Default Getaway

Just over a week ago, we celebrated the full moon festival of Tazaungmon in Myanmar. Throughout the wettest days of the monsoon, between the July and the October full moons of Waso and Thadingyut, there is a period which is often called  “Buddhist Lent” in Myanmar. During this period, it is usual not to begin new ventures – not to start a new job or move house and not to get married. At the Thadingyut Full Moon (usually in October) there is a great sense of festivity and the city is bathed in lights and candles. The temples are packed and shops full of gift packs of monk robes and appropriate gifts.  The night sky is punctuated with lanterns floating upwards.

ngapali 3

The Tazaungmon full moon, framed by traditional shades

The whole month following Thadindgyut has a festive air, and as the next full moon, Tazaungmon approaches we see preparations for this festival. At the end of our lane a stall appears, with wooden frames where people pin brand new 1000 Kyat notes and other donations.

tazaungmon blog 2

tazaungmon blog 1tazaungmon blog 3At various times, these are wheeled around the lanes and streets. I looked up one Sunday morning when I heard some lively music blaring from a megaphone, and saw a line of money trees and umbrellas passing along above the hedge outside. Quite surreal.

tazaungmon 4Last year I even saw a car with money pasted all over it, on its way to the temple to offer its donation.

tazaungmon blog 4This year Tazaungmon fell on a Thursday. Which brought the opportunity of taking a day’s leave on the Friday and making a long weekend of it. Rainy season is usually behind us by this time which makes flying less of an ordeal for me and I could feel a relaxing weekend at the beach calling to me. A booking was quickly made and I continued to work flat out, secure in the knowledge that a peaceful break was ahead.

However, rainy season had decided to continue a little mischief and on the Tuesday we had some torrential downpours. By Wednesday morning, there was no break in the rains and the sky heavy and grey. This was far more like a Scottish November day than a Myanmar one! I had to visit the Clinic for my regular blood check and the streets were again waterlogged. I was glad I was not flying that day and relieved that there were 24 hours before my flight.

When I returned from the clinic things took a turn for the unexpected and unwelcome. Firstly I received a text message alerting me that a friend was considering cancelling their seaside break due to a weather system developing in the Bay of Bengal. At almost the same time, I received an email alert about the possibility of a tropical storm or cyclone developing. My stomach flipped. Partly out of fear (flying in stormy weather, danger if the system were to develop and were to head in our direction) and partly from anger at the injustice of my badly needed break being in jeopardy.

I desperately tried to get any information and advice, but it was consistently inconsistent! The storm was expected to weaken, or strengthen. It might head towards Myanmar or it might decide to tootle off towards India. Some folks were cancelling and others were pushing ahead with plans. I was utterly incapacitated and had less than 24 hours to make a decision.

Now I am not the world’s most decisive person at the best of times, and in this instance I excelled myself. I did not want to make myself miserable and anxious by going ahead, but nor did I want to make myself miserable and resentful by cancelling. And the crystal ball continued to taunt me with its lack of information.

Hence, on the Thursday morning, with the torrential rain continued to batter down outside, and a sky promising plenty more, I was perched on the end of my bed only two hours from the flight’s departure. I had hardly slept, had not yet showered, breakfasted or even dressed and was still nowhere near making that decision. The fact that everywhere was closed for the holiday did not help, and the only information I could glean suggested that the while the storm was strengthening it was predicted to head westwards, India-bound. Ironically I had persuaded a friend to join me at the beach, and now the situation was reversed as she encouraged me not to cancel.

I had nothing to lose and no further information, so within half an hour had finished packing my little bag (no point in packing the sunscreen or sunhat though), showered, dressed, breakfasted and was putting my umbrella in my bag and throwing on my raincoat to head to the airport and see if the flights were running.

The streets were quieter than I had expected, in terms of traffic,  apart from a few Tazaungmon trucks with Gangnam Style belting out from massive speakers draped with plastic sheeting and filled with young folks drenched and dancing, seemingly oblivious to the rains and their dripping clothing.

tazaungmon blog 6There was mayhem at the airport, the floors were slippery and there were crowds of people. I headed towards the check-in desk, pleading to the invisible that the flight would be cancelled. I had seen a forecast of rains and thunderstorms and hate flying in these conditions.

The fates had decided otherwise and when I approached the desk, I was asked where I was flying to. When I replied I was escorted immediately to the front and my bag taken to be weighed.

But will the flight be all right?” I asked.

Oh yes, it’s a new aircraft” was the reply.

But the weather………”

Fine in Thandwe. The bad weather is here in Yangon only

And I realised I had a boarding card in my hand and my bag was being wheeled off on its own through security.

And so, it happened that I was on my way by default. The departures area was packed and many flights delayed, which did nothing to calm my agitated state. The ground staff from the airline I was travelling wore purple t-shirts so it was clear that one of the two flights they were running would be departing soon and sure enough, only a few minutes late, our flight was called. Getting up and moving to the departure gate reminded me of going to chemo. There was no way I wanted to be heading, but when bidden I would follow like a puppy. The rains were showing no sign of abating, and as the bus pulled up beside the aircraft we were met by a guard of honour formed by a line of airline-branded umbrellas. And then I was on the plane, questioning my lack of gall.

Take-off was predictably slithery but soon we were levelling off at 16,000 feet and travelling through a thick sky, surreally reminiscent of the frothy top of a cappuccino. Happily I had requested a direct flight (there is another long story in there – suffice to say that many flights in Myanmar fly on a kind of circular route and might have two or even three stops before you reach your destination). A forty minute flight with no extra landings and take-offs was about as much as I could handle.

As we descended into Thandwe, the light suddenly brightened in the cabin and I realised we were no longer in thick cloud. Vibrant green paddy fields, and thick jungle punctuated by winding brown rivers were immediately below and in minutes we were touching down on a dry runway.

tazaungmon blog 5The sky was still angry and the usually azure sea was more grey than usual, but I had arrived and if truth be told, the flight had actually been fine. I did not need to worry about flying again for three whole days, by which time the storm would have decided what it was doing and where it was heading.

tazaungmon blog 7As it turned out, the storm did form into a cyclone and turned towards India, but weakened and fortunately did not cause as much damage and harm as it might have. Although the Friday at the beach continued to be cloudy, Saturday saw a dramatic transformation to blue skies and continuous sunshine matched with the realisation that it is never wise to make a decision about what to pack without being that bit flexible. I am happy in the shade, but still it would have been wise to have had sunscreen, and throughout the whole break my raincoat stayed in the room! The rest of the break passed uneventfully, which was exactly what I had been seeking, quietly reading, people watching, walking and swimming.

People watching people watching......

Watching people watching  ……

ngapali 8

ngapali 9tazaungmon blog 8

New beach behaviours - selfie snapping in the waves!

New beach behaviours – selfie snapping in the waves!

ngapali 2

Traditional beach decorum - sea-bathing fully clad - these women were squealing with delight every time a wave washed over them!

Traditional beach decorum – sea-bathing fully clad – these women were squealing with delight every time a wave washed over them!

tazaungmon blog 9And of course, in no time I was on an equally calm return flight to Yangon and breathing in the sea air and holding on to the peacefulness of the previous days as I prepared for the week ahead.

Ngapali sunset

Serenity and tranquility

In the light of day

After  the grey day we had yesterday, dominated by the outer tendrils of Tropical Storm Nesat, spilling its endless rains throughout the night and the whole day, the last thing I needed was a sleepless night.  But there I was, checking my watch at 3 am, 3.20 am, 4 am and right through until the last check I remember, when it was approaching 5.25 when I finally fell asleep.  Our Twitter BCSM discussion this week was about cancer anxiety, and how it affected us.  I didn’t need to be reminded in the dark hours of the night.

I was startled by the jarring sound of my alarm at 5.50, rudely shattering the sleep which had finally descended. I always struggle to get out of bed, even with the prospect of a sunrise swim, and even after a decent sleep.  The last thing I wanted to do this morning was to leave my cosy bed and head out for my swim.  It took a good few precious minutes to drag myself out of bed and look out of the window.  Yesterday the rain had been torrential and I had been forced to forgo my early swim.  Oh, for a rainstorm and an excuse to go back to sleep today!  The sky was preparing for daybreak, but through the distance I could see a change in colour on the horizon.  A pinkish, orange glow.  That could only mean one thing.  That the clouds had thinned enough to promise a sunrise.    So nothing to sabotage today’s swim.

I must have groaned as hubby stirred in his sleep.  “You’re really tired.  Don’t go for your swim today” he grumbled.  “I have to” was my response,  “I have to”.  I love my morning swim, I know it makes my day, but I also know that one of the strongest motivating factors is the knowledge that women who exercise regularly, statistically have less recurrence, according to studies I have read.  So I have to swim.

I moved into automatic mode and put on my swimsuit and casuals, gathered my work clothes and put them into the small rucksack lying waiting for its daily outing and headed out.

The sky was still angry in places, matted clumps of cloud strewn across the sky marking Nesat’s reach.  I walked through the little lane past three girls sitting, beside their basins of fresh fish, chickens and shrimps on their way to the market.  They stop there most days, resting and chatting before they pick up the basins, put them on their heads and move on towards the market.  They giggled, as they always do, when I pointed to each basin and attempted to say the words for fish and chicken in Myanmar language.  As always, they gestured to my watch and I gave them my daily attempt to tell them the time.

The school yard I pass through had rivulets in the sandy ground from the torrential rains.  I passed the Mohinga stall, huge aluminum pots steaming and the smell of fishy stock meeting my nostrils.  Its popularity evident from the number of new, flashy cars parked outside.

As I approached the pool a few drops of rain fell.  It was too late to turn back though, and the sky was giving no clues as to whether this was the start of another downpour or just a passing threat.

As soon as I hit the water, I’m awake!  The pool was cool, cooler than usual having missed the sunshine the day before.  Before long I am breathing more deeply, soothed by the sound of the water as I move through its mass, and I feel my mental greyness lifting.  There are only three of us in the pool, each in our own space, physically and mentally.

As I plough up and down the length of the pool, I am glad that Twang Arm prevents me from being able to swim a proper front crawl.  Instead I swim with my head above the water, my usual steady breast stroke which enables me to take in the sounds and colours around me.  The sun has already risen, as I can see from a bright area behind the clouds, low in the sky.

Then something shifts.  The walls of the surrounding building turn pink, shadows of large palm tress appear and everything brightens.  As I turn to swim northwards again, I see that the sun is peeping out over one of Nesat’s tendrils, casting brilliant sunlight and immediately illuminating the world.

My own world has suddenly transformed a different and brighter place.