Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Stroll Around the Hotel Panda, Yangon

I do my best thinking in the classroom, that's where it always comes out. Always surprising, almost improvisational... thoughts smack me in the face and fly out of my mouth often when I least expect them.
It shouldn't be that way... not really. Not for someone like me... you see, I spend hours thinking about what to do and how to make the class more enjoyable or how to talk to the students... so when I go off track, derail myself a little... I'm the one most astonished.
It's a funny little therapy in a way... standing in front of students and baring your soul, telling them your mistakes, laughing at yourself to prove some point...
Well, that's if they're even listening... and yes, the thoughtful ones are. They're along for the ride too.

If I tell a story about riding atop trains in India just for the absolute joy of sending a muted scream into the wind or about how my first motorscooter ride in Greece ended with me crashing full-throttle into a tree...oh yes...in front of my best friends...they laugh and cringe and secretly light candles of prayer for me in their hearts...oh Hartenstein... just be careful, will ya?
Travel stories will do that, won't they? They're almost always morality plays. Tests of good vs. evil, of self-courage and exploration... they have grand themes and unwittingly naive and hopeful characters who come up covered in grime and yuck carrying a chest of treasure in the end... don't they?
At least this morning I did. Waking up early and walking around the markets outside of the Hotel Panda in Yangon. Believe me, using words like "dirty" and "dusty" don't really fit when describing Burma. There is no English adjective for the amount of fine sandy soot that permeates every aspect of this country.
And so I strapped on my boots and stepped outside and kicked it around a little... wandered through markets and watched men shaving in the gutter and women suckling babies in the dirt next to a blanket of tangerines and plantains laid out by metal scales. Packs of dogs roaming back and forth and the workers shoveling wet cement into the mortar holes of bricks. Just watch. Walk and watch and think and try to feel.
But it doesn't make sense, at least, not yet. I need more time. I need to get back into the classroom and stand in front of students and open a book and start reading aloud... then the thoughts of Burma will come... flooding back to me in recognizable rhythms and rants... the reflection of memory will align and I will understand.
But for today I just walk, fill my eyes with everything around me. Soak it in. It doesn't need to be clear now... doesn't need to make sense... because it will in time.  I trust in that.

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