In resuming the “What is Ash looking for?” topic, Vijay was curious about where I had thus far prowled on motorbike. With my map opened before us, I described the route from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin and the odyssey south to Taunggyi, noting the military tanks and the road crews I saw along the way. With his finger he traced a broad circle on the map, covering a large swath of the eastern, primarily mountainous part of the nation. Within this circle, extending as far south as the military base in Bahtoo where I met the sunburned, finger-in-the-face soldier, was the route I took south from Naungcho. “This here is an area where Foreigners aren't allowed to go.”
“It is? Why?”
“Because they are still at war,” he said.
“What?! I drove through a conflict zone yesterday?” He nodded yes. In that precise moment I finally understood what the soldier had been trying to explain by pointing an imaginary pistol in my face. His finger said, “You could have been shot back there.” I had not only passed through an area that was off-limits to Foreigners, but an area that was off-limits because it was at war. Vijay was no longer punching with lefts and rights but dropping bombs. This specific detonation brought to light a major flaw in my preparations. Tactically speaking, I counted on the military to stop me long before I stumbled into any battlegrounds. Now, I discovered, this would not necessarily be the case. It was possible to wander, apparently unnoticed, into a war zone. Vijay continued, speculating that the tanks I had passed outside of Pyin Oo Lwin were being deployed to regions east of Naungcho, where the military used helicopters and large weaponry against the resistance groups who had attacked a month prior. He additionally speculated about the role being played by the road crews I encountered and the need to improve the dirt track I had skidded down. “They are paving those roads so the military can get into these areas,” pointing again to my map. Then couching his words, “Well, if you ask me, that's what I think they’re doing.” I sat for a moment, absorbing these ideas. He could have been right but it would require major grading and widening in order for military traffic to pass through the section I went through, as steep as it was. It would require much more work than what I had witnessed.
Pulling me back from my thoughts, he changed to a lighter subject, hinting to my jungleman scheme, “There are nice forests around that mountain pass.”
“Not anymore,” I told him. “They've all been cut down.” Now that I could contribute in some way, I showed him photos of a barren wasteland, taken on my way through the pass.
“So it's all gone,” he said. That it was. I stood to proceed with my walk, thanking him for the conversation as I did so. “This was a nice interaction,” he replied. Indeed it was. I had much to think about, apparently.
For two nights, one and a half days, Kalaw was the backdrop for a brief process of rest and recovery; a bed for napping, turf to pace while pondering my next tactical deviation — or next move. (With Kalaw serving mainly as a backdrop for internal activities I'll spare you descriptions of its “leafy streets,” “crisp air,” and “bustling central market,” and instead bundle it all into one word: quaint.) This quaint town existed for me as an open-air meeting space, or Situation Room occupied by a committee of high-level advisors in my mind. Vijay's enlightening news report — wherein I was apprised of the existence of The Apparatus, the non-existence of openly accessible jungles and waterfalls, my jaunt through active battle grounds, and the potential repercussions for the motorbike rentor should I, the rentee, cause or encounter troubles — was quite a collection of bulletins to both absorb and factor in prior to modifying the conceptual objective of Plan A: finding a waterfall in the jungle in order to climb it, like a jungleman.
This resting and scheming process first and foremost involved much napping; one afternoon nap following the discussion with Vijay and my abbreviated stroll through the quaint town, and two naps the ensuing day — one early in the afternoon and one late in the afternoon. I attributed such an intense need for sleep to the ten-hour rampage through the rugged mountain pass/war-zone. Another factor not considered during my tactical preparations: the physical punishment derived from wielding a Chinese motorbike over varied terrain for extended durations. One might then protest, to me, that napping is only resting, therefore entirely unrelated to the latter-noted scheming phase. And to place napping in the “first and foremost” position of importance? Come now, how can this be? Three naps in two days separated by a solid night of sleep? That's not even resting, I could foresee many a respectable person declare. It's downright idle, unproductive (the most horrid of bourgeois sins), laziness. (Indignation being best expressed in triplicate.)
