The Town of Kalaw

Leaving behind the town of Kalaw

Back in early March, I went on a six-day hike in the Kalaw Region some gazillion miles north of Rangoon, Burma’s (former) capital. We, I and fifteen other students from my school, visited a good many hill villages on foot, an ordeal for many. We slept at the villages, we ate at the villages, and we spent hour upon hour going from one village to the next, uphill, downhill, uphill, and downhill again.

At the start of the trip, as we left the safe confines of the small base town and dove headstrong into the wilderness, I imagined how happy I would be to return. I would kiss the ground as soon as I set foot again on tarmac, I decreed. Nervous for the six-day ordeal ahead, I looked back one last time at the town and then made my way uphill together with the group.

What I didn’t forsee then was what I would learn along the journey and how sad I would feel having to leave Kalaw behind. What I didn’t know was how much I would cherish having gone on this six-day journey of toiling through the wilderness.

I remember climbing up to the peak of a hill, and just sitting there writing poetry. There was nothing but the grass, the wind, and the wide expanse below; it was exhilarating. I wrote a poem in Burmese (my mother tongue, yes, but a language I rarely use to write with) about photos; about how, sometimes, we regret not taking enough photos of a moment we want to remember but also about how, being the selfish creatures we are, we also desire to experience a moment with our own eyes, not saving it for others in two-dimensional film.

I remember that conversation at midnight behind the village school; just the four of us, talking. Under the stars, under the shadow of the mountains that surround us, hiding from our group leader/teacher who pulls in students skipping the curfew, we talked. We were the most honest, the most feeling, and the most understanding. We talked about our lives and our hopes, and our dreams. A month ago, I felt like I barely know you guys. But now, I feel like I have known you for all my life.

I remember a lot of things. I remember the kind tour guide. I remember all the uphills and the downhills. I remember the village dog. I remember the monk. I remember the communal bathing. I remember, I remember, I remember.

But how fast we forget. We go back to the city. In three months, how much we forget, how hard we must try to remember. I want to go back to the mountains and terrace farms. I want to go back to the village longhouse.

I want us to be at our most honest, most feeling, and most understanding. I want us to go on an adventure again.


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