S: burma 2010
FC: burma 2010
1: This trip is going to be so much more about learning than teaching. It's as much about crossing the boundaries of friendship as crossing the boundaries of countries.
2: So, I actually don't leave for Burma until Saturday, but I'm leaving on a camping trip with my family tomorrow until then, and I won't have access to the internet. Thus, this email has to be sent now. There are two things I want to cover. The first of which is the rules of communicating. The second of which is just the story about how the Burma trip came together. First things first. In case you didn't know, Burma (The Union of Myanmar) is ran by a military junta. They are extremely paranoid and may or may not monitor emails. The woman who I corresponded with to get my current fellowship was extremely cautious over the web, so I thought I would do the same. Words not to be used in emails are: government, teaching, and Lumbini (name of the school I will be teaching at). So, I thought it would be fun to have code words.When I refer to the government, I will call it Gary. So if I say "Gary was a pain in the ass today, because he wouldn't let me into the restaurant," the government didn't let me into a restaurant. | Instead of "teaching kids," I'm going to be "chilling with my friends." And instead of Lumbini, I will say Pagoda. So you'll probably getting a lot of "Me and my friends had a fun time chilling at the Pagoda today. We wrote some poems and then played soccer." There you have it. If you are going to reply to my emails, use the same keywords, although it might just be better to not reply at all, unless you are just keeping me updated with your life, WHICH YOU ALL SHOULD DO.Second things second, the story behind this whole trip is kind of ridiculous. Some of you already know it, and some of you don't, so I thought I'd share it. A year and a half ago, you could've convinced me that Burma was a flavor of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I had no idea it was a country or where the country was. I found out about the country because I made friends with one of the two Burmese students at my college, who happened to live on my freshman dorm floor. | His name is Thet, and he is a champion. Through my friendship with Thet, I found out about Burma and its culture, history, and politics. Honestly though, I really only learned what Thet told me, and I still consider my knowledge very limited. Anywho, at my school there is a fellowship called the Initiative for Service Fellowship. It was Thet's idea that I applied for the scholarship and went to teach in Burma. I'm an overly ambitious guy who commits to everything and when I romanticized the idea of teaching English in Burma to Thet, he made it become a reality. He gave me all the resources to do this and forced me to go through with it. I wrote up the application and the essays and talked about how I've always wanted to do service and how I wanted to go over to Burma and help out and all of that jazz, but soon all of that became a load of cliched crap. In the midst of my application, winter break arrived and Thet came to
3: St. Louis to live at my house for a couple weeks. On the last day at two in the morning, Thet told me he was dropping out of Carleton (my college) and returning to Burma. I was very respectful of his decision and tried to talk him through all of his reasoning. It seemed like he was entirely sure, so I just asked him a lot of questions and all that. By the end of the conversation though he was still convinced he wasn't coming back. His reason behind leaving was that he just didn't like the American culture. He felt like he couldn't fit in. That's when going to Burma became more of a personal journey for me. I wanted to bring some America over there and bring some Burma back, so that if I ever come in contact with any more Thet's, I might be able to help that transition. However, when winter term came, Thet had reconsidered and decided to stay at Carleton. He decided he would give it one more try. Winter term he got a girlfriend and took a bunch of classes he actually enjoyed, one of which being Digital Foundations, | an introductory class to film, which Thet is super passionate about. It was around this time, I found out that my application was accepted. To the great distress of my parents, I was going to Burma. Spring term, I worked on getting my plane tickets and arranging for my visa and all that jazz. It should also be noted that from the very beginning to this very second I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I AM DOING OVER THERE. Originally I was going to teach Irish literature in a high school over there. My contact, Dorothy, contacted me though and informed me that the high school doesn't really need anyone, but that the elementary school really needed help. I asked what I would be doing, and she told me we'd figure that out once I get over there. I asked her what I should put on the application. She just told me to put down that I was teaching English. So that's what I put, and that's what I've been telling everyone who has asked. In her words, | "The Burmese like to go with the flow. Just get over here and we'll figure it out." For some reason, that didn't really scare me at the time...although now I'm kind of freaking out a little bit. Anyway, I rode my idealism through Spring term, until the very end when Thet once again. told me that he was going to drop out of Carleton and "This time," he said. "It's for real." He told me his girlfriend broke up with him, and he just didn't want to be here anymore. I yelled at him for about a half hour about how he was acting like an over dramatic middle school girl, but after talking for a long time, he convinced me of his decision. Although I think the roots of his choice are in his inability to straddle the culture he was thrown into with the culture he was raised in, he is also returning because his passion is film, and he firmly believes that the best way to advance in film is through experience and college. He then recited off a number of people and projects he already had lined up.
4: He comforted me, but I was still a little uneasy about his decision to leave. Now, here I am, less than a week away from going to a country run by a military junta, that I still really know nothing about, where I don't know what I'm doing, and where I don't even know where I'm living for a friend who had just peaced from my school. So yeah. That's the story, the prelude to the adventure.
6: I thought I'd send one more email before I left tomorrow. Thet finally got in contact with me and will be picking me up from the airport (thank god). The woman who is my contact, Dorothy, has also arranged to hook me up with 100,000 kyats (Burmese currency) upon my arrival. This is a relief because Burma doesn't have banks. That means I had to go to the bank and take out $800 in cash for my 8 weeks there. The government has also set up a fake exchange rate, so if you go to any "official" place, you'll get riped off, and if you go to an "unofficial" place, the locals would also try to rip you off if they thought you were a foreigner. So yeah. Getting money is awesome. From the airport on, I think Thet will show me a nice, cheap hostel/inn to stay at, and I will figure out things with my school. I have also finally been informed that I will most likely be teaching "reading at the upper levels"...although I don't really know what that means. All I know is that I'm bringing A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Adventures of Peter Pan, so maybe I'll teach those? So yeah, although it happened kind of late, really late actually, I now actually have some sort of tentative plan. Huzzah! I would also like to ask all of you not to reply directly through this email or the first email I sent out. I'm going to delete them as soon as I send this, so I don't have them on my account. If you'd like to reply, start a new email. After, this message though, feel free to reply to any new email I send out. I also reread my first email and forgot to mention why we have to use secret words for teaching. The reason is actually because it is technically illegal for a foreigner to teach a citizen of Burma. However, it is not illegal for a foreigner to teach a teacher of a citizen of Burma. Thus, that's what's on my visa. It's a loop hole that a lot of other foreign teachers have exposed, so I'm definitely not the first. I'm going to start packing now. Keep the emails a-coming.
