13 July 2012

beyond language

10July 2012 Tuesday,  Dawei,    1756hours.

"She looks nice. Would be just ready to marry..."
I'm coming up the steps to gawk at a huge long, lying Buddha. He's covered under a corrugated iron hangar type of cover, the kind used for Jumbo Jets.
A group of Myanmar young  ladies stroll past. The in the dark red dress, looks at me and I look at her.
She's pretty, and has that 'I'm entering the world' look about her. She's ready to make some moves. 

The thought, while strange does not surprise me.
'Observe, do not reject any thoughts  or feelings, just take note - that was what I got out of my Buddhist meditation marathon, the 10 day, no talking, no smiling, no  communicating, just meditate your a**** off meditation marathon last year.
I really like the idea. It tells me,  don't hold onto nice thoughts of feelings or push the unpleasant ones away or even deny them.
I've since read exactly the same idea in many other teachings.

So coming up those stairs didn't really surprise me. 
"Oh, they like you, they are talking about marry," Aung Naing Winn (ANW) tells me.
I look over to them, yep, they ARE talking about me, their reactions and  vibes give them  away.
"You mean one look and they decide ? I thought only I was that impulsive ?"
ANW shrugs.

Wandering around the pagoda,  I realize, there was  more to it. My own thoughts coming up the stairs had been on a totally different track. Then the cool calm idea of marriage when I looked at the face of the girl in the red dress. I must have picked  up on their thoughts. There wasn't the emotional heat that comes my own thoughts, this was something I'd picked up from outside, like a radio receiver tuning in on their frequency.

Strange, but I'm getting  used to such things now.

Interesting that my immediate reaction was to run, figuratively and literally from the idea of marriage. I physically kept away from them.   I had to laugh at myself when I realized, gosh is it really THAT terrible that even instinctively when it is definitely not serious you run ? wow. Serious issues there old chap, time to look at them ?
Later when I thought about it I realized I would have been much better to just go and chat with them. Smile talk and let it go. But something deep inside never saw the casual side of it all. Serious issues like I said.

We had come in by motorbike and as we drove out the same girl still sat by the entrance.
She seemed lost in some daydream, some trance almost and I realized she might be one of the 'dream touched' or in some way 'different'.
I felt sorry for he and thought how hard life must be to be outside the world and not accepted by other humans. To be laughed at and made fun of, or just ignored and to walk alone all your life.. hm...

So on the way out, I really looked at her on the few split seconds our motorbike took to pass her.

ANW is the guide this afternoon, I'm following his plan. We get off at the next pagoda. The sounds a monk chanting on  a speaker  system is as much part of the scene as the dogs lounging about and people calmly slowly wandering about. The gleaming golden, HUGE Pagoda complex is the flower of the village.
The life of Gautama Buddha.... in pictures on the long walkway....
All very very familiar.
As we turn a corner a few young guys hang out. One of them dances about, shadow boxing and seems full of life and energy.

In a Western country I'd be worried. Young guys, shadow boxing, hanging out, nothing to do.... uhhh uhh.... sounds like trouble.
Not here.
Take a picture of me the shadow boxer asks with a broad smile. He's full of life and fun. He proudly stretches out his arms and shows off his tattoos.

Tattooed guy, asked to have his pic taken!

Well actually I wanted a picture anyway so this is great
He is very interested in seeing  more pictures on my camera. I show him Yangon/Rangoon, which he's never visited yet

The world still has a sense of wholeness in this place. It has something indefinable that I and my fellow termite hill dwellers the world over have long lost.
He's not afraid to show his curiosity and that fact that I only know one word of Burmese "Mengalaba" and he can only say "hello" is no problem at all.
ANW is helping with some relevant phrases but most of what we want to say to each other is pretty obvious to figure out.
Look at pictures.
Where are you from.... I've no idea what the Burmese words are but by now, I can somehow tell when I'm asked that question.
Ok, we say goodbye and move on.
Somehow I feel energized and it has been a fun, happy meeting.

ANW and I complete the circle together to the front of the pagoda.

It's not the pagoda I'm really interested in, it's the people. The pagoda presents the people, in a different way, from say a restaurant of a hotel does.
And actually it's people and it's more than that: It's the energy and feelings of a place.
And this place, outside a small country town, in a province where only business and officials go, and which is off the tourist map, and is sleepy and forgotten, life has something else.... that I miss.
I know I can't bottle and can it.
I can only get into it and enjoy it.

