Next to traveler’s diarrhea and your Hostel fears coming true, what’s one of a traveler’s worst nightmares?
Since our flight to Yangon (our first stop in Myanmar) was early–we had to check in the airport at 4:55 am)–Katrina and I decided to head to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and wait there from midnight until check-in time. This meant staying awake in Old Town White Coffee (the only coffee shop open at the airport) and think of ways to distract ourselves. With both our phones and my tablet drained, we eventually decided to play “Pinoy Henyo”.
We arrived in Yangon at 8:20 in the morning, groggy from the quick nap we were able to take during the flight from Kuala Lumpur. Aldrich, the guy who manages the homestay we’re in now, picked us up from the airport and drove us to Lanmadaw Township, the downtown area of the city where we were staying. I noticed how it looked a bit like the pictures of 1960/70s Manila, with pedestrians spilling out on the highway thanks to a lack of proper sidewalks. While not yet as crowded as Metro Manila (only 6 million people are living in the city), Yangon may just end up like it because of poor urban planning.
The city is slow-moving and filled with organic smells, and lacks the usual trappings of development such as high-rises and huge malls. I think this provincial atmosphere is what attracts a lot of foreign tourists–and perhaps also the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi’s advocacy got Myanmar the world’s attention. (We got to visit General Aung San’s home which was turned into a museum, but that’s another story.)
Before heading to Shwe Dagon Temple, located ten minutes away from where we were staying, we ate at this Japanese restaurant just a short walk away. The food tasted horrible. I told Katrina how funny it was to eat Japanese food in Yangon, and that to think of it, we weren’t really eating Japanese food, but the Burmese interpretation of what Japanese food really is. Then after, I thought that this was not necessarily a criticism of the restaurant’s inauthenticity. What is Japanese food after all? Is it food cooked in Japan, or something prepared by the Japanese? Are hamburgers and fries prepared in Japan or by someone Japanese Japanese food? Do ingredients have to be sourced from Japan for something to be considered Japanese?
Speaking of authenticity: the worshipers in the Shwe Dagon pagoda piously praying to the Buddha statues scattered all over the complex made me think about the nature of authentic versus artificial experiences. I was trying to argue with myself that I will never have an authentic experience of the places I go to, since I will always be an outsider watching everything from a detached point of view. Which made me think: did it mean to say that the only authentic experiences I will have are the ones that I am exposed to on a regular basis? Or the ones that come from places that I truly understand?
Perhaps I was framing the whole idea incorrectly. Maybe I did have an authentic experience. Come to think of it, everyone gets an authentic experience of everything — an exclusive, unshareable experience that one could claim as their own. The conditions of each experience that we have will always be different from everybody else, whether it’s the same place or the same time.
Even a carefully constructed, fully orchestrated experience cannot be counted as inauthentic. If I had been a brain in a vat whose experiences are but controlled impulses fired towards my way, I think those will still be real, even if to the outsider they might seem like a (poor) copy of a real experience. Of course I am not arguing that those are founded on reality, and whatever experience I will have will only be based on the understanding of whoever is programming/creating the experience for me, but still, it elicits a reaction within me, and that reaction will still be authentic.
I caught myself staring outside the bus, at the tall buildings lining the highway from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, and I thought the idea of being in a strange country, or strange city or town or whatever territory that is not what you’re used to — it felt like coming inside someone’s house, uninvited, and you watch the people who live there with so much curiosity, and perhaps romanticization.
You watch them and their home detachedly, like it is the nicest thing ever — do you know how Americans (or Touristy White People In General) would go to a poor country (Manila) and say, look at them, so happy in the midst of poverty?
With all the new experiences I’ve been having lately (hashtag YOLO), I thought that it would be too selfish not to share some of things I’ve been doing or even make sure that I remember everything I’ve been doing. (For one, I celebrated my birthday weekend at Wabi-Sabi, where my S.O. organized a promo to celebrate my birthday – that’s definitely a memory I don’t want to forget, as it’s a first.)
So as a birthday promise to myself, I will be writing more about the interesting things I’m doing, apart from the habitual documentation of stuff I’ve learned in my professional life. Perhaps in the future, I’ll be focusing more on my adventures, but who knows? (Expect a report on my upcoming Myanmar trip!) Frankly, when I started this blog, I really didn’t have a concrete plan except to make it a journal of my career learnings, plus a place where I can showcase my curated information online. Now that I’ve decided to finally retire my old blog AhoySoyBoy (goodbye, juvenilia?), I guess the logical step would be to make this blog as the sole repository of all the things I do, am doing, have learned, and still continuously trying to figure out.
Let me start off with something I’m particularly excited about: Filipino theater company Red Turnip Theater is producing Closer the play here in Manila! It features an all-star ensemble, with Angel Aquino (fresh from her Cinefilipino Best Supporting Actress win), Marc Abaya, Cris Villonco, and Bart Guingona playing the roles of Anna, Dan, Alice, and Larry.
I loved the film when I first saw it. Admittedly, I found the dialogue too raw and perhaps too honest. Despite that, I fell for how Patrick Marber (the scriptwriter) created such brutally honest characters who made very blunt observations on human nature (“Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist, wrapped in blood! Go fuck yourself!”) – sometimes too blunt and just at the tipping point of histrionics, except there was so much conviction in how the characters were played that you were certain that it could’ve have happened to anyone – including you.
For the record, I have high expectations of the play (Angel Aquino – enough said.) I’ll be seeing it this Saturday evening, October 5, so in case you’re also there, let’s enjoy the play together.