1.5 months in Yangon, Myanmar

It was sitting by the lakeside pier of Bogyoke Park when I finally pull my phone from my lap to draft this. The water was flowing in smooth curtains under the rise and fall of the densely green waves adorned with lily pads and the occasional birds flying by to touch the water; their long beaks diving over hoping to pull up food.

The trees lining the park are so richly green and dense – something my eyes have never seen outside of Yangon. Green and yellow hues as far as one can see. The humidity presses skin deep, with droplets of water forming on my skin. The sky is a rich grey, clouds moving to signify the impending storm. I feel the weight of the past 2 days breaking me silently inside, a deep rooted fear that’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The heaviness feels exactly the way the sky looks, and the weight feels heavier the further I carry it. My heart has stopped looking for him, or expecting him to come around a corner laughing or explaining something in his careful, ardent way. It’s an ache that slips to the surface whenever I look through our photos of happier times.

I sat on a rock for a long time trying to remember times of lightness, remembering his face of complete abandonment in silly matters. I remember the times of holding hands and crossing the busy streets of Yangon where the world was only pretend, none of it real because it was like the way you watched in a film. The girl in me was so profoundly in love with her beautiful man lying in pain beneath the surface of everything, watching with somber eyes as he goes through internal struggles of self-love and acceptance and I must learn to continue on life without him.

I am afraid to be the odd one out, always the one missing my other half, my better, as the arrival of my story started with the promise of hope but ended as abruptly as it began. It is in that fear that I wonder if something in me changed.  The not knowing. Feeling unprepared. I feel an exhaustion that I cannot seem to explain and that cannot be cured by sleep. The lightness that I once felt seems to have been muffled underneath the shock of realization and the last 2 days. I wish I could be curious again, adventurous and wondering with the same awe and joy that I’ve felt so often before. Those moments do come, but only as a bolt of lightning at times when the atmosphere feels clear. The closeness of the grief still prevents me from feeling much. How could I ever explain to anyone how I really feel? Heartbreak is not new, but the processing of these feelings have been harder for me than I could ever imagine.

In my soul, I feel like I could never be as content again. I just want to watch the world very quietly without drawing any conclusions. I was once relentlessly naive and positive. Now, if I could be as honest as I can be to myself, I think I’ll manage, to see the world as it truly is – full of good people who do not intentionally want to hurt you. Though more than that, me leaving feels like a black hole that consumes close to my heart. It isn’t depression or a physical pain, but a vast nothingness that makes an appearance day by day.

There are people sitting by the lake, contemplating, working. Taking photos. The grass near the lake is swarmed by little white birds. People are calling out to each other in Burmese. The sun comes out for a moment and for a few long minutes, the heat of the humidity burns through my jeans and I’ve begun to realize how much I take for granted, the comfort i plead for from my life before this. I think of my bedroom in San Francisco, laden in soft warm blankets and pillows, dogeared books and pens and everything my little heart can indulge in.

Everything in my life feels less pure than what I’ve experienced in Yangon.

It seems so strange to have been sitting inside a large shopping center in the middle of Singapore just days before, watching people angrily on their phones trying to get through to customer service. Yangon is nothing like Singapore, nor is it like anything like my world in San Francisco. Yangon is the type of place that pulls you out of yourself in a way that you cannot explain but with the desire to exert powerful love. The world is wild and free and humid and complicated. Women in Yangon wear conservative clothing and men wear longyi’s; the people treat me extra politely because I am a foreigner though I do not look much different than the local people. I am constantly astonished by the way of life here – slow paced, limited but kindness in every corner.

I can have everything I could want. I am lucky enough not to have to rely on the charity of strangers to bring sweetness into my life or to bring novelty or treat me with special care. Everyday is a day on my own where I explore pockets of the city, time being a luxury most people do not have. The people of Yangon may never be able to live like i do, with the cool leisure of not knowing what to do right now. They have to ride their trishaws to work, pack their lunches or work in extreme weather to build a better infrastructure in their neighborhoods.

When I am home, here, I think of rainy days in San Francisco and the mugs of tea that I leave all over the house. The scent of freshly woken earth is mine to treasure as I take a stroll after the rain, the mountain air fresh and breezy. I realize i lived in paradise and I feel partly ashamed when I think of the families in Yangon that may never see falling leaves in autumn, or a Christmas tree, a bubble bath, the sharp cool air as the earth transitions from season to season. Maybe it is as foreign to them as standing in a movie theater with the Myanmar national anthem plays as it is for me, or the red spit of betel nut or the constant honking of horns in cars and sharing the road ways with pedestrians.

Children are climbing over the wooden planks of the pier, unaware of the dangers of falling into the water. There is music from a nearby community center, and the abandoned water bottles dissolving into the mud of the lake. A boy that is half my height comes to offer me jasmine flowers that are tied together like a necklace. He said it would be for my hair. I laugh dizzily at the notion of putting anything in my hair, but he drags me by the wrist and takes me to his mother who looks at me adoringly and I find myself in a stream of colors and wanting to be present for them. I buy the flowers. I wear them for a little while, the smell pungent and sweet, just like the way my father used to pick them and put them in my room as a child so I can wake up to the smell.

I find myself walking away from the park and seeing a poverty stricken area with a small makeshift roof and no door. 3 children running and playing with 2 small dogs. I’ve come to examine their spirit and they are uniquely unaware of my foreign lens.

Everywhere in Yangon is alive with sound. There is no escape of the stream of cars honking and the vibrant sounds and loudspeakers of the temples. I’ve become so accustomed to the quiet emptiness of where I once lived, but the truth is, the volume of the noise here makes me feel a part of everything. I secretly love the voyeurism of it, watching people be themselves in a myriad of ways and for myself to be a beaming set of admiring eyes beholding their behavior.

I wonder if this is why I love taking photos so much. Seeing the world in 1/60th of a second. Walking alongside a lover who called our taxi drivers, him laughing at the way I light up when we have power and water outages. I feel invisible here, amongst the throngs of people and their stories. I romanticize everything in this foreign space, meeting my lover at the park or sharing coffee over cake in a local tea shop. There is something beautiful about standing in the midst of chaos watching people littering on the streets or asking me to buy a necklace.  At times I worry i say too little, and appear naive and young. At times I am confident, greeting the local people and answering phone calls from drivers when i request a Grab.

Yangon pushes me to step outside my life and to appreciate all the water colors of my inner world being challenged, to embrace the real one that’s happening so quickly around me, all over me, everywhere I turn.