8: Hey Everybody! I made it! Whoot! 36 hours of traveling baby, but I'm here.Burma is freaking CRAZY! But crazy in an awesome way. I actually got in yesterday, and Thet was there to pick me up from the airport like a champ. His dad was actually the one who drove, so I through my things in the back of his truck, and then experienced my first of three ridiculous Burmese drives. There really aren't any traffic regulations...or any regulations for that matter here, so people drive like maniacs. Imagine every car chase in the Jason Bourne movies, except everyone drives like that and instead of driving really awesome, new European cars, every car is at least twenty years old. You can't even stick your elbow out of the window, or else it will get hit. haha. I've started to think of every taxi drive as a theme park ride. So I get to ride two rides a day at least! Hurray! I really like the Inn I'm staying at. It's called Okinawa Inn, and the people there are really nice. I already made friends with the dude | working the counter, named Then Uu (I have absolutely no idea how to spell his name), and I think we're fina catch the world cup game tonight at 1:00 AM in some bar. Right now I have a single room with air-conditioning, but it's a little too much for my budget, so tomorrow night I'm switching to dormitory style with no air-conditioning. It will be more legit. And I can pillow talk with strangers. Win. I saw my first Pagoda today as well. I was only there for about two hours, but oh baby, it was flippin sweet. I met my older firned named Khin Myat Thwe (for every Burmese name I spell from now on, just keep in mind that it's probably wrong), and she introduced me to EVERYONE at the Pagoda. It was a little overwhelming. Normal meet and greets overwhelm me. Meet and greets with everyone around a Pagoda, all of whom have foreign names, is redonkerous. I think I actually ended up retaining negative names. But it was still cool. All of my new friends asked me a billion questions. | One kid in particular was obsessed with knowing whether or not I know how to dance. I know not all of you have seen me at my college dance parties, but I'm a dancing fiend, so I already agreed to teach this guy my moves. There were a lot of young kids at the Pagoda I met, but I also met some people older than me who kind of ran the place. They are all women, and the majority of them are young and pretty. I think I'm still the youngest though. They kept joking about me being the young boy in the whole Pagoda. I was sufficiently flattered. However, the day was cut short, just cause Khin didn't really know what I was doing yet. So I was sent home and here I am now. Burma is beautiful. The streets are surreal. I will try to send photos soon. I'm at an internet cafe right now and I didn't bring my cable connection. I think the visuals will do a better job describing the view than my words. I've been walking around a lot, and I'm definitely the only white
9: person for about every five thousand Burmese people I see. Maybe more. What's even more ridiculous than that though is that I've probably seen more White people, than I've seen fat Burmese people. Everyone here is extremely healthy and fit and thin. It's really interesting, especially because the food is THE BEST I'VE EVER EATEN (sorry father, but it's the truth). It's all so fresh and intricately made. Everything has like 12 different ingredients, all of which are less than a day old. I honestly look forward to every single meal. So yeah. I guess because the food is healthy and everyone is always active, they stay thin. God knows if I ate the way I'm eating now back with American food, I might actually put on weight. Let's see... oh yeah. I might go chill with some other friends. I was supposed to potentially meet a person two minutes ago who wanted to chill with me. He was even going to pay for everything, which could be cool, but I don't know how practical or safe it would be. | Tomorrow I'm going to chill all day at the Pagoda and probably meet up with Thet after that. I'll try to shoot you an email with some photos in the next couple of days. Oh yeah, I tried Myanmar's beer. It's adequately called "Myanmar." It tastes like college beer. Yum. I miss all you. ALL of you. That means even you , Phil, the awesome guy from the restaurant I worked at, and yeah, even you lady who works at Vantage credit, who gave me my 100's to take over here. Send me emails keeping me updated about your lives. I want to know!
14: Hello Everyone, A few updates. I've broken them into good things and bad things. I will give the bag things first, because it's always better to end on good things. I've been trying to think for about a day now of the perfect analogy to describe what is going on in my digestive track. The only image that came into my mind was when God crushed Lucifer and all his minions and sent them on their epic fall to the underworld. All of the good eating had its price, baby. And I've been paying it all day yesterday and today. I think the worst is over though. My stomach will probably be adjusted in the next couple days (I hope to Jaysus). Funny story. What's worse than the runs, you ask? Try the runs in the dark in a soaking wet bathroom because it also serves as the shower. Yeah. I was on the toilet fighting a losing battle already when the power went out. There were no windows, so I just sat thereand cursed the lord. Yeah, I kind of forgot that Myanmar is a third world country, but it definitely is. The power cuts out between 2 to 10 times a day. Storms make it worse, and it's the rainy season. whoot. I didn't want to fill the first email with too much negative, but Yangon is am extremely poor city. I can't walk around without feeling a little ashamed. You see a lot of sad things...naked babies sleeping on the sidewalk next to their mother working a vending stall, a shit ton of stray dogs, dead rats, live rats, and yeah...just really poor people. Everyone always looks so happy though and is always very polite, but for some reason that just makes me even more sad. By rule, being a foreigner, everyone treats you very kindly. Sometimes it makes me feel nice. Other times it makes me feel uncomfortable.I met Gary about half an hour after I sent my first email. It wasn't a very long meeting, but I will remember it for a long time. I have a picture I will show you when I come back to the states. It's nothing serious at all. Just another one of those surreal, sad occurrences that puts things in perspective. ALRIGHT TIME FOR THE POSITIVE!!!!!!!!! Yesterday, I chilled at the Pagoda all day long with my friends. Near the Pagoda, there is a library and a gym, and that's where I spend most of my time. Sometimes my friends take me into their shops, but most of the time I just chill in the library and read to my friends and to myself or hang out in the gym where I pone chidlens in all sorts of games. Yesterday, I showed my friends how to dance American style. It was awesome. I started out with the Randy, then showed them the moon walk. Then we worked on some arm moves and ended with the Harlem Shake.
15: Everyone was dancing up a ball. I felt like a million bucks. After that I played some basketball. Coincidentally enough, the gym got a table tennis table THAT day. So I thought I would own some of my friends. Little did I know that I was going to get my ass handed to me by a third grader. I was literally punished. It was awesome though. I might be at an even skill level...but if that kid was my age, I'm convinced he'd go to the Olympics. Last night I also went to my first legit Burmese bar with Thet, Khant Khant (another girl from my college), and some of their friends. It was pretty fun. We played some pool. Then the power went out. Then it came on. Then we played more pool. Then it went off. Then it went on and such and such. Just trying to put things in perspective for y'all. Today, I went back to the Pagoda and started making friends with some of the older ladies. They are all really kind. Then I played my first game of football (soccer) and scored two hat tricks...which was still awesome even though my competition was twenty little kids. My relationships with my friends are already starting to blossom. One of my friends will never let go of my hand and holds it everywhere we go. Another always tries to feed me, and everyday when I leave the Pagoda everyone comes up and says good bye.Today I also led my first class. It was gym, and it was fantastic. We started with some relay races that I made up on the spot and ended with this Indian tag game I learned at Carleton's International Fest. You draw a big square on the floor and divide the players into two teams. One team has to stay inside the square while the other team sends one player into the square, who has to stay on one foot. The one-footed player has to try to tag as many players of the other team as possible without putting a foot down. Once the foot goes down, the teams switch places. Also, no one can run outside the square, or else they're out. My friends LOVED that game. They loved it so much that even my older friends started wondering to the gym to watch the pandemonium. It was sweet. Tomorrow I'm going clubbing with my friend Nay, who I met while I was still at Carleton through Thet. That should be interesting. Saturday, I'm going to a discussion in the morning and one of Thet's friend's birthday parties at night. Sunday I'm attending one of Khant Khant's classes and then going to the world cup game at night.
