I was Emily Blunt, I was on a train and I was inebriated.
Ok I wish I was Emily Blunt, but I was on a train and I was feeling heavily intoxicated. But instead of staring , woefully at a life I could have had, I was gazing out of the window at the one I’ve got and in my little brown paper bag was a glass bottle full of joy.
Two hundred kilometres from Mandalay to Hsipaw for less than the price of a soy piccolo latte and it was without doubt the best train ride I’ve ever been on in my whole entire life.
I DON’T THINK YOUR HAPPINESS IS QUITE APPROPRIATE
I rose in the early, early hours of the morning and took a pimped out tuk tuk to the main railway station in Mandalay.
It was dark outside and the streets were unusually quiet but my driver insisted on breaking the silence with friendly chat. It was only just turned 3am but it’s never too early for friendliness, so I got fully involved.
When we arrived at the station, he helped me out of the tuk tuk, thanked me for visiting his country, said Mingalabar, bowed several times and waved me on my way.
I climbed the steps of the old worn down colonial station building with a smile on my face, wondering if he had any idea of how much good stuff he was putting out into the world with his niceness.
As I walked along the first floor of the station, looking down onto the tracks my smile drooped down my face like one of Dali’s melting clocks as I was transported back to scenes from Paris in 2012.
I’d been walking home from dinner on a frosty winter’s evening, passing the look-but-don’t-touch fashion houses along Rue Saint-Honoré and was just about to turn off towards the famously grand Champs Elysee when I was stopped in my tracks by what I saw.
A line-up of shivering, slumbering bodies lay huddled together on the ground. There were hundreds of them and it looked like a morgue. Men and women were tightly grasping each other for warmth with their children sandwiched in between, all sharing one tiny sleeping bag that barely covered their toes.
The train station in Mandalay was exactly like that; rows and rows of sleeping bodies, gathered together under colourful blankets. I saw a mother and baby that must have been no older than four months old with a tiny little pink hat on to keep its ears warm and it cracked my heart.
I wanted to do something, anything really, but all I could do was feel the agony of helplessness and keep going.
I walked on down the steps to platform 3 and followed the stray dogs across the tracks and through a gap in the railings to platform 4 where the train was waiting.
HOW CAN A TRAIN BE LOST? IT’S ON RAILS
Stepping into my carriage was like stepping back in time, and just like Yangon it was another Burmese Wes Anderson dream.
The carriage was broad with big, comfortable chairs and everything inside was a vivid shade of turquoise. It was a rickety old thing, decorated with the ungracious ageing of metal; rust, rot and mould were crawling their way down from the roof.
A deafening horn screeched goodbye to Mandalay and we started our twelve hour journey to Hsipaw.
The train rocked from side to side like an angry babysitter would rock a cradle. The windows were open and the cool morning air was smacking me in the face, some sort of aggressive wake up call from nature, as I looked out and up at the twinkling stars and a pearly white, almost full moon.
People covered themselves in fleece blankets and curled themselves up into balls to try and get some shuteye before the dawn, but I was well and truly awake. The morning hours are when I come alive and my morning routine is getting more and more ridiculous every day. I was in my element.
I HOPE THE ROOF FLIES OFF AND I GET SUCKED UP INTO OUTER SPACE
Before the sun had risen, we made a few short stops and more people got on board.
I had no idea where we were or what it looked like, all I could make out where the floating silver bowls piled high with bananas that levitated past the window by torchlight. Women were walking past with their wares on their heads, heckling into the carriage to make a sale.
When the dawn broke, I leaned on the windowsill to watch the Burmese countryside wake up.
We chugged along past huge biscuit-coloured mountains, lush green trees and fields full of big yellow flowers. I love it in the early hours when the sun is only lighting the world up from the edge of the earth; a golden light streams in from the East and makes one half of everything glow while the other half finishes off its dreams.
As we passed through tiny villages, children would play alongside the tracks, jumping up and down with excitement and waving frantically. The locals would stop and smile at us before going about their morning; fetching water, carrying heavy sacks on their heads, chopping things and sitting on tiny plastic chairs eating their breakfasts. Cows grazed, cockerels crowed and stray dogs mooched around looking for mischief.
KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY LOBBY BOY
As we passed through Goteik station on our approach to the famous viaduct, I put away my digital pen and paper and turned up the music in my ears list. I listened to Coma Cat by Tensnake on repeat.
The second part of my journey was for mindfully enjoying the views, entertaining my thoughts and losing myself in day dreams.
As the train crept slowly over the towering metal bridge, and I looked down onto the rushing waters below, bursts of adrenaline swirled around in my stomach. And I’m not sure if it was the darkness of my cyan cave, or the brightness of the sun, but the colours outside of the window were so intensely vibrant it was almost blinding. My jaw was open wide.
We made it safely back to land and carried our onward journey to Hsipaw. The train moved slowly along, as did the life it was passing by and I started thinking about the link between a slow paced life and mindfulness.
Back home I can’t remember the last time I saw somebody look up from their phone on the morning commute, never mind stopping to look at a train then smile and wave at its passengers.
Whereas here, those people that stood along the tracks, were watching the same train pass their home at the same time every day and yet still took time to stop what they were doing, notice it, smile and wave. The children still jumped up and down with excitement, waving frantically and skipping along to chase us. It was as though they were all seeing a train for the very first time.
Maybe it’s all about the slow paced everything, maybe that’s the key to it all. Maybe a slow pace actually means mindful. It’s the chance to pause, to be present and to take time to appreciate the good stuff.
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment