anything but finally, after 2 days, I found my ways to help. I did alms round, helping monks carrying the food they get every day from the local people on the streets. Together with a French couple and a great German girl Pia we cleaned a hospital hall that probably hasn’t see a mop for ages. It wasn’t a hospital as you can imagine. That one was on the ground floor of the building where everyone had their own wooden pallet to sleep, surrounded by their life belongings which usually included few dishes and a pee cup. Although most of them didn’t know what was going on in the end I’m sure they appreciated a sleep not in their own poo. The other “hospital” was just a hall covered with bamboo but at least patients had beds. There I was introduced to Rita, sweet and intelligent Burmese lady, who I was wheelchairing for the next 3 days. Most of the patients were disabled, physically or mentally so their only attraction was going out for a walk with us. Every day at 4 pm we took our lovely pupils for a ride around the village and I could see on their faces how greateful and happy they were. Such moments show you how small you are and how little you’ve experienced comparing to these people. How much you don’t appreciate what you have while they suffered so much and they can still smile all the time. It was a priceless experience.

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Thabarwa hospital
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Cleaning time!
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Alms round with our cool monks

Even though I didn’t plan anything than volunteering there was another thing that kept my mind busy and, in a way, opened it. I’ve never taken meditation too seriously although I always wanted to try it. Walking meditation that we did in the afternoons didn’t really convince me but the last day of our stay I attended a half day meditation retreat. After 4 hours of sitting and walking meditation in complete silence, only me and my mind, I felt like a new person. Although in the morning I was ready to kill someome, somehow I completely lost myself in meditation, separating my mind from a body which helped me looking at myself, at my life and the whole trip with a distance. As it wasn’t enough for me I tried ‘loving and kindness’ meditation which became my favourite. First love yourself, then the loved ones, the strangers and finally your enemies. We are all the same, creating one big family of this Earth and we definitely judge too much. Love and positive attitude towards life stayed with me for the next few days. It gave me the peace I lost a few weeks ago when I was tired of everything, filled with anger and irritation. I knew that this amazing feeling wouldn’t last forever and lots of hard work awaits me.

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Meditation session

The guys in the centre were great, I caught a great contact with Gabriela, a girl from Nicaragua, who stayed with me in the same dorm. We met a guy from Texas, John, who was an extraordinary, funny man, although a bit nervous. Chinese guys who joined us during wheelchairing, like most of Chinese, had interesting stories to tell which convinced me even more to go to China. One gentleman in a hospital, paralysed by some “bad demons”, as he said, surprised us by his intelligence, great English and his amazing harmonica skills. He enjoyed our company so much that he spent few hours reading our future from the stars to thank us for a ride. Incredible man. I enjoyed the atmohere of this place, the smiling people all around and even the dogs making wolf concerts in the middle of the night. The only disappointing thing was a discussion between us, foreigners, and our Malaysian nan. The topics prepared by us obviously led to some religious dillemas but instead of giving us a proper respond or simple “I don’t know” we got some ridiculous answers like from a priest on a religion class in the primary school. Then I realised every religion is exactly the same. No exceptions. And even though I still respect Buddhism for its philosophy I know you should take the best from it but definitely not follow it blindly. Religion is not enlightenment. Enlightenment is you.

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With our lovely patients 🙂

We were not the only ones that left that day so it was easier to pack and come back to our miserable life on the road. Getting out of Yangon was a nightmare but in the evening we managed to get to Hpa-an, the last place on our Myanmar map. Soe brothers guesthouse was really cheap so we stayed there for 3 nights. The first night we met a great Danish guy who we took for a dinner. We already had a terrible diarrhea so we dreamed about some ‘normal’ food but fortune wanted to torture us a little more. Morton, as a real Buddhist, shared with me his meditation experience and taught a little about harmonica as I really want to learn to play this instrument. I don’t think there’s much hope for me but I’ll definitely try.

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Mt Zwegabin. Here we started…
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…and here we finished 😉

The last day in Myanmar was probably one of the best. We rented a bike and went to Mt Zwegabin where after 2 hours of climbing through endless steps and listening to Callum’s cursing, all sweaty we got to the top. Views were incredible, though, as we were surrounded by the massive rocky hills emerging from the plains of Hpa-an. Our legs weren’t as happy though, after coming back down I got a clear message from them: “No more trekking, you psycho”. I think I’m gettting older. Saddan cave was the next destination and although I’m not the biggest cave explorer, this one was absolutely amazing. I would remove all the Buddha statues and Christmas lights that reminded me more of a disco than a temple but at least further down the nature was left alone so you could enjoy the darkness and absolute silence. Right in front of the exit we found a hidden paradise with a tiny lake surrounded by impressive karst formations and trees. As there was no tourists we enjoyed a quiet boat ride back to the entrance, thinking how tourism and selfie sticks may destroy the atmosphere of places like this…

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Exploring the caves
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Saddan cave’s surroundings

We couldn’t have asked for a better place to end our trip in Myanmar. When I rode the bike (I work on improving my driving skills), passing the local villages and smilling kids waving to us I realised how much I loved this country. I’m gonna miss these people. Goodbye Myanmar, Thailand is waiting!

 

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