13 October 2005

Chapter Seven: Operation Dumbass

Dear Ones-

Sitting in our air conditioned Indian Airlines plane as we crossed the
Bay of Bengal, an idea formed in our head. It was born out of the
combination of delicate social mores of Nepal and India, the
difficulty of travel, and the fact I wanted a sun tan. We discussed
and plotted, and Operation Dumbass was initiated. No more learning,
no more temples. No reading difficult books or discussing politics,
religion or anything more difficult than the plot of a Friends
episode. We decided that Ko Phanang would be our destination,
debauchery our modus operandi, and sunburns our goal. We started in

Stepping out of the airport, this was definitely not India. Things
had schedules, buses actually went where they were supposed to,
streets clean and shining, there were seven-11s. Yes yes, judge away
cruel world- I was excited to be able to have a Slurpee. We stared
Operation Dumbass (OD) by getting new nicknames: Book for me, Donut
for Josh (he lost a donut in the Bangkok train station and walked
around asking us "Guys? Where's my donut? Have you seen my donut?",
and Guy became Chicken. Because in Thai, Guy means chicken. Next,
Josh and Guy had their hair cut and bleached (because why not?), and
we bought tickets for the islands.

The problem with something like OD is that it is a slippery slope.
There is always another level to descend to. And descend we did. We
played cards, drank cold beer, and swam. Our lives became like the
instructions on a shampoo bottle: swim, drink, sleep, repeat. Repeat.
Repeat. Repeat under palm trees, in crystal clear blue water. Until
you become just like the thousands of other burnt twenty somethings on
the beach. The surprising thing was that we found out that we weren't
very good at being stupid and sun tanned. Back sliding began
immediately. Guy read Dostoevsky on the beach. I read all the
newspapers in sight. Josh kept bringing up topics that were over the
"Friends"-episode limit. The beach was nice, but we didn't even make
it to the TWO WEEK mark before we had to go. What kind of stamina is
this? I can't take a two week beach holiday? I will mark it up to
not having a job.

So we decided: let's go to Burma. Because there is nothing quite like
a military dictatorship completely isolated from the rest of the world
to bring reality back into view. And, September 25, we landed in
Rangoon. Myanmar is amazing- physically beautiful, politically a
wasteland, and about 25 years behind it's neighbors. Their largest
banknote is 1000 kyat, worth 83 cents, which means exchanging a
hundred dollars on the black market gives you a two inch thick wad of
paper to try and stuff into your money belt. There are no newspapers,
internet or television that isn't part of the junta. People are just
dying to discuss the outside world with visitors, after a quick glance
around them to make sure no one else can hear them. More than 10% of
the populace works for the Military Intelligence office, secretly
spying on their families and neighbors. We tried hard to put as
little money into the government coffers as possible, trying to stick
to private enterprises. The highlight of the trip was a boat trip
down the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan, and Bagan itself.
The river is wide and flat, carrying on down the center of Myanmar
until it empties itself into the ocean at Rangoon. All along it is
studded with golden temples and pagodas sticking their spires out of
the jungle, bells hung from the top gently tinkling in the breeze.
There are almost no roads or power lines, just low mountains, purple
in the distance. Bagan is a place that Buddhists visit to clean their
karma, wiping their slates clean before dying. There are literally
thousands of temples here, dotted in the fields and rising up from
palm groves. We rented bikes and rode around for two days, hopefully
erasing the Operation Dumbass bad karma that may or may not have built
up. Myanmar is a country that needs foreign aid bad- don't forget
that the embargo enforced upon Burma causes the normal Burmese to
suffer, while generals glide by in new Mercedes with tinted windows.

Two days ago we crossed back into Thailand and enjoyed an orgy of
newspapers and internet before meeting up with some friends we had
made in Japan (Chris and Vicki). It was great to see some friendly
faces, and we spent two days taking a Thai cooking class where the two
instructors kept us moving with chants of "Smash the garlic like you
want smash ex-lovers face!! Harder! You mad! Smash it good!" and
"Chili burn your mouth today, burn ass tomorrow!". Tomorrow we are
crossing to Laos, because we've decided that "Lao is Now.". More


PS> Notice that I haven't invented any more alter egos? It's just
that Findira warned me not to talk about them any more.