16: Yo.A crap ton of things have happened since I last emailed you. Life suddenly got super busy and exciting, and I'm pumped to share some stories with you. Before that though, I thought I'd mention some general information about Burma that I think might interest you. First, there are no hot showers. There aren't even luke warm showers. Only Norwegian fjord water showers. It's great. Second, there is no toilet paper. You must use a hose to rinse your butt. The only exception to this rule is my guest house, which has toilet paper. This explains why I have only been pooping at my guest house. I'm still intimidated by the hose. Third, you eat the majority of your meals with a fork and a spoon. You use the fork in your bad hand to push the food into the spoon, which you use with your good hand, and then you eat it. There you have it. Now time for the good stuff. Thursday after I emailed you, I went and got dinner. After dinner I saw some guys playing chinlone in the street. Chinlone is the Burmese version of hacki sack, except rather than a sack, you kick a ball made out of cane wood. This wasn't the first time I saw some guys playing, but it was the first time I thought I'd muster up some courage to join the circle. I should mention that I have played chinlone before at Carleton, and I used to be a hacki sack champion. Saying that, I was about even with these guys, which really surprised them and everyone else on the street. We played for two hours, and at the end my heels were twice the size they should have been (I was wearing sandals, and you are SUPPOSED to play barefooted). It was awesome though, and I limped home happy.Friday, so one of the older friends at the Pagoda didn't show up, so my older friend who ran the show decided to throw me into one of the shops by myself for an entire day with some of my little friends. They were around 9 years old. It was intense. I envisioned teaching, like most things, through an overly idealistic lens, but being head of a shop with some pretty hyperactive friends really humbled me, especially because my friends didn't really know English. We still played some awesome games though. We played some drama improv games. I taught them heads up seven up. Then we had some math relay races. Later, I taught them how to shoot a basketball. It was sweet. Later that day, I got an impromptu call from my friend, Khant Khant, asking me if I wanted to explore the city with her and get dinner. I'm always down for exploring, so I accepted. She is Burmese, but she hasn't really experienced the city much, so we just kind of wandered around aimlessly like I had been doing earlier in the week. We then came to an entrance of an extremely sketchy building. The entrance was hardly noticeable, sandwiched between two vendors, but it caught our eye so we decided to explore. As we ascended the stairs, each floor got sketchier and sketchier,
17: until we finally got to the top which looked like the sketchiest floor of all, where we peered into a worn down room and... FOUND A GROUP OF GUYS DOING THIS: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/200706/foot_volleyball/ Watch the video. Its competitive chinlone. And the guys were going nuts. Then they invited me to play. My ankles were still swollen, but I accepted. It was awesome. Then they invited me to come back any day between four to six. They play everyday during that time, and then open up their bar/nightclub afterward, which they also invited me to. It was honestly like the movie fightclub. Just people going at it chinlone style in the middle of this sketchy ass warehouse. haha. It was freaking awesome. I have since bought protective chinlone socks and am going back to the warehouse tomorrow, when I will hopefully reclaim my honor (i was owned the first game). I have to leave soon, so the next two days will be typed in less detail, but they were probably the richest, at least today was. Saturday. Chilled with Thet. Saw the inside of first Burmese friend's house. Then I went clubbing, where I dominated the dance floor and everyone kept looking at me, and all of the Burmese friends that came with me were just having the time of their lives because we were the center of attention. Foreigners get into clubs free, and everyone already was staring at me before I started dancing like a maniac. That was when I had my first interaction with a Burmese woman outside of the Pagoda or Thet's friends. Two ladies danced with me for a little bit. I made some interesting cultural observations. For instance, they only started dancing with us once the girls who we brought with us left. And once the girl we brought with us came back, the new girls kind of had a stare down with them and then left. Important cultural detail: THERE IS NO HOOKING UP IN BURMA. I will send a later email explaining how guys get girls. It's really interesting. Sunday (today). I sat in on Khant Khant's class today. She is doing a really awesome photography workshop with some older kids at a monastery. She also let me lead an activity. I did pictionary telephone. It's a fun game I don't have time to explain. It works on communication skills. During her class, the head monk was leading an offering. Sometimes Burmese people gather in some type of assembly or reunion and present an offering to the monastery. Today, a bunch of sailors who were childhood friends had a reunion at the monastery. They invited me to have lunch with them after class was over. Khant Khant's kids didn't stop taking pictures of me.
18: The head monk took a picture of me and let me SIT on his chair next to him, which is something that apparently doesn't happen very often or not at all. Then I talked with the head monk (through Khant Khant who was translating) and I decided that I am actually going to become a monk in that monastery for my last week here. More details to follow. After that, I had lunch with the sailors, who were a great group of guys. They kept asking me if I was married or had a wife or girlfriend. They were your stereotypical bachelors. haha. Then they gave me the Burmese version of chewing tobacco, which I ignorantly accepted. Then I smoked a cigarette that was wrapped in a leaf instead of paper, and THEN WE PLAYED FOOTBALL. Barefooted football on a thin layer of sand that was seriously like sandpaper. It was hardcore, but my team won. whoot. Then I rode the bus back with one of KHant KHant's students who offered to take me. He is really nice. Jo Nye Way... I think is his name. AND NOW I'm here and have to go. I finally have pictures, but I don't have time to send them right now.
24: Hey Everyone, Alright, so I already tried to send this email once... but the power got cut in the middle of it and erased about two pages worth of typing so as you can probably imagine, I’m a little agitated right now. Haha. Anywho, I promised I would make this email even BETTER than the first, so here we go. Before I catch you up on what I’ve been up to the past couple days I thought I would educate y’all on a couple of things. First, everyone here goes by their full name. So whenever I meet someone new, I have to remember their first, middle, and last name, which is super difficult already without the foreign language. Second, restaurants round your bills down most of the time. The conversion rate is 980 kyats for 1 dollar, so if your bill is like 6100, they will only make you pay 600. It’s awesome. Most people are just really laid back about life and money which is pretty cool. Alright, now time to explain about the dating culture which is strangely very similar to that of Ireland, which in turn makes it very similar to that of American middle school. Here’s the deal: If a guy likes, he must “propose” to her by saying I love you. Usually he has to propose two or three times, because its customary for the girl to reject the proposals the first couple of times. However, the girl can also take as long as she wants to answer the guy’s proposal. And I mean she can take as LONG as she wants. For instance, my friend Nay’s dad has to wait 3 YEARS for his wife to answer his proposal, which sucks because guys really can’t propose to another girl before their last proposal has been answered. Crazy. The girls take a long time answering the proposals, because once the proposal is answered, the two are practically married, so that is the time when the girl has to see if she really likes the guy. Break-ups are extremely rare in Burmese culture, and what’s even rarer are second chances. Guys don’t want to be with girls who have been with another guy, and girls don’t want to be with a guy who has been with another girl. Thus, I will probably remain girlfriendless, not that I’m looking even though the cute librarian, Sandy, keeps giving me subtle hints, and every time another teacher comes in the room they always exchange a few Burmese words, then laugh, and then look at me, followed by Sandy looking away slightly embarrassed. So yeah, saying all that, a “hook up” culture is non-existent well mostly non-existent. There are a few extremely rare girls who will hook up with a guy, but 99% of the time they will ask for money afterward.It’s really interesting slash a little scary to think that what is such a common occurrence at my school, Carleton, and in so many other American communities is the equivalent of prostitution here. Also, after talking with Thet, he reaffirmed my previous notion that dancing with those two girls at the club is extremely rare. Girls usually just don’t do that unless they’re hookers which I don’t think those girls were hopefully god damnit. Monk time! So yeah, I’m going to be a monk for my last week here. I will shave my head, get a pair of sapphire robes, and chill out at the monastery. I want to be a monk, because I think it will give me a lot of time to reflect and grow. I also want to try it out because I don’t think the opportunity will ever present itself again. And I want to give it a go, because it’s a