Oh! At the front of the pagoda sits our tattooed shadow boxer and he's talking very animatedly to a woman who can't speak properly. She has smiley eyes and uses her hands a lot.
They seem to be able to converser pretty well, even though she only makes a few funny sounds.

We sit down next to them and suddenly I realize: this is the girl I saw sitting by the entrance of the last pagoda.

I point to her top, she is now wearing a brown top and outside the pagoda she wore all purple. 
"Oh I changed it."
"And you are the one from the pagoda, the lying Buddha pagoda ?"
And all this simply with gestures and non-verbal sounds.
I can't remember what we talked about in detail, but the four of us had a fun time chatting.
"I think I understand her better than someone who can speak," I tell the others. The words don't get in the way.
She's faster and quicker at 'getting things' than other people in Myanmar. She knows how to look for the cues and clues and how to communicate non verbally.
She's also not shy in coming forward.
"Take a picture, with you and me," she points to me.
She wants it in the main room in front of the main Buddha image.
Off we go.
Then the same photo with ANW.
1  Aung Naing Winn (ANW) and Ma Sandoe Moe San

She writes her name, 'Ma Sandoe Moe San' , and we all exchange names and emails.

Sandoe Moe San explains she helps in the meditation retreat, 10 day and it's now in day 7. We had visited the hall and met the monk leading it just before.

I feel no trace of self-pity. He  'handicap' is totally in the open  she is has found ways around it that really work. In fact she if fun to talk to and has a remarkable sense of humour. ANW is impressed with her jokes and funny comments.

Well, in that case, I have the guts to directly talk about the fact that she can't speak. Something that one does not do in 'polite society' and that could break all sort of unwritten social taboos and sensitivities. But thank god I'm not in polite society.
"You use images and you express yourself with direct feelings, because you can't talk", I gesture, and deliberately use images in my mind and feelings to convey what I'm saying, the way I imagine she would be using.
Sandoe Moe San gets it, she understands and nods.
Obviously if she uses images from her mind and direct feeling energy from her guts to communicate this would make sense.
She has found a way to go beyond language. Not a totally new way, I think we all use some of the image and feeling energy but we rely mostly on words. She can't, she can only use images from her mind animated with the feelings she imparts them with. And by what I've seen, it's remarkably efficient.

ANW  is still better than me in deciphering her words because can breathe fragments of Burmese words at times
She invites us to go to her house.
"She says to come at 9pm," ANW tells me.
"We can't do that, we rent the motorbike until 5pm."
"Go now ?" I ask.
A bit more talking and we are left with the problem that while three people can fit on one motorbike, if one of those three people is a woman in a langyi/Hteimen, then this won't work. She's clear that she won't go on the bike with all three of us.
What to do ?
It turns into a long and difficult problem.
She offers to walk and we ride.
We try to ring her brothers.
Can't get through...
Then suddenly I get the answer, duuuuuuuuuuhhh so simple.
"Aung Naing Winn, you driver her home first, then come back and get me."

At her house she shows us around, a simple, clean house and Sandoe Moe San tells us who sleeps where, which is the kind of detail that goes through my mind like water through a sieve.

I've been getting some images of 'marriage' while at the pagoda and after the experience at the previous pagoda decided to let things lie and see what they told me.  Well it was as I thought, stuff received on the 'radio' again.

2 At Sandoe Moe San's fmaily house
3 the three of us, in a large mirror
Ah, as we sit and talk it becomes clear.
She wants to know if ANW is single etc...
I bow out at this point with a vague mumble that can be interpreted in a myriad ways.
One those myriads must have worked because they get me off the hook. Attention stays more on ANW.

She is not hitting on him but it is clear that she is looking for someone to share life with.
Again, I'm impressed by her openness.
There is a charming directness.

She shows us pictures of herself, with an engineer from one of the costal oil rigs.
And a certificate, that ANW tells certifies that she was a policewoman -  for a while. She tells us that she couldn't do it for long because of her speaking problem.

After half an hour we are off and head back to the hotel to return the rented motorbike.

To give you an idea of just how non-touristy the area is: Renting the motorbike was as simple as asking the hotel to find a taxi driver willing to rend it to us.
No papers to sign, no contracts. Not even advance payment.
"No pay when you get back", I'm told, "here is the key".
I'm the only non Asian tourist in town. Everyone knows where I stay. The only way out of town is by plane, overland is not allowed, and impossible with a face like mine.
At the airport I always have to show my passport to guys in uniform wearing guns.
If anything goes wrong with the bike, it is understand on all sides that the tourist pays. I'm clear on that too. So all we have to do it take the key and hop on, and ride off.
That simple.
All the rest is common sense.

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