Chapter Seven: Mandalay, Burma:
A small dog runs from the snarling pack.
Dogs don't know their future but some people believe they control their destiny.
The rich, for instance, buffer their future with wealth. They spike the land with drilling rigs and like thirsty syringes, they suck private security from the common wealth. Or so they hope…
The Burmese Buddhists believe their actions now create their future. The rich Buddhists, having sucked from the common wealth, spike the land with golden stupas as a salve to their material attachments and as a karmic investment in their next life. Or so they hope…
I'm in control of my future too. I'm off to buy a longyi for a friend. Then dinner.
But I wasn't always in control. Oh no.
Yesterday, I took my little motorbike into the mountains east of Mandalay. It's been a time of reflection for me (I had a birthday) and a ride into the mountains was a moto metaphor for my life's journey so far - no map, no idea what will happen, no reason for doing it. I had no goals.
With a series of wrong turns and dead ends, I found myself at a dilapidated monastery where monkeys practised dozy meditation, and I discovered a golf course newly built for the international businessmen who are buying Burma.
Eventually though, I found myself idling my moto at the base of a rough, very steep path that zigzagged up the mountain to a golden stupa.
At the base of that near-vertical path, I had an epiphany. For the first time in living memory (weeks and weeks) a sense of destiny hit me like a stomach cramp. All my life I've needed a goal. And there was one, glinting above me in the intermittent sun of a wet season, beckoning. My goal was to ride to the stupa.
That was yesterday.
Today, I'm a pillion on a motorcycle taxi weaving through Mandalay traffic, already planning tonight's noodle soup.
I like motorcycle taxis. You'll find motorcycle taxi blokes hanging about at any intersection. They spend hours just sitting on their bikes, knowing the next fare will come along when, well, it's supposed to. They are masters of just being. They are moto monks.
My moto professional is dodging trishaws, bicycles, other motos, ute taxis and belching trucks with a darting grace. I'm relaxed.
Yesterday's ride up the mountain was not relaxing. Halfway up, I realised this climb was pushing the little Honda (and me) to the max. It and I were labouring, a strange knocking sound coming from its motor, a thump like a busted piston coming from my chest. Every bump had the rear wheel spinning and the front wheel rearing. I was scared.
Goals are hard work. But there was no going back. I wanted to be an achiever.
I made it to the stupa.
I cheated the unpredictability of life. I created destiny out of pointlessness. I looked down on the Irrawaddy floodplain punctuated by hills punctured with golden stupas and shouted (silently) to the world, "I am master of my fate!"
The small dog runs straight into the path of my moto.
The bike drops, sparks firing from the handlebars as they skid across the concrete. The driver sprawls on the road, losing a thong. A foot peg digs into my leg (ow!) but I manage to jump from the bucking bike and somehow stay on my feet.
Some people believe they control their destiny. I thought that too - for a minute. But you never know what's going to happen.
I don't want noodle soup anymore. (Sniff.) I want a bandage.
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