25: challenge I want to see if I can overcome. You only eat twice a day, once at 5 in the morning, the other right before noon. After that, you fast until 5 in the morning the next day. You also walk around bare-footed collecting alms from different people and shops for your food to eat. When I visited the monastery, the head monk made me feel so comfortable, and all of the little chidlen monks just flocked around me and were so happy that I want to return and chill out with them. I have pictures of the monksbut sending pictures has turned into a pretty big puzzle. I’ve heard rumors of a high speed wifi place that I will try to check out later. Also, my camera has gone to heaven. Fo real real. I still have all the other pictures I’ve taken, which I will still try to send. Thet said he will hook me up with his camera until I leave in the mean time, which I am eternally grateful for. Alright, so here is what I’ve been up to the past couple of days! Staying at the guest house has started to really pay off. During the last couple of days, some really cool, young people have come to stay in the dormitory with me. First, there was Urie (sp?), a 21 year old from Australia, who is studying Wine Science. He took a year off his schooling to trek all the way to France, where he will resume his studies. His favorite book is East of Eden, which we discussed endlessly along with Mark Twain, whom he told me is sort of an idol for him, and a countless amount of poets. If he wasn’t cool enough, there’s Mao Mao. Mao Mao is a 25 year old from China, who just quit his job as a Chinese anchor man, because he didn’t believe in the political views the government was forcing on the station. He is now traveling around Southeast Asia. He told me his dream is to open a guest house with his parents, who he described as “Chinese Hippies.” He said his father wants to name the guest house “Peter Pan” guest house, which made me flip my shit and promise that I will one day stay there. Mao Mao was also exceedingly curious about whether or not one should call a Black person Black or African American, so we talked about that for a while. Lastly, there is Mel, a drop dead gorgeous 23 year old from France, who rolls her own cigarettes and smokes them like it’s her job. She just got her masters in social anthropology, and is traveling around Myanmar against her mother’s will, something I could greatly relate toso yeah, together, from four different continents, with our powers combined we created THE ADVENTURE TEAM! We went out and had dinner. It started to rain during the meal and in less than an hour the streets were flooded with rain that went up to my knee. We caught a taxi home, but the taxi stalled on our street. The water was literally flowing throw my door onto my feet. So, I pushed the taxi all the way down the street to a main road, while the others went to the beer house. Haha. Then I trekked back through the flood to the beer house and had a well-deserved beer. It was then that I talked with the adventure team about their lives and travels and such. I’m telling you about this experience and these people, because honestly, the most enjoyable part of traveling for me is not seeing the sights, but rather meeting the people. Earlier that same day, I went to go play chinlone with the guys, but they weren’t there.
26: Disappointed, I started walking back down the five flights of huge stairs. That’s when I noticed Fun World Arcade to my leftand its 3 DDR machines. For twenty cents I got five games. It was incredible. A crowd soon formed around me and I was dancing until I couldn’t see from all the sweat flowing into my eyes. So yeah, I’ve been spending a lot of my free time playing chinlone and owning in DDR, both of which have become my daily exercise as well. Haha. Things at the Pagoda have been pretty relaxed. I showed my friends how to play kickball the other day and have been reading them a lot of books. On the horizon, I’m going to show them how to play dodge ball and do this activity I really enjoyed in elementary school where you listen to a song, close your eyes, envision it, and then try to draw it. Fun stuff! Alright, now I want all of your help with something. Yesterday, something really troubling happened. I went to the most famous Pagoda (actually Pagoda) in Yangon, possibly in Myanmar with Thet and Thet’s friend Thin Thin. Another friend of Thet, who he warned me is a huge tool showed up later. Things were really awesome at first. The Pagoda is beautiful and Thin Thin was an encyclopedia of Buddhist history, so I was really learning a lot. It was at night so the golden Pagoda shined so wonderfully against the sky. Things kind of changed whenever the tool friend arrived. Thet, Thin Thin, and I were sitting on the edge of a prayer room, when the tool came. In trying to jump on the edge, he put his hands in bird shit, then argued with Thin Thin for two minutes that he really didn’t put his hands in bird shit, though we all saw him, and then he shook my hand with the same hand he put in bird shit. So he really didn’t make a good first impression nor escape the picture of a tool Thet had put in my mind. Then something perplexing and incredibly scary passed. A teenage boy wearing a full-fledged Nazi shirt walked past us. On the front of his shirt was a picture of Hitler saluting with the word NAZI printed in bold, red letters several times. On the back of the shirt was a large Swastika. The sight immediately sparked a debate between me and the Burmese. I said that someone needed to tell that kid what that shirt meant, and then he needed to take it off. They informed me he probably didn’t know, but that it didn’t really matter, because Burma wasn’t affected by the Nazi’s. During our debate, a white woman saw the boy and approached him and began educating him. I talked to the woman afterward and she told me he didn’t know what it meant and that she had told him. That’s when the tool told me he’d wear a Nazi shirt, because he thought it looked cool. Now, I’m pretty sure this guy knew what the Nazis did, so I got really pissed off when he said that. If we weren’t standing twenty feet away from one of the holiest structures in the world, I probably would’ve started a fight. Instead, I just shut my mouth and didn’t say anything for the rest of the night. Before I left, Thet told me he knew I was really angry, but that he, also, supported the boy wearing the shirt. His statement was left at that, so I really don’t know any of his arguments, but him saying that made me even angrier. I understand that it’s ok to wear that a shirt if you don’t know what it means. I’m not saying that kid should’ve gotten the shit kicked out of him. But I think that he needs to know what that shirt means, and if he decides to wear that shirt after
27: he knows, then he’s going to get an ass beating. I don’t know. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. But either way, I’m really glad that happened. It was such a bizarre experience seeing somewhere wearing a Nazi shirt for one, but wearing a Nazi shirt at one of the holiest places in the world. Nuts, man. Nuts. That’s it for now. I love you Aaaaaaand, that’s where my first email ended, but I never got a chance to send it, so here is the second email (sorry this email is so ridiculously long, but yeahstuff has gone down): So I typed the first email when I was at school, and when I came back to my guest house, my friend from Carleton, Orion, was waiting. Orion is a champion traveler, who is also White and has a pirate moustache. Orion asked me where I wanted to go, and I told him we should go to the chinlone ring. He thought that sounded cool, so we were off. Upon arriving at the building, someone I didn’t know greeted me on one of the lower floors and asked me if I wanted a body massage. I laughed at him and said, “No. Chinlone. Homie.” Then someone I recognized saw me and took me to the upper floor to set up the net. While I was playing chinlone, Orion wandered around. By the way, I was actually doing well. When Orion returned he didn’t look too pleased. I sensed he wanted to leave, so I stopped my game and we headed out. I thought he was just bored, but when we exited the building he said, “I don’t think you should go back there again.” I asked, “Why.” He said, “Dude, that’s a prostitution ring.” It turns out, that the back hallway was just full of rooms of beautiful girls showering. Orion stumbled upon it while he was looking around. That, coupled with the guy asking us if we wanted a body massage, kind of did it in. Sooooooooooooooooooo yeah. My chinlone group is a bunch of pimps. However, I talked with Thet about it, and apparently body massages are actually really popular in Burma, and they’re not the same thing as prostitution. So, there is a really big possibility that place really does just give body massagessaying that there is still a big possibility that they would never outright just ask us if we want a hooker so they would refer to the prostitution as body massages. Either way, I lost my chinlone circle, though people play on my street every day, so it’s not too bad. After that, Orion and I met up with some other people from Carleton. It wasn’t very fun. I hadn’t realized how much I was enjoying myself without Carleton kidsor I guess White Carleton kids rather, because Thet and Khant Khant have been awesome. Later, I met a woman from Oklahoma staying at my guest house, which was awesome, and she informed me that there is a lady from St. Louis she knows teaching somewhere in Yangon, so that was a nice connection. The previous night I had given Yuri, the Australian, my Dead Poets’ Society notebook (there is a group of kids at Carleton that go out into the forest and read poems from this book and then assign themselves things to do during the week to force them to live more deliberately). I had given him the notebook, because we had been talking poetry, and I thought he’d enjoy reading some of the poems in there. I also told him I had some poems in there, especially towards the end. So, when I had come back from grabbing a beer with Katie from Oklahoma, Yuri informed me that he had actually read the whole journal and had really liked the poem “The Last Day of Summer” and “Gardening.” Here is “The Last Day of Summer.” Gardening has only been hand written.
