4 Dec 2009

Next book...coming soon...

Is This Burma?
Sit yourself comfortably for an eventful ride. Let the journey take you down rivers, up mountains, inside monasteries and inside people’s lives. Let it introduce you to remarkable characters. Let it take you where no foreigner is allowed to go, by motorbike right up to the Chinese border.
Here is a very exceptional country in every sense of the word. On the outside, a closed off pariah, very far away in our consciousness. Yet, if you can let go of your preconceptions, on the inside there is so much to discover.
Above all let this book shed intimate light on a little known country and people so cruelly shut off and isolated from the world as we casually know it. Prepare to be surprised by a very exceptional country. This is the Burma we can discover a little more about from the inside.

Should I Go?
1 Yangon - The End of Strife
2 Yangon - All That Glistens Is Not Gold
3 The Golden Rock Rollercoaster
4 Lights Out in Mawlamyine
5 Hpa-An - Monks and Monkeys up a Mountain
6 Bago: Mr. Bald, Mr. Funny & the Goat’s Fighting Balls
7 Kalaw - Win Win the Lottery
8 Mandalay - The Moustache Brothers: No Joke!
9 Snakes and Horses: The Deserted Cities of Mandalay
10 Pyin U Lwin - The Footsteps of Empire
11 The Chapatti Interviews
12 The Heavy Hand of History in Burma
13 The Slow Train to Hsipaw
14 Mr. Book: Crying For An Education
15 The Forgotten Palace Meets the Forging Empire
16 Motorbike Misadventures One: Switzerland & Back
17 Motorbike Misadventures Two: China and Back
18 The Wrong and Winding Road
19 I’m a Tourist. Get Me Out Of Here!
20 Whispers in the Shadows of Mandalay
21 River of Destiny to Bagan
22 Bagan: Dusty Desert of Forgotten Gold
23 Questions From A Monk
24 On the Way to Pyay
25 Bay of Bengal - End of the Bumpy Road
26 The Japanese Original with Fried Fish
27 A Land to Savour and Set Free
What Now? Is This Burma’s Future?

Extract from Chapter 23 - Questions From A Monk:
"Sat next to me was a venerable middle-aged monk wearing sunglasses. For a moment I wondered if someone high up had assigned him to keep an eye on me and make sure I stayed on my best behaviour.
From the inside, the bus was nowhere near as bad it looked from the outside. It seemed to move along without too much of a rough splutter, which was always an unexpected bonus on any Myanmar bus.
The seats were high so your legs could barely touch the floor. But then they never needed to touch the floor because the floor was piled with sacks and boxes of luggage. Giant white bags of rice consumed much of the aisle space. Getting on and off necessitated tackling a mini obstacle course. One man simply resorted to sliding his frame in and out of the window to free himself.
It was the hottest part of a hot day in a hot place. There was barely any air flow. Dust tickled the palm trees along the roadside. The air outside the window caressed my face like a constant warm hairdryer.
It made me drowsy to the point where I found my head slowly but surely rhythmically lolling onto the monk’s shoulder. I’m not too sure what the local etiquette should be in such a social situation when you wake up near dribbling over a monk.
His English was strained, but he tried very hard and we managed some conversation.
‘I think this bus is older than me!’ he joked. ‘It is hot, hot, hot on this bus!’
‘Yes, very hot. And slow, slow, slow!’
‘Today the bus is very fast.’
‘Yes, because no breaks on the road, no accidents, no failing the engine. Very fast today.’
‘Very fast?’ I found myself asking out loud. ‘What is your mother nation?’
‘What is your origin?’
‘Good question. I suppose I came from my mother in England too.’
‘And what is her origin?’
Unfortunately for me, after a couple hours of hot, sweaty and slow progress some distinctively unholy aromas of body odour drifted into my nostrils. Perhaps this was silent revenge for my sleeping misdemeanours.
On the television screen the movie Transporters was playing, starring Jason Statham. Two girls in front of me turned around to point out some sort of resemblance between Jason Statham and myself. Then they dissolved into fits of embarrassed giggles. The monk next to me seemed to be enjoying some of the action sequences and even the shootouts.
‘Do you have many gun problems in your country?’ the monk asked me.
‘Erm, some gun problems, yes. But not like in the film.’
‘In your country, tell me, is sex free? Is it liberated to make sex with other people or do you have many disciplines to stop this?’
He was curious this monk. These were good questions which made me think. Did we have many disciplines to stop people making free sex?
‘Well,’ I began just as the bus lurched into a noisy pothole, ‘I suppose the sex is liberated for some people, but not always free.’
‘Sometimes you have to pay?’
‘Erm, a few people do but no. Most people get married or live together and then the sex is free. Although not always free.’
‘Your country very glamorous, yes?’
‘Well, it depends where you go or who you are with!’
'Sex is very free!'
'Maybe we are not very free from sex.' I replied.
At the end of the film, which the monk and myself had sat through stoically, there was a long and intimate kissing scene. He felt obliged to politely look away at anywhere or anything apart from the screen directly in front of his eye line.
Outside dusk was sliding up on us. There was sand everywhere. I felt like we were crossing some sort of desert. My stomach was stirred and swirled by the unpleasant momentum.
‘Road is very bad now here. Many holes. A lot of jumping I think. Very slow.’
‘Great, I can’t wait!’
The sandy dust, the long unexplained stops. The villagers rattling collections tins as we entered and exited every through settlement. The local bus was feeling just a little too local.
Every Myanmar bus journey had its obligatory food and toilet stops. Where England had motorway service stations, the mostly dirt track main roads were usually broken by large dusty shacks. The food was never particularly appetising unless you were ravenously hungry.
Various meats swam in oily tanks. There were dollops of rice and piles of noodles with complimentary flies. There was always plenty of tea of course and occasionally a Myanmar beer could be served. And a bit of fruit could be found afterwards from one of the street vendors if you gave it a good dusting down.
Eventually the bus arrived in Pyay around one o’clock in the morning. It was only around three hours late, not that lateness had any significant meaning for users of Myanmar’s well worn transport system.
Although determined not to miss my stop, I had been lulled into a deep sleep. As I groggily fished my mind back into normal consciousness, I became aware of a strange presence next to me.
My monk friend was sat with Zen like calm, crossed legged, gazing straight ahead. I wondered how he was able to give off the air of such relaxed serenity. It was almost as if he was floating above the ground and the white sacks of rice, like a meditating spectacled Buddha.
What a splendid religion Buddhism must be, I reflected, if it enabled you, or taught you, to sit so calm and serenely unaffected by thirteen hours of bumpy, dusty, noisy Myanmar bus travel.

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