Friday, April 17, 2015

Dawn and Dostoevsky: Thoughts from Yangon

I still love you

Yangon, Myanmar is a beautiful and haunting way. Nothing gets remodeled or repaired here. Everything is either in a total state of ruin, or it is brand new.

Yangon, as a city, is unique, but it doesn’t know it yet. It has the appeal of a person who doesn’t know how gorgeous they are.  You feel special for appreciating their unacknowledged beauty. Yangon is like this. It makes you want to love its flaws. You love the faded buildings crumbling in the heat, streaked with black water stains from too many monsoons. You long for the thin shadows of wilted brown palm trees, choking for air in the dusty streets. You can even forgive the garbage, ankles deep and glistening affectionately in the pink halo of dawn. 

A barrel of sugary brown cicadas stands at the entrance to the pedestrian bridge. We took the bridge across the train tracks at dusk, but after nightfall we retuned to find the bridge closed. A metal gate painted white had been wired shut at the top of the steps. We took a staircase down to cross over the train tracks by foot, but then we found ourselves in total darkness, unable to see the even the ground at our feet. I looked across the tracks but could find no stairs leading up to the other side. We went back out the way we came and followed the city streets back to the hotel.

From the ground below our hotel room, a woman’s voice floats through the wall by means of a loud speaker. Sometimes she is singing, sometimes talking. Her melody is punctuated by car horns and jack hammers. When we returned to the hotel room after 7:00 pm she could still be heard. As in the jungle, the noises of the night differ from the day. The drilling and hammering ceased, but the car horns were mighty.  The woman’s voice has been ringing through the streets  now for over six hours, vacillating between song and silence. For the last hour she has been speaking rapidly, like a news anchor. The fact that it has gone on for so long has me wondering if the loudspeakers are just playing an audiobook. Maybe even Dostoevsky...That would be funny. As I read Crime and Punishment while laying in bed, I can hear her through my hotel window and I pretend that she is saying aloud the Burmese translation of whatever I am reading. “Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligent and deep heart….”

- Excerpt from my diary, Wednesday Oct. 29, Myanmar,  8:50 pm

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