I just left heaven.
One last sunrise dip in the Bay of Bengal, and I say a regretful farewell to Ngapali Beach, giving some serious thought to my conversation with the man I met yesterday in the internet shop. He is Burmese, probably in his fifties, worked for the international oil companies until his retirement. At precisely that moment, his wife, as he put it, "quit", dying suddenly, and laid waste to all of their plans for retirement, travel, leisure....suddenly, he was alone and heartbroken. Today he lives in Yangon, developing a non-profit organization which consists of resort hotels adjacent to and providing funding for schools for children in Bagan. "Today," he says "my heart is full", and incidentally, "are you interested in staying in Myanmar for a while as a teacher?"
Hmmmmm...., can I have a house on this beach?
But, as I am about to run out of pristine, mint-condition, USD, for the moment I need to get out of this country. Have I mentioned that you cannot get money in Myanmar? No, credit cards, no ATM's, no travelers cheques...only USD in perfect condition for which they will exchange crumpled, dirty kyats (pronounced 'chat') at about 800/1. So, after days of trying to re-book an Air Asia flight from inside the country, where the extremely narrow bandwidth internet moves at snail speed and Air Asia NEVER answers the telephone, I email Max and ask him to book a flight from Yangon to Bangkok. Never mind the original ticket, for another week hence, please just book something. Of course, what I have tried to accomplish for the past week takes him about 15 minutes.
A short flight from Thandwe airport to Yangon, a long night in another charmless, filthy, guesthouse in central Yangon. I am nursing a really nasty cold, so I cannot sleep and spend most of the night huddled in bed, playing solitaire on my iPad, doing battle with the mosquitos and waiting for morning. Another early morning taxi ride to the airport and the usual: long check in lines, immigration checkpoint and finally we pass into the departure terminal where I can have a cup of Nescafe; lots of coffee mate, too much sugar, but yes, heaven again!
From here it becomes a marathon: Yangon to Suvarnabhumi airport - I dare you to pronounce that! - where Bangkok is already beginning to swelter. Customs is a pretty simple affair in Thailand if you are a US citizen: ('Oh! A capitalist! You have money? You want to leave it here? Welcome! No prior visa needed!') and then a 40-minute taxi ride to Hualamphong train station. The taxi driver does not understand my repeated requests to turn up the AC until I finally get the bright idea of rolling down the window and allowing the hot air to circulate into the front of the taxi. Now he understands.... Arriving at Hualamphong station, around noon, I am told that first-class sleeper cars on the overnight train to Chaing Mai are available at 7:30 this evening.
There are now about 7 hours until I can board my train. I have been up all night. It is about 30 degrees in Bangkok and there is no AC in the station. I have a cold, I am high on Sudafed, I know I should eat something even though I have no desire for another meal of noodles, chicken, rice, vegetables, cooked in rancid grease... no desire for food of any kind really.
But there is amazing power in surrender. I am going to be here for several hours, so I ask the travel agent where I should go to eat. She tells me to leave my bag with her and directs me out of the station to a restaurant where I have the best meal since that amazing pork soup in Tai Pei. The restaurant is air-conditioned and serving the most wonderful chicken with red curry, a tender leg and thigh in a thick creamy amazing red sauce! Suddenly, I have an appetite.
Back at the station, I go into the internet shop. While I am waiting for the connection....a young Brazilian man comes in and sits down next to me. He is about 22, tall, gorgeous, and friendly in that completely engaging way only Brazilians can be. Soon, we are talking about everything, showing our photos to one another, and he doesn't seem to notice that I keep edging away as we talk because I am covered in sweat, and even with a cold I can smell myself...not pretty! Earlier, I paid the fiveTHB to use the toilet in the train station and while I was there I inspected the shower. No, I am not woman enough for that....
Without my noticing, the afternoon flies by. We return to the restaurant across the street, I order the red curry again and buy dinner for the young man. And then, suddenly it's time to leave.
I climb aboard the train and the conductor shows me to my cabin....my own, private, somewhat clean, air-conditioned space! A series of knocks, the conductor wants my tickets, someone delivering blankets, a stewardess takes my order for breakfast, takes my order for a beer - large please! I close the curtain, shed every dank, stinky article of clothing and bathe myself from head to toe in the tiny sink. The absence of sweat and dirt makes me almost euphoric. I find clean pajama bottoms and a cotton tank, the stewardess brings my beer. I sit by the window, drinking ice-cold beer and watching the darkening countryside pass by....
Heaven has many faces....