28: The Last Day of Summer Disappearing and reappearing From behind the trees lining the river’s bank, We moved as if the slightest sound Would shoot down the moon And reveal us all As naked as the soft glow on our shoulders. And then all at once, we ran. We ran like maniacs being chased by regret. We ran with all of puberty’s appendages Clapping against anything they could reach As if they were applauding this ultimate climax To the last scene of the final act Of the four season play. We hit the water with a vengeance And all turned into silver shadows, | Wading and playing and dancing With the water suspended around us Like reality had been dissolved to dreams. Clay upon clay, We swam in time’s waves. We swam back to undo the iron on our heels, We swam back to break sorrow and jealousy and deception Under the hammer of our passion’s truth. And then her hand brushed against mine And I stopped my stroke And let the current take me. I floated down the river on my back, Submerging my ears, So that all I could hear was my heart. Across from me, a star shot across the sky, And I wished that I’d never wish again.
30: I wish I had my journal with me so I could type up “Gardening” as well, because “Gardening” was written in response to one of the Dead Poets’ Society’s assignments. The assignment was to woo women, and I pretty much wrote this poem for a girl using gardening as a metaphor for our relationship. Anywho, hassle me and I’ll send it later. So I told this story to Yuri—the really long version of the story—and he was totally pumped about it. He was so pumped about it that later, when I told him I’ll definitely email him more of my poetry, he asked, “Will you also send me the Dead Poets’ Society weekly assignments?” That’s when I told him I had a better idea, and I grabbed the Dead Poets’ journal, turned to the first page(where all the poets sign if they are part of the society) and had him sign it, making him the first non-Carleton, international Dead Poet. It was flipping awesome. So yeah, then the adventure team all had some beer, because Yuri was leaving the next day, and Mao Mao left today. He gave me Puddinhead Wilson by Mark Twain to read, and I decided to give him Garrison Kieler’s Book of Good Poems. It was a really good moment. The next day, I met up with Thet after chilling at the Pagoda, which was bomb, and we went out and finished talking about the Nazi shirt, which was good, and then we found this pier to watch the sunset on the river, which was super bromantic but awesome nonetheless. We talked about life and Burma and suchand now he might actually come back to Carleton. Win. After we watched the sunset, we went to an Indian restaurant and we ate SHEEP BALLS! Whoooooo! And they were delicious. Thet and I made a pact that we were going to eats balls while I was in Burma, and last night was the night, baby. We washed them down with sweet Lassi’s, and then I took the greatest poop known to mankind, one of the first solid ones I’ll have you know. Haha. The old adventure team has moved on, and there is a new one composed of Rie from Japan, Dino from Switzerland, and Yeitz from Denmark. Although, the first adventure team really was an exceptional group. I’m doing my music and drawing activity today, and it’s really rewarding. It’s just amazing how kids of any culture and language can listen to the same song and come up with very similar pictures. It made me realize that music and art are universal. We listened to Hoppipolla by Sigur Ros. I highly recommend it. Then you can draw a picture and know that little Burmese kids probably drew something really similar today. On a bad note, something really strange is going on around my feet. My toe nail is falling off my pinky toe on my left foot, and I can’t remember if I hit it or not. An infestation of what I hope is only athlete’s foot has also taken over that toe and might be going underneath my nail. It’s really gross. And on my right leg, a cut I had might be infected. I have been limping all day. I already cleaned it this morning, but yeah, it’s not really getting better, though I also haven’t been off my feet. I’m going to go ahead and cut this email off here. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but this thing is already too long. Oh yeah, Thet hooked me up with a camera. That was tight. Aight. Peace and happy summer adventures. Love, Joe
34: Hello All, So, I have a nice story for you. Last Wednesday at school, I met this guy named Maung Maung Htwe. I was just walking around when he approached me out of nowhere and asked me if I liked beer. I told him of course I like beer. He then offered to buy a beer for me sometime. He asked me if Friday worked. I said sure. I asked him which kick was his, and he informed me that he was actually one of the school bus drivers. He also told me he could show me his house and take me out to dinner as well. I committed even though I was slightly weary of sketchy strangers after the whole chinlone prostitution fiasco, but I also really wanted to prove to myself that strangers can be trusted. Anyway, eventually Friday came along. That’s the day that I sent my last email to you all, and by the time evening came and I was to catch a taxi to Maung Maung Htwe’s, I could barely walk from the pain in my right foot. I sucked it up though and hobbled my ass up the 6 flights of stairs to his apartment, a little scared the whole time, because I knew if something sketch were to go down I couldn’t run. Soon Maung Maung Htwe noticed me limping and asked me what was wrong. I showed him the cut on my ankle and the cut on my toe. He told me that his cousin was a doctor and that he could take me to see her. I told him that was okay, all I needed was a beer. Though, he kept on insisting, and that combined with the quite present pain in my feet, convinced me and Maung Maung Htwe and I were off to see the doctor. After a while, I noticed we were driving around in a super poor part of town, and when we pulled up in front of the clinic I started to have second guesses. It was a free clinic, and if you know what free clinics are like in the U.S. you can imagine what they look like in Burma. It was a dingy building with scary people in the waiting room, and all I had was the bus driver named Maung Maung Htwe, who I didn’t know at all. I really don’t know why I went through with it. Haha. I just kept believing that it was going to be okay, and all this sounds melodramatic now, but three days ago I was flipping my shit out. Once it was my turn, they took me back into a room that looked like it came out of one of the Saw movies, and told me to lay down. I should also mention that I was rocking my longyi this whole time (I am an official longyi wearer now, since I passed Maniac mode in DDR while wearing one—it was a true moment of glory). So they pulled up my longyi and had a look see. The doctor, Maung Maung’s cousin, told me that my leg was horribly infected, and that it needed to be cleaned. She did the cleaning. It really hurt, and then she bandaged it up and told me that I needed to see her again the next day for another cleaning. Then I asked her if she could look at me toe. She looked and told me that my toe was also infected and that the infection was underneath my nail, so she needed to cut my nail off back to the root. That’s when I started dropping the f bomb like it was my job and told her to just do it and get it over with. That might have been the most painful experience of my life, but she got it done and bandaged it up and gave me some meds. I have since seen her again and gotten more meds and I need to go back and see her again tomorrow, but everything is going smoothly. I get to dress my wounds twice a day which is a
35: of fun, and I have antibiotics. Whoot. I also looked up what it would cost to see the International SOS, who are the “legit” doctors, and an appointment alone would cost $60, and everything with Maung Maung’s cousin cost $20and I could’ve gotten it for free because one of my new Burmese friend’s mom actually works at the hospital. Anywho, Maung Maung Htwe pulled through with flying colors and I am eternally grateful to him. After I had my shit operated on, he took me out to dinner like he promised at a hot pot restaurant, which was delicious, and we drank many a beer. I think he might have been drunk when he drove me home, because he kept on talking about how he just likes to help people and that I should just think of him as an uncle. I told him he will always be my uncle Maung Maung. Win. The next morning, I was woken up by Then Uu, who told me I had friends downstairs for me. I had called Thet and Khant Khant the night before and told them what happened, and they had come to the rescue in the morning along with Orion. They took my limping ass out to lunch and then I watched a movie called Before Sunrise with Thet. You all should watch it. I’d describe it more, but this email isn’t a movie review, it’s an adventure story! Just go watch it. Then Thet accompanied me to a new clinic with Maung Maung. The new clinic was much more like the ones back homesanitary, pleasant looking hospitals that is. After that visit I went to this good-bye party for