Friday, February 26, 2010

Tidings, on Return from Myanmar

First: Kiera and I are both safe and sound, returned to the urban hubbub of Nanjing. We were not shot or imprisoned by the infamous junta; we did not fall ill with malaria or break-bone fever; we were not bitten by any of Myanmar's many venomous snakes.


Our trip was not without obstacles, trials, and tribulations. This was Kiera's first trip abroad from China, and she certainly got a taste of the challenges as well as the rewards that easily make travel one of the most worthwhile pursuits in life. In fact, the first problem hit us before we even got to Myanmar. Having booked three sets of flights (Nanjing to Guanzhou, Guanzhou to Bangkok, Bangkok to Yangon), we arrived at 1:00 AM in Suvarnabhumi airport (Bangkok) for a night of uneasy snoozing. Our flight for Yangon was set to take off at 8 AM that same morning. What we learned, upon waking around 5:30 AM, was that our budget carrier (Air Asia) did not have an agreement for in-airport transit. With only a couple hours til our flight, we learned that Kiera would have to apply for and successfully receive a visa-on-arrival for Thailand, and only then could we make our way through immigration control, customs, get our tickets, back through security, and run for our gate of departure. Guts churning, fearing for this trip we had already spent so much time and money preparing for, we raced through each hazard as quickly as we could. The short of it is that God, airport security, and fellow travelers all had mercy on us. We made it to our gate with only a few minutes to spare.

Yangon is one of those romantic destinations that have nothing to do with sunsets on sandy beaches, hip clubs, royal hotels, or any other lap of luxury you could care to name. Yangon is old-school romance: the smells of curries, voracious plant life, and sun-baked spoilage; crumbling colonial architecture succumbing to vines; giant banyan trees festooned with hanging shrines to the Nats (pre-Buddhist Burmese deities); golden bell-curved pagodas towering over a ground-hugging cityscape of old British manors, Chinese temples, Indian mosques, tenements, bamboo huts. Arguably, even the great democracy advocate, Aung San Suu Kyi--imprisoned within her home upon the shores of an urban lake--only adds to the romance of that city. A genuine damsel in distress guarded by thuggish warlords! Yangon, in shorter and less baroque description, is the romance of a world less globalized, less sanitized, less homogenized. And we arrived on February 14th: Valentines Day as well as Chinese New Years Day by the lunar calendar. The stars had aligned.

So, on February 14th, 2010, I asked Liang Li Li (Kiera Liang is her chosen English name) to marry me. She said yes.

How's that for heart-stopping news? I assure you, it was heart-stopping for us, too. Are we really that old, to have stumbled upon this particular milestone? Kiera lamented--even as she smiled and cried tears of joy--that she was no longer a young girl. I feel the same way, but at least if we are to give in to that human condition of aging until we become dust, we will have good company for the durance.

The rest of the story may seem anti-climactic following this *big* news. However, I will soon post the stories of our adventures in depth. Myanmar is a beautiful, if isolated, country that will remain an important and memorable one for both Kiera and myself.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Myanmar's Eve

Also Chinese New Year's Eve, and Valentine's Eve. Quite a conjunction of events, don't you say? And when Kiera and I finally arrive in the former capital city of Yangon, on the Irrawaddy Delta, we'll have missed their 'Union Day' celebrations by a mere two days. Supposedly some of the events will be ongoing. But that's getting ahead of the story.

Three flights--Nanjing to Guangzhou (formerly Canton), Guangzhou to Bangkok, Bangkok to Yangon (formerly Rangoon)--and two days are the cost of getting to Myanmar (former Burma). And what could be worth such costs? A country, isolated under a despised and despotic government, where magic realism is reality. This the guidebooks assure us. Boulders perch in peril upon holy peaks, encrusted in gold dust brought by countless pilgrims. A plain studded with over 4,000 temples, emerging from the fields in various states of dishabille. And, well, beaches. A beach without any sunburned tourists studding its modest brown sands or guzzling the juice of its blowsy palm trees. Myanmar is a good place to find such beaches. Kiera hasn't yet in her life met the ocean; I was introduced with its rough play at the age of three; I feel well able to make the necessary introductions. Most importantly, Myanmar has--so it is said--many kindly, curious people. Sanctions on the luxurious lifestyles of their military junta shouldn't be allowed to cut contact between the country's common people and the world.

So here's hoping for a good Chinese New Year and Valentine's spent in a remote and fascinating corner of the world. I'll let you know how it went.