On waking up New Year’s Day in an ashtray
I woke up on this first day of the new decade in the worst place I have ever been. Entering Mandalay via the Irrawaddy last night, our boat passed by other boats spewing black smoke, ships regurgitating brown water back into the already-polluted river, barges overflowing with coal, bound for who knows where… we arrived at the receiving dock under a smog-heavy dusk, particles of the smut-laden air seemed to cling to my being.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and the city is the textbook definition of pollution: noise, sound, light…all in an excess of excess. The theme of this city’s New Year’s celebration is Heavy Metal; apropos, I think, of a city that simply reeks of burning tires and rubbish and carbon emissions.
It is without irony that I think the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is the much nicer version of this place.
To this shock, I add the inherent contradiction that seems to be this part of the world: a warm, smiling taxi driver who, when he didn’t have change for my larger bill (the equivalent of $3 USD), accepted less than his fare and wouldn’t accept the larger bill I offered. An equally endearing woman, for whom I gather this guesthouse is named (Ma Ma), who, in sensing my state, received me with a kinder than necessary demeanour, insisting I get settled and showered before even considering what to do next.
For these humans I am grateful.
I begin 2020 on my last day in a country I’ve just spent nearly 3 weeks travelling, my midnight coinciding with only a handful of those I’d consider close. I’ve locked myself in my room here at this little oasis within this dreadful city, and will leave only to head out to the airport to get to my next connection in the series of hops I must take to make it the 10,000 miles home. I’ll wish a Happy New Year to friends and family on the other side of the oceans while I have lunch on this side. Time travel is surely something.
Waking up in a city equivalent of a heavily-used ashtray only means that each subsequent morning in this new year and new decade can only be brighter and healthier.
So, on this day I proffer this simple wish: For this new era I’m hoping for more kindness and warmth and peace and light; success coming in the forms of compassion and empathy and freedom, abundance in the forms of friendship and experience and consistency and quality.
Happy New Year, near and far!