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07 June 2007 (Myanmar) by Kendon Glass


Photo: Boat Boys in Myanmar

Language Translation Disclaimer

As I head south the landscape becomes increasingly lush with every new turn of the crank. Promising relief from the tropical heat, elevated murky dabs and charcoal smears slowly build across the overhead canvas.

A few days back I visited Myanmar in an effort to renew my Thai 30 day pass. I sat in a wooden hulled canoe shuffling in and out of the flotilla, banging and chafing alongside, vying for best position to front the bay wall steps as the paying customers vied for shade and a return passage.  Well before disembarking I had an idea that up those stone steps was the passageway to a different world from that which Id just come. The contrasts to neighbouring Thailand that boasts a 7-11 on every corner would prove to be stunning.

Arriving amongst a flurry of trade, net mending and fish stench the energy levels went up a few notches straight away.  Walking along a well trodden waterfront I discovered a modest immigration post competing for recognition amongst a foray of street vendors pushing their wares. An eager official waiting at the threshold spies me through the crowd; rubbing his hands together, he manufactures a smile and invites me in like Im long lost kin. Its all a facade.  As it turns out, hes not happy with my US currency, theres a miniscule tear on the notes edge, his bank will not, CAN NOT accept that. Throwing a leering glance in the direction of his junior counterpart he assures me that I can make it up to him however, after all he appreciates that I wasnt to know. He would continue smiling as long as I continued to play the game; whats a few extra dollars I tell myself. Im keen to get past the machine and onto the countries innateness, its rich traditions, the way of life that lies beyond the landscape of provisional politics.

This gateway to Myanmar displays an organic charm unaffected by the sterilizing effects brought on by the mass tourism that has engulfed the coastline of its neighbour. It appears too on first glance that the Wests juggernaut of private power and its unsustainable creed of unsatiable consumption, the gods of Levi and Mc D are yet to take hold in the hearts and minds of the people here. 

We live in a time when the need to pause and reflect on the values that underlie civilization is given very little weight. Over the years of my travels I have listened ardently to Shamans in the Amazon, stately Professors in Europe and venerated Lamas in Tibet as they express concerns for the plight of their communitys traditions in the all pervasive modern age. Having gradually evolved in subtle fluid movements for millennias the old world traditions are now in danger of being laid to waste in a single act of slash and burn. From the selling out of  deep seeded practices springs up a superficial existence fed by thin top soil and ash, good for a season or two at best. It is then not long until the yields drop off and erosion engulfs the entire cultural landscape.

In the words of a savage to the President of the United States, Chief Seattle could very well be speaking for the indigenous nations of the world:

we will be known by the tracks we leave behind; humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the thread we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.

The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?    --- Chief Seattle.

It is a moment of marked grace and wonder to witness a butterfly mimicking a leaf in order to deceive a predator. By attempting to mimic the dollar bill, man will only be in danger of fooling himself. It will be to humanitys own peril that we become estranged to our natural environment, the lessons it provides and the rich traditions that connect us to it.

There still exists special fortresss on this earth that one can attempt to reach under sail or by foot, by using ones imagination or not at all. These places as a general rule tend to be the protectors of natures grand story, pockets of precious diversity that at one time flourished out in the open on this blue ball of spinning rock we call our home.  It is imperative that such places are valued as sacred, their stories and lessons replicated in our own lives, their innate wisdom brought to bear in our own backyards. If not humanity will continue on its current tangent unabated, severed from the earth spirit and then ultimately his own, good for a season, perhaps two at best.

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On Reading an Old Philosopher - Herman Hesse | The Glass Bead Game

These noble thoughts beguiled us yesterday;
We savoured them like choicest vintage wines.
But now they sour, meanings seep away,
Much like a page of music whose vines,
 the clefs and the sharps are carelessly erased:
 Take from a house the centre of gravity,
 It sways and falls apart, all sense debased,
 Cacophony what had been harmony.

So to face we saw as old and wise,
Loved and respected, can wrinkle, craze,
As, ripe for death, the mind deserts the eyes,
Leaving a pitiful, empty, shriveled maze.

So too can ecstasy stir every sense
And barely felt can quickly turn to gall,
As if there dwelt within us cognizance
That everything must wither, die, and fall.

Yet still above this vale of endless dying
Man's spirit, struggling incorruptibly,
Painfully raises beacons, death defying,
And wins, by longing, immortality.

Photo: The Wonder


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