Izzy Rhoads, the lady who worked at the Pagoda before me. There were a bunch of cool people there, but the coolest one by default was the girl named Elise, who I found out lives 7 MINUTES away from my house in St. Louis. She even attended the same public school system as me. It was like a moment out of the twilight zone. We had the same teachers and everything. Everyone wanted me to go to the club with them afterward, including me, but I decided it wouldn’t be good for my feet, as one of which was swollen to twice the size of the other. So, I caught a taxi home with Nathan from Carleton and his girlfriend, Emma, who are now staying at the same guest house as me. It’s nice having some people living here, and it’s not nice. It was fun to by anonymous, but especially with the whole infected leg thing, it’s nicer to have people just care about you. This dude from Ireland also showed up here. His name is Owen. He’s kind of a jackass. Through talking with him, Elise from St. Louis, and all the other non-Burmese people I’ve met on this trip, I’ve started to realize that for the most part people’s motivation behind traveling can be divided into two categories. They’re either traveling to escape some place or they’re traveling to find out about a new place. Personally, I like people in the latter group more. They seem nicer. Haha. A part of me really wishes that I wouldn’t have left home this summer just because things were really good for me, but then there’s a part of me that thinks that when things are going really good for you, that’s the best time to travel, because wherever you go, you’re not going to be happy until you’ve made everything around you as awesome as the place where you left. I don’t know if that makes sense but it’d also explain why people who travel to escape aren’t always that interesting or kind at times. Sorry for getting philosophical.
36: Anyway, I’ve been spending A LOT of time with Thet. He has really been taking care of me, and for that I really owe him. On Sunday, he finally took me to show me where he lives. I don’t know if I never listened to him before, or if I just didn’t process his words correctly, but Thet lives on top of his dad’s embroidery factory. First I got a glimpse of the factory, which is a really small operation, and then Thet showed me his home, which knocked me twenty feet backwards straight on my ass. Thet’s mom passed when he was very young, so his home kind of lacked a woman’s touch. It was super messy, though there wasn’t that many thingsonly the essential stuff for living. There were only four rooms. One room for storage. One main room where the tv and all the family’s computers were along with the fridge. One room for the female supervisor of the factory downstairs. And one room where Thet, his brother, and his father all slept where there were no mattresses. There was a queen sized bed frame with two small wooden mats on it, and then there was a wooden mat on the cement floor (the floor of the whole home was cement). Two slept in the bed and one slept on the floor. I had to really think for a long time after I saw that. Thet and I went on top of the factory roof, where he smoked a cig and I just kind of reflected. It was really sad and really inspiring all at the same time. On the street in front of us where the squatterstiny wooden huts with straw ceilings. Two could fit in a Carleton single, yet four people would live in them and have all of their livelihood within the walls. The whole neighborhood was extremely poor. It was a factory district with a few scattered poor villages. Yeah. I don’t know. It put shit in perspective. I wish I had more to say, but since the whole infection thing, it’s been hard to have any major adventures. Thet and I agreed that we’re going to start writing weekly short stories. I’m probably going to finish my book and watch all the movies on my computer. Last night and today I saw some sights which were cool, but yeahI want my feet back. Aight peeps. That’s it for now. Love, Joe
42: Hey All, This is fina be a short email...maybe. I gotta grab dinner with Khant Khant and Dorothy in like 4 minutes, so HERE WE GO! Interesting fact: the adolescent fashion over here is SUPER EMO-PUNK. It's really funny. All the teenagers wear are AFI and Misfits shirts. They even have a coffee brand called "Emo" targeting that group. It's aesome. If only I came here in 7th grade... I'd fit right in. Cute librarian relationship is beginning to flourish. It's scary. I went to this prestigious art gallery thing with a bunch of other white people last night, and the woman from my public school was there. I should mention now that this girl, Elise, did not attend the public high school, because "It was a bad school." Rather, she attended John Burroughs, which I believe is the most expensive private school in St. Louis. At the gallery, she told me why she didn't like Pattonville, pretty much saying it's a "shit school," and I just kind of laughed at her and was like..."well I graduated from there, and we're in the same place now except I'm four years younger than you. BIA!" I didn't say that exactly, but pretty much. It was a weird little moment though, where I was really proud of my background in a crazy ass foreign city. Today was a great day at the Pagoda. First I showed my friends how to play hang man, and then... I taught my friends what is quite possibly the greatest American gym game of all time...DODGEBALL! It. Was. Epic. My friends seriously flipped their shit. I didn't play at first, but after a while I jumped in with the regular PE instructor, and that is when I realized that dodgeball was actually invented by gym teachers as a means to punish the kids who are ass holes to them. So yeah... I may have "accidentally" beamed a few Burmese chidlens in the dome...maybe one in particular over and over again, but hey, that's the game. On another note, I am taking a week off from the city and traveling to Northern Burma to visit the ancient towns of Mandalay and Bagan. I'm not sure if I'll have internet access, but I'm pretty sure I'm leaving this Sunday. Peace and Love, Joe
43: So...once again I had just typed up a huge email...and it got deleted. Since I'm crushed for time, here are the high lights. Friday: gave out 1,500 buns at khant khant's school. humbled the crap out of me. so much excitement for a little piece of sweet bread. photo exhibition was incredible. her kids really love me and i love them too. Later tutored AWESOME kid, Way Pyo Mao, at a school he is volunteering at for the blind. Accidentally said see you later to a class of blind kids, and they repeated it. Way Pyo Mao is legit and going to be the next dead poet. Saturday: gave a talk to forty high school kids about affirmative action and race in america. Really I only told the story of my friendship with a Black kid named Robert and how St. Louis is segregated. Things are going great. I'm leaving for Bagan in 3 hours. I love you all. Peace, Joe
52: I had a pretty crazy weekend. I would’ve emailed sooner, but I was living in a village in the middle of a jungle. It was awesome. Before I tell you about that though, I have to tell you the background behind my friendship with Moe Pwe. There’s an art exhibit in Yangon directed towards foreigners that organizes every Tuesday night called “The Gallery.” Everyone in the foreign crowd knows about it, including me, so I ventured to see what the deal was one night. It really wasn’t anything special. The paintings were nice and there was free food, but it wasn’t really my thing. When I was eating though, I shot the shit with the girl next to me. When I left I didn’t even remember her name. The day I got back from Bagan, I was super tired and didn’t really want to go out. I took a long nap and woke up with all my body limbs asleep, so I forced myself to go out and eat some bananas (the potassium is supposed to help with sleeping limbs). While I was eating some bananas, that girl from the gallery saw me, and we began shooting the shit again, and then we went and ate dinner, and then she invited me on a trip with her and her friends to Mon state. Of course I was down. I came to know her as Moe Pwe. This past weekend I went on the trip with her and her friendsher friends being ten other girls. Haha. Five Koreans, Two Japanese, One German, and Two Burmese not counting her and her mother. It was an Estrogen force to be reckoned with. Mon state is situated near the Thai border and the Mon people are quickly disappearing. They lost a war with the Burmans a long time ago, and since then they’ve not really been able to recover. They have their own language and cuisine and everything as well. In Mon state, I finally got to see the ocean, which was bomb. I didn’t go swimming because I only brought one pair of shorts which I was wearing, but I did put my feet in. So yeah, I’ve been in the Indian Ocean officially. We also went to some beach monasteries and the like. At the monasteries it was kind of funny because there were some places, usually the coolest ones, that only men were allowed to go toso I, being the only man, and the only non-Burmese speaker, got to mosy on to all of the coolest places and chill by myself.
