Mandalay Mornings

A familiar chime wakes me early as the sun prepares to rise. The mornings are refreshing-- and the brisk cool air intermixed with the smoke that billows through my windows is a humble reminder of where I am. The most generous country in the world: Myanmar. 

Early in the morning, I'd walk out to chase the sounds of ringing bells. Residents set outside along the path of their neighborhood, as they prepared to give and receive their blessings. The monks were collecting their food for the day. 

One of the days I got to visit an orphanage with my friends family. Heartbreaking to see so many children abandoned, but it was also encouraging to see a community come around these children and donate as much as they could. More on that a little later-- but the spirit of giving in Myanmar is refreshing and encouraging, especially when trying to escape the savagery of capitalist ideologies. Coming to a 3rd world country-- and being eased of work-mentality, driven by a need to survive and succeed is ironic. But someone once said that the poor give the most. This place humbles me. 

Chapter 3: Mae Sot

Go West Young Man -- Chapter 3: Mae Sot

The hardest thing to confront is always yourself. And for me, traveling is a mirror that holds me accountable to my humanity-- it is the reminder of my privilege, and the champion of my dreams. 

Mae Sot, Thailand. I dig deep for words that justify my connection to this place. 

Mae Sot is a completely foreign place that feels oddly like home. It reminds me LA in some ways in the sense that it's a city bustling with immigrants, culture, all sects of religion and faith. Despite the chaos and the craziness here (and mind you, there's SO much craziness here), it works. Situated on the border of Myanmar and Thailand, it's a gateway for trade, immigration, and unfortunately crime/sex-trafficking/drugs. There's this sense of harmonious balance and tolerance that comes with the difference in subcultures, despite it being a 2nd transitioning into 1st world city. 

My reason for coming to this city was to reconnect with some old friends from when I visited last year. Outpour Movement, led by the famous Ray, is a full-time missionary and for-profit business owner in Mae Sot. Running a burger shop, a bike shop, refugee homes, art schools, and currently in the process of building an orphanage-- he understands the importance of stewarding a city, and not just preaching a message. 

My time was short, but memorable. I rented a scooter and biked EVERYWHERE. And dude, gotta break out of my blog voice for a second, I went to this weird black/grey market on the border and found an old camera lens for $50. I kind-of-not-so-legally crossed the border into Myanmar and had a beer. So much epic. So much awesum. I hope to go back and do a piece on it all when I work for Vice one day. 

But really, despite it all. It was all about friends, family, and God. I needed a getaway, something for myself. There's this huge Burmese market in the middle of Mae Sot that comes to life at sunrise. I woke up at 5am and made my way out. I remember walking through the streets and alleys, snapchatting that "I live for moments like this." 

The 85mm is amazing for street photography. I can't even imagine what I could grab with a 135mm, but I prefer the 85mm over the 50mm just because of the distance it allows me to have between my subjects and I. 

I spent the entire day interacting with the men and women that immigrated here to build lives for themselves. Following subjects that I thought looked interesting, I stumbled on this one lady, or rather she stumbled onto me. I think I waited a solid 4 minutes, waiting for her to turn around...

I still get a bit of that rush I felt when I look at this picture. I remember the adrenaline and the joy that jolted me awake. the moment I clicked the shutter, I knew this was my favorite.

I remember standing there looking down in my viewfinder, smiling my ass off and trying to keep my cool. I zoomed into her face to ensure she was in focus, and for some reason I immediately remembered my mom.

I don't think this woman knows how much she saved me that day. 

It occurred to me. Her joy wasn't in pushing a heavy cart of vegetables and fruits early in the morning. She pushed that cart because of family. 

One of first things I learned on this trip is the value of self-value. For example, after a lot of reflecting for the first few weeks abroad, I realized how much I've been neglecting my own personal needs and how I failed to stay true to myself. My number one goal had been to build a career. I understand now that building a career isn't as deep a rooted value as building a home, earning a home. Now the goal and vision is shifted, and I can allow the concept of family to motivate me and keep me disciplined. 

