September 09, 2014

On Board to Hsipaw: Gokteik Viaduct and Other Stories

The daylight was shy at four. I was awake like an owl observing in darkness. I waved at the single motorcycle outside my 20 dollars room shared with Clover, a Chinese friend. What made me so persistent about the trip was that I was about to experience the real life of the rural Burmese bound North second only to the great train ride up to Hsipaw. Amazed by the ancient building which houses the train station, I was lost - didn't know where to buy a one way ticket to Hsipaw. I wanted to have the tourist class where the foreigners were staying but time and circumstances did not allowed me and the Singaporean friend I met in the station. With no hesitation I bought the relic-type ticket, similar to what I got in the circular train in Yangon.


Bitterness and excitement abound in the cold morning of the first day of the year 2014 - biter by the routine lives of the Burmese where they piled up their good at heartbeat. Insensitive to the five dollar worth territory of the foreigners, someone has lied down on the seat in front of me owning the two seats, snored even though the train was not moving yet, slept to death until the steel wheel rolled to its victory. Who cares, I chose this path to see the authentic lives of the locals – and I saw it, savor it, and loved it. Excited to the music of the wheels and the bumping the couch in the cold morning, it was a scene in the movie – rolling hills and wild flowers 1900 feet above sea level.



When we reached Pyim Oo Lwin, the summer capital of the Burmese people, most of the passenger went on their own. Our couch was 90 percent empty. I had a full couch with some locals murmuring at the end and some men playing cards on the other end.


There is a sense of longing whenever I stayed long busy with my city life. Long train rides gives me freedom to think while moving from one place to another. It’s a euphoria of dream consumed unlimited without a penny shelled out. I am free to dream, to think, to get mad, to be myself, to love…to lust. 

I can manage to give into the world of earthly love defined by eroticism. I had a break up before I set foot on Burma but I had so much desire to love and give love at the beat. Only with myself in the obsession of being alone though not lonely, I thought of myself to consume my daily dose imagining.



The train was slowly moving at the edge of the cliff. I had the feeling that we were nearing my very purpose of riding the train – the Gokteik Viaduct. The magnanimous silver steel-works appeared. My blood rushed to shoot both with my point and shoot and smart phone. One of the greatest engineering stints of the English Colonialism to show influence and spread power up to the mountainous Shan State continues to amaze people from all over the world. Paul Theroux described it "a monster of silver geometry in all the ragged rock and jungle, its presence was bizarre". It was really bizarre at the mountainous region, the presence of such structure will never occur if not for politics and economics.



At full stop, passengers from the other couch behind us went down. They were all foreigners with long lenses and with babies on their arms. The train had to stop for manual traffic conducted by rail men specializing in manipulating train traffic. I did not go down simply because I already had the best view that I could take pictures the way I wanted to.  When the locomotive moves, it moves like a centipede struggling to breath. It gave us enough time to appreciate the climax of Mandalay-Hsipaw route. It gave us a wide perspective of the green highlands and wonderful cliffs of the Shan Region. It was a magnificent experience. I just had the best train ride in the world!




There is this one guy on the train on my way to Hsipaw – the one who laid down in front of me was trying to talk to me in gestures because he cannot speak English. When the train stopped for lunch he waived and gestures something like "let’s eat". I said I am okay and I just stayed in the train. At the time I saw the Gokteik Bridge, I panicked, he was like pointing me to the best part of the train to take photos. He even offered to take a picture of me. After the Gokteik Bridge, I felt hungry and good thing there was a vendor selling fried noodles on the train. I bought one and got it on plastic. I saw the man washing his unused plates and fork and he was like giving it to me so that I can eat properly. But I don't know why, I refused his offer maybe not because I am concerned if it was dirty or not. Maybe because I felt that his goods deeds towards me were already overflowing.




I regret it after I finished eating. I realized that I should not have turn down a help from the man who has a genuine heart for helping. He already made the effort of washing it. Tsk... This man even thought me how to open and eat a sunflower seed (yeah I didn't know how to open it properly until this man thought me) along the way.


Then I reached Hsipaw in peace and excitement. Two men approached me for a five dollar room for a night with breakfast and free ride. I gave in to the first one and apologized to the second. In Hsipaw I had an authentic vacation because I did nothing in Hsipaw. 

Burma Series