Not so, I would rejoin. For there are few moments, tiny tiny little slivers of (real) time, in which my mind could be qualified as: Devoid Of Content. (Or Monkishly Empty, if you prefer.) Even in sleep. Persistently, my mind thinks. This is entirely normal, for a thinking entity to think. Additionally, being in large measure deviant by nature, my thoughts are often conducted to the tune of plotting and scheming, frequently deconstructing, if only to break down ever more intricate plots and schemes. I call it analysis. In application these analytical processes have the habit of bursting forth as cockamamie, left-field pursuits christened with after-the-fact titles such as Plan A. Who is to say, Mister or Miss Respectable Person, which elements of Plan A came about in my sleep and which during lucid consciousness? For all I know the whole thing was concocted in my dreams, sitting there fully formed in the ether, only to be brought to the surface by the light of day. (This specific example, used in defense of sleep as a creative process, admittedly doesn't extend very far in quelling such bourgeois indignation given the overall nature of this specific deviation and how it was generally playing out for me.) Whatever the case, I slept and I walked around town, Kalaw being sufficiently quaint; one of the rare towns I could appreciate in the Myanmar Situation. Scheming all the while.
Now that I've made a big to-do over the contemplative nature of my stay in Kalaw, I must add a few clarifying details. Concerning my next move in this struggle for continual deviation, very little thought was actually necessary. West led back to the central flatlands just below Mandalay, north back to the war-zone, east to tourism, Taunggyi, and more fighting beyond. South to Loikaw by default it would be. Vijay advised against driving in the Kayah state, of which Loikaw was the capital. However, he said, I would probably be fine driving to Loikaw. The reason he gave for not driving elsewhere in Kayah: “It would be difficult.” No more accurate, no less vague. (We shall see.) As an additional curiosity near Loikaw, Vijay noted, was the presence of Kayan long neck women. As a tourist attraction/feature, these women were about as appealing as tomatoes growing in gardens floating on Inle Lake, or so I saw it. What was I going to do, roll up on my Chinese motorbike, ask to see the chicks with the brass thingies around their necks, and start snapping photos the moment their heads (supported by those brass-shrouded long necks) were extended into the light of day? No sirree.
My main purpose in going to Loikaw, other than it being the only conceivable option, was Lawpita Falls. Lawpita was the equivalent of a Hail Mary attempt to salvage the jungleman objective. Upon hearing of the decimated forests, and by extension the dearth of jungled waterfalls to climb, I discovered — rather abruptly — that I was no longer in possession of a conceptual objective for implementing Plan A, in its entirety. I discovered — quite shockingly — without jungleman there was no guiding purpose behind a) renting a motorbike, and b) driving it all over the place. I was deviant without a cause. As a theoretical consideration I had no objections to deviants without causes, holding it to be a wholly valid, even noble mode of operation. I then found myself in just such a position. Although I would eagerly congratulate others for being deviant without a cause, should I encounter such a soul, I struggled mightily in accepting it for myself. It was unsettling, having to accept that I was driving all over the place for no other purpose than to drive all over the place. It left no answer to the, “What do you hope to accomplish?” question. More to the point, as knowingly silly as the whole jungleman story actually was, not until the news of decimated forests tickled my ears had I realized the critical role it had played in my own acceptance of Plan A as an implementable cockamamie pursuit. Lacking pursuit, there was only cockamamie. Leading to an unexpected question for me to answer: Am I cool with that, being cockamamie with no pursuit? Deviant with no cause? Am I really so tactical as to adhere to the Deviant’s Struggle for continual deviation without having a purpose beyond continual deviation?
Attempting to sneak my way to Lawpita Falls was a way to avoid that question, and by extension, having to answer it. I say “sneak” because Lawpita Falls was off-limits to Foreigners. That much I knew, although very little information was forthcoming through web searches. I was only able to discern that the falls were closed to Foreigners due to the existence of a regional hydroelectric project funded by the Japanese as reparations for World War II doings. Closed to Foreigners, yes, but to what degree? I asked myself. “Closed” as the unguarded war-zone I had traversed? Or “closed” as in barricaded and sealed off? If only to entice me toward the first of these definitions, I also found a YouTube video presenting several smiling Asians standing before a series of cascading waterfalls said to be Lawpita. My entire cockamamie pursuit hinged on this Hail Mary attempt to find and climb such cascading waterfalls, if they also existed in a jungle. Otherwise, there were self-acceptance issues I would have to face; fragments of in-eradicated bourgeois rationale I would have to confront, carried forward from my past life as a respectable person. I really hoped to make it to the falls.