Complacency is always a foothold for deception. I asked myself, when did I allowed external things to change me and shift my focus? When did I forget that I've always been motivated by the ideal of family? I realized it doesn't matter. What matters now is going forward, and building the strategy to fit the call. 

So forward I go, and this gem I stored away... Because this is week 2 out of 8, and I'm still on vacation. 

Next stop was Cambodia. And it was mind-blowing.

Chapter 1: Hot, Really Hot, and F***ing Hot

Go West Young Man -- Chapter 1: Hot, Really Hot, and F***ing Hot

To be honest-- traveling for a year, coming back to figure out and start a career, then leaving for a 2 month trip again within 9 months, wasn't a very reassuring decision, let alone a responsible one. I bought this plane ticket when I was at one of the lowest points physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially back in the beginning of 2016. $350 flash deal for a round trip to Bangkok + Korea? My parents and my community raised me better than to pass something like that up. 

As much anxiety and hesitation the idea of this trip gave me, it also gave me incentive to work my ass off and earn it. More importantly however, I convincingly persuaded my childhood best friends to finally come backpacking with me. 

I've known these guys for more than half of my life. They've seen and witnessed me in my worst, dealt with my shit, and seen me fail and grow. We've hated each other, screamed at each other, cussed each other out, met God together, etc. Brotherhood. It's crazy how far we've come since 7th grade, 9th grade, through college, and now.

We departed LAX separately, me and Scott on the 24th of April, the day after he took his MCATs. The boys would join the fray and adventure on the 17th of May. 

Traveling with Dr. Scotty has been balls to the walls. It's the first time he's really left the country, and sadly for him, he gets the rough introduction by having his first backpacking introduction with me :D. I always say that backpacking is always traveling, but traveling isn't always backpacking. There are times when things REALLY suck, Scott and I look at each other, lower our heads and sigh, then just have a good laugh about the crappiness that's about to ensue.

First place we hit was BKK and Chiangmai. It's been really difficult to pick up my camera, even after a month of being overseas. Part of it is just my laziness and the heat. My local friends who live in Bangkok once said this: "Thailand only has 3 seasons: hot, really hot, and fucking hell!" 

It's fucking hell here. 

But really, the problem is that anytime I pick up my camera, I'd get a sinking feeling in my chest because it's been a love-hate thing because it feels like work and not a joy. I'm coming to terms though. Although I suck at charging my batteries.

After a brief introduction in Bangkok, and a poorly planned/failed attempt to go to Vietnam. We ate $40 by skipping our flight to the 'Nam and followed our hearts to Chiangmai. 

I love CMX. I plan on buying a home here when I'm successful enough. It's a beautiful city filled with artists, expats, locals, and amazing architecture and culture. I'll be going through again so I promise to provide proper pictures the next time through.

Our second day in Chiangmai-- Scott and I, along with our British traveling mate Jack, rented scooters and decided to take a tour around the city. I hit all my old spots from last year, and also took the boys to a secret off-the-grid boat noodle spot that I had found about 20-30 minutes outside of the main city, in some back road neighborhood. The dude got so stoked and confused, he asked us in his broken English how we knew about this place, then took a picture of us because I guess he rarely has foreigners come through. Again, I'll take pictures next time.

Anyone that's properly experienced Thailand, which is the backpacking Thailand, knows that Thailand, primarily Bangkok, is straight up The Hangover 2. I'm not much of a tourist, turns out Scotty isn't either, I guess thats why we've been friends so long. We don't spend our times walking around temples and taking selfies with the Thai Ronald McDonald. I prefer the unbeaten trail, or creating my own. And to my delight, as does Scotty. 

After lunch, we found a cafe to shelter us from the flash thunderstorm. The next two hours we stared at maps on our phones, studying routes and regions. I followed a few back routes, tracing the forks and clicked on a blue icon: Tat Yoi Waterfall. 

"You guys want to go find a waterfall?"

Stay tuned.