I have been wanting to write about the excursion but never have the time for it. But since it’s a week-long holiday these days, I decided to indulge finishing a write-up of the said activity. It’s really been a year since I last posted something on my blog.
I was later informed about going to an excursion as arranged by IP-16 students. They were one of my first group of students since I started working as a volunteer teacher in SAG (St. Aloysius Gonzaga Institute of Higher Studies), Taunggyi way back in 2016. Many of them come from different places and ethnic backgrounds, most of which are from far-flung areas; across Thai-Burma, China-Burma, and India-Burma borders; and to the east, south, and north of Shan State. The feeling, knowing that I was about to go with them, seemed to be so exciting and overwhelming. I’d been meaning to go with them to wherever they wanted to go and I just can go with the flow. The important thing is I can spend time with them. I just couldn’t believe it all happened in the end.
Taunggyi ➡ Kyaik Hti Yoe ➡ Hpa-an ➡ Ngwe Saung ➡ Yangon ➡ Aungban ➡ Ba Wa Sam Sa Ra Bridge ➡ Taunggyi
We set off together one evening from the institute where I live in a bus big enough to cater a half number of the third year. I later found out that the father of my student named “B2” was with us all along with the excursion as one of the bus drivers and assistants. Not all of them came to the excursion, but they arranged to have an outing to Bahtoo, a great place nearby Southern Shan State for amusement in which all of them could come and gather as a class after this 5-day trip. Aside from myself being an adult to look after them, Bro. Peter Mwe, a local Jesuit brother came with us as well. We did need a local too for further guidance. I was sitting at the back seats for the entire excursion. I just needed a wider area to sit or just simply lay down avoiding my dizziness to be triggered.
The road to our destinations was very far. There had indeed been lots of time for me to look back and think about as I leaned my face against the bus window. Somehow, I could feel the coldness of my body and the loneliness that I have within. The first two nights of bus sleep were full of moments of silence and solitude yet fun in some ways. I enjoyed occupying the whole back seats while riding from one place to another. At times, I was sleeping without realizing that I fell off the seats as the bus bounced on the bumpy roads. Hahaha! Taking a nap here, taking a nap there… I just couldn’t stop myself from thinking and reflecting. “After two years and eight months, I’m still here,” I thought. Admit it or not, I have frustrations, insecurities, and worries that time. I know there’ll be lots of uncertainties and big responsibilities I have to face when I return home. Meeting old friends, classmates, and colleagues, I was imagining how it feels like to do this activity I’ve long kept. I continued thinking and even came to the point telling myself that I’m here for a reason and a promise. It’s my decision and I’ve never doubted it. In this emotional state I’ve been experiencing, it’s hard for me to let go of something I’m not ready until I fulfilled what I promised to myself and somebody else. I’ve been trying to contain all my sad emotions every time I venture. I’m almost there, there at the finishing line…
It was only one morning of the second day when we reached Mon State, our first destination. According to the itinerary, Kyaik Hti Yoe Pagoda, a Buddhist pilgrimage site in Mon State where we can see the famous Golden Rock, is a must-visit place. To get there, we had to ride a fast-paced open truck. Getting there requires quite a bit of effort. You have to ride upon the winding roads on the forested mountains then wind down when going back to the base. Although the trip is an adventure in itself, it takes considerable time and part of the journey can be uncomfortable. It was a roller-coaster and adventure ride for us after all. We were taking photos and ended up singing English and Burmese songs in groups. I felt ecstatic to see and hear them singing. Afterward, we went by a cable car which was my first-time experience until we stepped on a town entering the pagoda. When we arrived there, several people came to the rock to pay respect. Unfortunately, the rock we were supposed to see was under renovation at the moment. So while the girls were waiting outside the golden rock corner by taking pictures, I and the boys joined the devotee pilgrims applying gold leaves to the rock. Only men can do this, as women are not allowed to touch the rock.
We had a bus riding the whole afternoon of the same day till we reached our second destination. That was in Hpa-an, located in Kayin State and it’s a two-hour drive from its neighboring Mon State. When we reached the place, we proceeded to the largest cave in Hpa-an named as “Saddan Cave.” It is named after an elephant from a Buddhist story and is a home for the bats. It will take about fifteen minutes to reach the other side of the cave. Once we had seen the cave opening, we went downstairs taking a boat ride in groups of six through the lake and half-flooded cave for a fee when we reached the other side. The boat rower took us back near to the entrance passing through paddy fields while we enjoyed the quiet calls and stunning view of nature. I even tried rowing the boat we rode at the time and took some more photos. At night, we went to a popular amusement part in Hpa-an. It was filled with colorful floral decorations and animal statues with games and other entertainment surrounding it.
On the third day, we finally arrived at Ngwe Saung, a well-known place solely for its wonderful islands and beaches. Its weather was hot and humid, scorching as it was. It made me remember and feel as if I’m back in the Philippines. As soon as we arrived, we went to a guest house and checked-in a room. We stayed there for only three days and two nights with me and Bro. Peter (as teachers) having a separate room one block away from the students. On our first stay there, we spent the whole afternoon playing water and swimming on the beach. I also joined playing football for a very short time with some boys and girls. I enjoyed swimming though (even if the water was very salty and that I couldn’t swim well). I also went around the town with the motorbike we rented with Ahpan, one of the 3rd year students.
At night, there was a barbecue party held where we occupied a space very far from the entrance staircase of the beach. The walk going there was so tiring because of the sand. It’s just that you can’t even walk in barefoot thinking that you may be wounded by a sudden step on any sharp object. When we settled in, the flames leaped up at once and the bonfire began to smoke and roar and crackle. I found that everybody there was merry talking, using phones to post photos of the day, grilling fish, preparing some drinks, and singing songs again and again. Fireworks came shortly after that eventually ended in a fury of light and crackling noise. After we had eaten, the students dragged me to join them in singing and dancing around the bonfire. I did join them constantly reminding myself to have fun to the maximum level and forget all the worries I have on things or people because as far as I know, the world teaches us to live life to its fullest whenever possible. The students had been saving money (taken from their allowance) bit by bit for this grand trip and came up with a possible time to be reunited with me despite our very short meetings in school for the past two years. So, what’s the point of enjoying the night when you’re worried and shy the whole time?
On the second day at Ngwe Saung Beach, I woke up as early as five to see the sunrise at the nearby beach. I then looked at how beautiful the scenery was. While there are tons of work waiting for me (even if I wanted to stop thinking about it), I paused realizing that there are also tons of recreation out there waiting to be relished for a day, a while, or even a second.
Exploration to another side of the beach for snorkeling was awesome on that day. Too bad I wasn’t able to dive underwater and see different fishes and coral reefs there, but lucky for those who did. I just couldn’t swim well at all! LOL!
Moreover, it was the day I almost vomited due to seasickness. I thought of not having it aside from carsickness I have, but goodness! That’s what happens to me when I am consistently riding for more than an hour. The boat ride took us for almost three hours of traveling back and forth, so it’s no wonder that some will get dizzy. When we went back to the guest house, I wanted to go to the nearby beach and spend some time swimming there before sunset. Some of my students followed me and played water until six in the evening. They said there will be another round of bonfire at night, but I didn’t come anymore as I was already exhausted after dinner.
The last day at Ngwe Saung was my last time to swim after breakfast and walk to buy some souvenirs and traditional snacks at a local town before leaving by bus. Ahpan accompanied me upon purchasing items I wanted to buy. Throughout our remaining travel, we passed by Yangon then to Aungban. We spent our last night sleeping on the bus, then we stopped from one shop to another for the meals. The next day morning, we dropped by Ba Wa Sam Sa Ra Bridge where the train railways can be seen and took our last group travel photos. Finally, we arrived in Taunggyi with satisfying faces carrying us our things back home.
Working in Myanmar gave me an opportunity to gain an intimate understanding of this complex and fascinating country while contributing to its development by sharing my time, skills, and expertise. As Myanmar is open to various nationalities willing to serve by volunteering for a week, a month, a year, or more, the amount of help and happiness that are given to any local people most especially to those who are in need or marginalized is truly priceless and of greater value. I appreciate the simple living here and perhaps, that is one of the reasons why I stayed back. For someone who hasn’t gone back home for almost three years, you can’t imagine without thinking about your family and friends at home. You think of home, the food you have been missing, the activities you wanted to do and all. I see parents with their children everywhere I go and it makes me feel even more sentimental. Every series of moments is filled with great things to be valued.
But at the same, I’m joyful being with some people whom I’ve known before. The same goes too with some new people I met. To me, they are family. Their simplicity is not much found in my place nor in any other places I have ever been to. But I’m just being thankful each day, being given chances to treasure more and more memories because what matters is I’m happy with what I am, what I have, and what I do now. I’ve done enough to take part and do something more for the community that has also influenced me to grow as a better individual. Indeed, it has been an incredible and fulfilling journey. I can say that I’m ready for the next chapter of my life.
I did value every accompaniment of any 3rd year, maybe because the feeling towards the first group of students you had been handling for so long is incomparable. I just love to be with them and in my heart, I am one of them. I guess when going back, there won’t be any time I won’t remember them by this excursion.