It’s 4am. I’m in bed. It’s dark outside. I was asleep. I’m no longer asleep. I look around the room. I think I’m in Tokyo. I’m not in Tokyo. I’m in Bagan in northern Myanmar listening to a Call to Prayer from the pagoda across the street. “It’ll be over in a minute” I think to myself. It’s not over in a minute. “It’ll not last that long” I reassure myself. It lasts long. A cock crows. I give up. I stand up. I sloppily get dressed and leave my room. I forget I have no shoes on. I go back into my room. I put my shoes on. I leave my room again. I cross the road and nearly fall into a ditch. It’s 4.07am.
It’s dark and I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. The only other person around is a ghostly silhouette illuminated by the beam of a truck. The moonlight offers a guide but it’s the sound I’m following: a hypnotic chanting, drawing me in. It doesn’t feel like nighttime. But it doesn’t feel like morning either. It’s that special time in horror movies when our hero gets disembowelled and eaten alive by zombies in a misty field. Half asleep, I almost feel like a zombie myself… slowly stumbling my way towards some unspecified location.
Like neighbouring Thailand, religion plays a focal part in Burmese people’s lives. I arrive at the Pagoda before 4.30am yet there are already hundreds of people here – better dressed than me and ready to give thanks and receive blessings for the day ahead. I’m the only foreigner here, and I think people wonder what I’m doing. Hell, even I wonder what I’m doing. But I take a seat and soak it all in. People walk around the brightly lit Pagoda in an organsied manner before finally settling down in front of a geometric neon shrine. I’ve being to many temples in Asia before, but Burma is the first place where I’ve seen them shining so intensely. When the lights start up I suddenly think I’m aboard some weird alien spacecraft.
I take that as my cue to go back and get some more sleep.
Back entrance to the shrine. People quietly wandering, Call to Prayer in the background.
Birdsong & prayer. The lights freaked me out.