54: The first night we spent in this ancient 150 year old Mon cottage in the middle of the jungle. It was the ancestral home of Moe Pwe’s family. It was freaking nuts. It was made entirely of teak wood, which apparently is extremely expensive now, so no homes are made from it anymore. At the cottage, I took my first longyi shower. The majority of Burmese shower outside in their longyi’s. It’s actually pretty fun to watch. They can do so much with a longyi on, such as completely clean themselves without once flashing you their jiblets. I’m pretty sure I didn’t flash anyone my jibletsbut I’m not sure you could say I was exactly clean after my shower either. Though at one point in my shower, a hummingbird and a butterfly were both flying above me at the same time. There were vines hovering over my head that had some flowers on them, and yeah, I could’ve reached out and touched those bad boys. It was a nice moment. After that I got to fall asleep on hard ass teak wood next to ten girls. It had its ups and downs. Oh yeah! I forgot to mention that on the extremely long truck ride to this village, I was given the task of entertaining all the girls, so I taught them silent football. After playing that, I discovered that they knew Poni Poni, and the numbers game (two drinking games the Carleton rugby team plays that were given to our social captain by Japanese exchange students). The Korean girls also knew how to play Gai Bai Bo, which is the Korean version of rock paper scissors. My friend Todd taught it to me last summer in Ireland. It is much more hardcore than American rock paper scissors. For example, the loser gets slapped in the face. So yeah. I was smacking Korean women all over the place. Amongst the infinite amount of things that are different here than in America, I forgot to mention that other than using hoses, most of the toilets are actually little squares in the ground. Somehow, I’d avoided using one of these toilets, but in the middle of the jungle, my poop aversion met a dead end. Unfortunately for me, this ground toilet didn’t have a hose either. So, after doing my business, I examined the tools of which I A. Had to use to somehow flush the toilet (there are no leavers on these toilets) and B. Clean my ass. I found a bucket of water, a bowl, a stick, and a brush. Twenty minutes later, I emerged from a clean bathroom with a clean butt. Never ever ever ask my methods. Ever.
55: The next day we went around the biggest city in Mon state, Mahamine. That’s not how it’s spelled. But yeah. That really wasn’t that much fun. All the girls wanted to shop, and I was swept up in their impenetrable will. Those five Korean girls were super high maintenance, which is why I was pretty happy when they caught a bus a day earlier than us. They spent an hour in the morning and an hour at night doing different hygienic routinesin the middle of a jungle. I wanted to slap someoneshould’ve played Gai Bai Bo. That night, after the Koreans were gone, we went to stay the night at a Monastery on the outskirts of the town. We couldn’t stay in the village again, because the village chief didn’t want to get in trouble with Gary. The head monk at the monastery was pretty bomb, though he liked tamarind juice way too much. He gave us like five bottles and that stuff tastes like medicine. He agreed to let us stay and fed us. He gave us some pillows, and being dead tired, I passed out immediately. Sometime around ten, I was awakened by Moe Pwe. One of Gary’s friends was sitting five feet away and wanted to see my passport. He had already examined the passports of the other foreign girls. He gave my passport a gander and made me write down my information. Then a lot of Burmese speaking went on, he smiled as us all, and went away. Then we all went back to sleep. Then at eleven, I was awakened again by Moe Pwe. Keep in mind that we had to wake up at five in the morning the next day to catch a bus. This time, Gary had come with nine of his friends. A lot of Burmese speaking went on. A lot. Apparently, Gary told us that he was concerned about our safety and thought it best for us to move to a hotel, where they know it will be safe. Like a broken record, Gary kept on saying that. We’re worried about your safety. We’re worried about your safety. I don’t think we really had a choice. So, tired and reluctant, all of the foreigners crowed into the back of Gary’s small truck. It was eleven thirty, cold, and raining. Then we took a half hour drive back into town, had to go to multiple guest houses to find a vacant room, then we had to fill out god damn paper work, and finally, around twelve thirty, I fell asleep in a bed. Four and a half hours later I had to wake up. Then we had to pay some ridiculous price for our roomridiculous in Burmese standardsit was still cheaper than the cheapest hostel I stayed at in Ireland. But yeah. Then we got on a bus that showed Jackie Chan movies the entire ride home. Mega Win. That’s the story, baby. I'm fina try to put up pictures tomorrow. Let me know how all of you are living!
