Travel Stories

in transit

    much as i love(d) myanmar, i am now at the airport in kuala lumpur, where i will spend my 3 hours in malaysia in transit drinking their famous “white coffee,” having a bowl of ipoh hor fun, using my credit card again! (i was almost totally out of cash in myanmar w no way to get more there), enjoying the sight of my first rain in 2 months, exploiting the free high speed wireless internet available at the airport (utilizing my well traveled international male power adaptor, of course) in this nation of 28m people i know nothing!! about, and will then be on my way to chennai, india, where i haven’t even booked a room and have no idea where the path will lead me until i rendezvous w sam in delhi three weeks from now.    

   i’ve enjoyed thinking of myself at times these days as a mendicant and poet, someone who is feeling more than thinking, quieting his mind, being more than doing, a monk wandering the streets seeking alms.  of course i know i’m just an american tourist, but there is also a way in which my “thinking” and active cognition have been substantially reduced in terms of their activity and dominance in my brain and have been not so much “replaced” as overwhelmed by “just” being in time and space and feeling   what I am conscious of, aside from the sights and sounds that abound and surround me, is an internal sense of comfort, awe, gratitude, appreciation, wonder, happiness.  these are states of being I am aware of, sensations, feelings.  they are far different than doing, thinking, solving, figuring out, planning, rushing, cramming, socializing, catching a quick cup of coffee and a bite, squeezing “it” all in.   of course, I am also aware there is are real differences between vacation and work, between retirement and employment, between being forty years old, raising a family, paying off a mortgage, and pulling hard in the harness traces, and being seventy years old contemplating the life you have lived and the choices that appeal to you in the life remaining, but beyond these obvious situational determinants, there is also no denying the energetic reception and emanations that characterize my state of being here and now, which is in some way the only time that is real as I “know” that word - real - to mean. 

Jumping Cat Monastery

Inle Lake is surrounded by steep mountains, and dozens of traditional Burmese, Shan, and Intha villages that cannot be reached by means other than boat. And pagodas that cannot be reached other than my foot. The lake rises and falls depending upon the season and the grace of the gods, goddesses, and “nats” of water and rain. Some of the village houses stand on stilts in the water whatever the height of the lake.  Others are seasonal or on land.  All trading and travel needs are met with the use of boats.  The scenery includes young boys riding water buffalo, men and women washing clothes, field workers and children waving, fishermen with nets, dugout canoes being paddled while standing -using one leg to move the long thin paddle through the water. Harvesting watercress,tomatoes, squashes, and corn being grown on floating islands made of river silt and river muck created over the centuries by people with nothing more than their backs and their shovels who do not greet you by asking, “How are you?” but rather, “Are you happy?”  An aquatic culture practicing aquatic farming with ecological awareness on small footpaths and busy boat lanes with bamboo dams, wonderful woven bamboo retaining walls, bamboo stakes and ties, bamboo houses and fences, And bamboo’s consciousness of strength, flexibility, versatility and utility in a land of earthly industry, of farming, weaving, carving, and craft.  Of diligent labor.

A floating restaurant named “Nice.”

A floating home for monks whose name translates to “Jumping Cat Monastery” and actually has jumping cats.

You should come here.

To see and contemplate people who do not walk or run except inside their houses, whose entire terra firma is often but twelve square feet of bamboo flooring filled with mats, bedding, a wood cooking stove, some pots and pans, family photographs, potted plants, posters of soccer teams from England, clothes drying on hooks, and bells ringing.  

I had wanted to leave some of you with the jumping cats, relatives of whom once lived in your home, but wasn’t sure what the monks would want, so I just eased you into the laketo become one with the fishes, and the silt, and the floating islands which support the plants that feed the people who grow and live and thrive and die here, and who asked when you entered their waters if you were happy.