Day 71: my pursuit of uneasiness

Today is Nov. 4, 2016, my 72nd day in Myanmar.

When my departure date for Myanmar approached in August, many people, finally realizing that leaving the States to move to Asia wasn’t just a joke I kept on cracking, asked me: “Why Myanmar?”

That was not a question I had an answer to, since I didn’t pick Myanmar. It picked me.

But that didn’t matter, since the destination mattered so little to the people who knew even less about Asia, let alone the second most isolated country in it. I knew too well the question they were actually asking was: Why leaving the States?

(“It’s the best country in the world after all, isn’t it?”)

To that question, I had enough practice and probably more than enough self-reflection to answer smoothly. One of them, considered my personal favorite, was: “I want to move back to a place where things are not that easy. I’m tired of easiness.”

My folks thought (probably still think) that is the most ludicrous thing they’ve ever heard: why would anyone not want easy? What is “hard” for you? And how is that possibly better in anyway imaginable? (All true questions.) Outside of my immediate circle, most of whom confused by such an atypical response, most others shrugged off that answer like they never asked or I never said anything. I often wonder why people care enough to ask but not as much to understand.

For the wrong people, this most certainly is the wrong answer.

I admit it isn’t the most attractive idea to abandon a good, easy lifestyle. Moreover, it makes a lot of sense for me to stay at a place where I have friends, a working support system, where I can casually get around and operate with comfort and without many difficulties. At least half of the time I spent in the States, I was happy with my life there. Is it really a good decision to move away from all that?

The truth is, I never knew if the decision to move to Myanmar was a good one, but I always knew it was a decision I had to make. The only thing I needed to say to convince my college best friend why this fellowship was what I wanted at the time, was “I always think when I begin to feel too comfortable in one place, that is my environment telling me to leave.” And I was comfortable, very much so.

Comfort is great. No one hates comfort. I, for the most part, am not a weirdo, so I don’t, either. But comfort for me also equates a lack of challenge, a tendency of simply getting by without trying, because we can, and there’s no need to. Comfort turns every day, week and month a blur. Long and behold, I resist change, because there’s too much to hold on to and too much at stake to take a risk.

I can’t bare that. That sounds to me a state of sedentary, which in any forward-moving world, sedentary is the same as falling behind. I grew up memorizing this analogy I learned from Chinese class: Qing-dynasty journalist Liang Qichao once said: “While sailing upstream, not going forward results in falling backward (逆水行舟,不进则退).”

My world, regardless of where I am, is an upstream battle.

But here comes the scary bit: I didn’t know what I meant by “not easy.” I wasn’t sure what that actually looked like. A life not easy is easy to say, but how uneasy exactly to live it?

As it turns out, the day-to-day uneasy bits here in Yangon can go from breaking the water pump in my apartment, which I use to pump water from a tank I fill up periodically to every faucet and shower head in my home, and as a result having no running water for two days, to long and frequent power cuts due to heavy rain and constant heat, to stuck for hours in rush hour traffic, caused by general public’s negligence of traffic rules and poor city planning.

Certain things take a strong toll on me more than others, because they are either inconvenience resulted not from my own misbehaviors, or worse, inconvenience that could not be made better by my own effort. These are usually the mundane things in life, things that I used to, matter-of-factedly, expect to work, like when you turn the faucet and expect water to flow, or flip the switch and there’s light. Because I never grew up with such issues (first time in my life having to deal with a water pump), it made it that much harder to cope.

Before this past weekend, I have been observing closely what effect these uneasy “little” things have had on me: I’m becoming more patient. I’ve been more prone to ask friends AND strangers (especially strangers) for help. I value my time so much more when things function.

But all these are me passively reacting to my situation. I adjust myself, my attitudes and my strategies, not as a prevention or even a solution, but as a contingency plan or a pat on the back after all of it unfolds. I feel so little and trivial when I bump into a wall that all I could manage to do is lie down and “be patient?” Really?

Things took a small turn over the weekend.

Two weeks ago, when a coworker first suggested having a Halloween party at the office, first of its kind in the history of our company, I had little faith that the party could actually take place. As a western festival that is only recently introduced to Myanmar, we have yet to see many Halloween related merchandise surfacing in the local market. And what about the participation, would my office really go through the trouble to dress up. Somehow, my lack of confidence didn’t stop me from becoming part of the PPC (Party Planning Committee), whose members, a “big” group of seven, spent Sunday afternoon decorating and preparing for the event.

Resources were scarce. We bought colored card boards and handmade props, from spider to pumpkin to skeleton heads (nowhere sells this kinda stuff), for the photo booth and office decor. At a final price of 50 cents a piece, we bought four biga** pumpkins and carved them with sharp fruit knives (nowhere sells pumpkin carving kits but thank god no one got hurt). String lights are painted in orange and purple for the spooky ambiance. Four hours of collective hard work later, this is what we got:

Most of what you see in this picture is handmade.

By the time we completed the decorations and left the office for dinner, I was flooded with joy. We indeed spent an entire afternoon doing something I could’ve done by just browsing the Halloween aisle of Wal-Mart for an hour had I been in the States, but the self-fulfillment is on a whole different level. I feel enriched and empowered by the creativity of my peers, the teamwork, the result and the idea that we can do this as well as so much more.

It might not have been easy during the process, but the uneasiness of it is what stimulated my creativity and made me believe. And maybe the outcome was similar, but the work actually made me happier and more satisfied coming out of it. I know that’s the feeling I wanted when I decided to leave easiness and comfort behind to come to Myanmar. It couldn’t have felt better experiencing it.



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