56: I may have had the best night since I’ve been here this past Tuesday. It was Nathan’s birthday, and we went to our favorite bar (favorite because it’s right next to our guest house) and drank beer and Myanmar double strong, which we have dubbed “Doble Fuerte.” That stuff knocks you on your ass. The plan after that was to go to this rock concert which was being performed in the sketchiest club in all of Yangon. To give you an idea of how sketchy it is, it’s right underneath the place where I played chinlone with pimps. So yeah. Rumor was that Handsome Furs, the Wolf Parade side project was going to be headlining the show, but there was no proof of that. On the fliers there was only the Burmese band, Side Effect, listed and a “Special Guest.” We showed up and paid our three dollars to get in and then beheld one of the strangest sights I’ve seen in Yangon. Before me was EVERY white person I’d ever met or even seen walking in the street. The place was packed with the Whities, so I knew something was up. When Side Effect started playing, no one was on the floor, so I did what I usually do at concerts where crowd participation is minimal and went and stood alone in front of the band until others joined me (This is a respect I pay since I was in a punk rock band and it was awkward when everyone stood twenty feet away). It didn’t take long for Nathan and Emma to join me, and then a whole bunch of other people joined in. Then when Side Effect played a cover of Blitzkreig Bop people flipped their shit and a Burmese mosh pit was formed, which became a much needed stress reliever for me. Side Effect was really good. They reminded me of Asian Kung-Fu Generation. After them, it was revealed that Handsome Furs were in fact playing. They had really good stage presence, but honestly I liked Side Effect more. Either way it was super fun. Twice during the Handsome Furs set the power went out. Just put things in perspective. After that we went to a bar with the bands and drank and talked. I told Side Effect that I’m in an American punk rock band that would love to come to Yangon and play with them. They got super excited and we exchanged all sorts of information. The music scene in Yangon is non-existent really. They need some bands coming through and yeah, if I get another crazy Carleton fellowship, I’d definitely go over there and start up a bandmaybe. I can’t really think about that now
57: I’m about ready to come home, which reminds me that my last day at the Pagoda is tomorrow. Then I’m heading up to Mandalay for what I’ve heard is the biggest Burmese festival of the year, and then I’m going to Inlay lake. The monk thing is kind of falling through because Khant Khant kind of left me hanging and left early. Shrug. Some day maybe. I really really want to visit Inlay lake though. There are fields and fields and fields of crops floating in suspended soil on a lake and the farmers paddle with their feet. Just sounds awesome. Also, it’s going to be hard to become a monk because I have ANOTHER foot infection. This time it’s on the bottom of my foot though, so I have to wear shoes, and that just doesn’t fly in the monastery. It’s just bad timing, but I’m taking it as a sign to do some other adventuring. Yesterday I wrote a curriculum for a teacher at Thet’s school about Race. That felt pretty existentially fulfilling. Her name’s Katie and she kept on telling me she wanted to buy me dinner, but I wasn’t really feeling it. Her roommate is also Elise, the snob from St. Louis, so yeah. Last night I went to a random Burmese birthday party and met a girl from WashU who plays ultimate Frisbee in Yangon, and teaches English, a find I really wish I would’ve made earlier. I also met a teacher of one of my Carleton friends, Jon Hillis, which was odd. Pretty much the world is just freaking small. I have run out of clean underwear and my hatred of doing laundry by hand has made me go commando for the past four days. Thought you should know. I realized the other day that I’ve left out a crucial detail in my Burmese experience in my emails. I met someone, someone really really special who has changed how I’ve looked at the world and my relationship to it. His name: The Lassi Man. In case you don’t know, a lassi is an Indian drink which is pretty much just sweet skim milk mixed with plain yogurt, BUT the Lassi Man’s lassis are different. If God cried tears of joy and you drank them, they’d probably taste like the Lassi Man’s Lassis. Every day, sometimes twice, I go get a lassi from him. They’re sixty cents of deliciousness. And for some reason or another the Lassi Man likes to carry around a humongous wad of cash ALL THE TIME.
58: I’ve never seen him without it and it’s always in his left hand. From time to time he’ll count in, but most of the time he just likes holding those bills. He’s never spoken to me except for the one time Thet took my picture with him. He only smiles when he sees me, but man oh man, that smile is worth more than any superfluous words. That smile means: “You are a winner, and I wish that you were my White nephew. One day if you’re lucky, I’ll teach you my ancient Indian lassi secret.” I know that’s what it means, and I smile back and then without asking someone gives me my regular lassi and I drink it next to the Lassi Man in the shade. That’s it for now. I’m going to watch Robin Hood tonight. Send me updates. I’ll be back in the states in about a week and I better see most of you soon after that. Hit me up!
59: So this is going to be one of the last emails. I hope you're as sad I am. This past Friday was my last day at the Pagoda. It was preeeetty emotional. A lot of the kids gave me cards. I wish I had some of them with me now so I could type them up. I got to run all of the classes all day long. The third grade class, the one of with eight hyperactive boys, was spent outside on the swing set, where I pushed a bunch of chidlens as high as I could and they laughed and freaked out. Throughout the course of the day, I composed a song to sing for the kids, and during the last period, that's what I did. It was a nice. The lyrics are a little cliche, but here they are anyway: Dancing with change can make you nervous-pretty, and sometimes you step on your toes, but now in the spotlight, I dance with courage, because I see you dancing along side me. There is no choice in creating memories. There is no choice in the past, but now I leave you with nostalgia on my shoulders and hope's promise holding my hand. There yah go. After I sang that, the little Indian kid, Mo Ma asked me if I'd dance for everyone. I told them I needed music, and since we were in the music room, someone got on the keyboard any started playing pre-recorded drum beats. Then I busted out my moves and everyone cheered, and then I motioned for Mo Ma to come up and join me. He did, and his dance moves were actually REALLY good. He was pretty much immitating what I was doing, but he caught on really quickly. After that I kept on motioning for the other kids to come up and one by one they did until there was a room of about forty dancing chidlens. After we danced, all of the kids played songs for me until it was finally time for me to go. Emotion bomb.
60: Friday night I departed with Nathan and Emma back to Mandalay where I'm typing from now to see the Nat festival, which we went to yesterday. It was nuts. So Nats are pretty much the Buddhist equivalent of ghosts and there are 150 different spirits that all have different stories. We actually went to the festival with a monk (long story) and he was telling us he didn't really think Nats were legit Buddhism. The festival was super crowded. People were shoving us and pushing us everywhere just to get in and once we got in all of the senses were assaulted by sights and smells. That was actually the first time I heard live Burmese traditional music, which was sweet. There was a traditional dance going on to the music, where the two male dancers were dressed up as Nat brothers who got executed when it wasn't there time, and they were throwing money everywhere, so you can imagine the chaos. People were also throwing money from cars as they drove past as kids would pick it up exactly like a parade...except a better parade. Today we went to May Myo, a mountain town that still has a lot of old British architecture. It was pretty neat, but that's really all it was. The weather was a lot better though. I only kind of got sunburnt. whoot. I just got back from that about an hour ago, and I went to mass at the same church I received reconciliation from when I was here the last time. For those of you who aren't Catholic, there's usually a really boring part of mass where the preist gets up and gives a speech to the congregation about how to follow God and all that stuff, but during this mass's speech time, the preist used the movie, "The Karate Kid" as a metaphor about how youth can only attain true freedom from patience. He also tied it in with the new law Gary passed making everyone where a helmet who rides a motorcycle, which apparently the youth population was pretty pissed about. It was actually really cool and I could understand his English. Win. I can't wait to get back and talk with all you peeps in person or over the phone. Peace and good work!
67: Dear Everyone, So, I'm sitting in my co RA's dorm room at Carleton College, because I have to use her computer to send this, because after all the proxy bull crap of Burma, my computer doesn't want to open gmail anymore. Anywho, the adventure has come to an end and here are the last bits. After I sent my last email, I got RIDICULOUSLY sick. I spent Wednesday in bed and only ate 3 bananas and a lassi...which I did have to leave briefly to get. It sucked, but it was also a nice time to just kind of reflect on my experience in and out of my flu loopiness. I spent a lot of time with Thet in my last days. The concluding story with that is that he is going to return to Carleton. However, it's going to be a while. The earliest will be this Spring and the latest will be next Fall. But no matter what he's coming back, and I'm freaking happy about that. He took me to buy a lot of stuff before I left and I spent my last day with him at this Burmese University of Art graduation where I had the incredible opportunity to see a shit ton of Burmese traditional dance, music, theatre, and marionette shows, plus a lot of artwork. It was the perfect way to end the trip. Luckily for me, my Burmese friend, Kevin had the same flight back home as me, so I was able to stay the night at his house and leave with him in the morning. It was super convenient and nice...though I really missed Okinawa. Speaking of Okinawa, I left Than Uu with a Connect Four game, which I thoroughly beat him in before I left. I felt like it was a nice gift for the guest house, and hopefully they will be playing Connect Four for many days to come. All in all, it was an amazing adventure, and I'm really thankful that you all tuned in. I'm back at Carleton and the US now, so feel free to call. I'll be putting up the rest of my pictures pretty soon...but have no idea how soon. I'm already starting my job and am stressed out like a champion, but its nice. Life don't stop...whether you're in Burma or Minnesota. With No Regrets, Joe