Monday, October 21, 2013

The Geography of a Wrist: I Couldn't Leave a Bracelet Behind in Myanmar


Growing up, I knew my mother was nearby by the jingling of silver bracelets that covered her wrist. Years later, after she passed away, I inherited some of her bracelets and wore the four thin, engraved silver bangles around my own wrist wherever I went. Around that time, my husband and I made a decision that, instead of purchasing a bigger house or newer cars, we would rather spend that money on travel with our children. So began many years of journeys we took with our kids around the world, and during each journey I began adding to the collection of silver bangles.

I have written about my bracelets in a previous post.  In almost every country we visit, I purchase a bracelet, and each has its own story, starting with this one

The Burmese border. Yes, I know it's called Myanmar now, but Burma somehow sounds more.......exotic.

We were traveling through northern Thailand with our kids, and had an opportunity to slip over the border for the afternoon on a day pass. Our Thai guide, Boonie, pointed us towards an outdoor bazaar

where we spent the precious few hours wandering through stalls filled with vendors selling all kinds of spices, fabrics, food


not to mention plastic toy guns. Oh so not politically correct, I realize, but kids are drawn to these things and Boonie was only too happy to comply, showing us all the wares of the marketplace

as well as introducing our kids to some of the locals.

Moving past bolts of silk fabric and through alleys thick with the aroma of spices and roasted meats, I spied a table of silver bracelets. Fingering them, I admired one thin cuff, chiseled with a pattern of chevrons and tapering at the ends into twin teardrops. I heard Boonie call out, "time is up, our day pass is running out. We have to get back to the border!" I looked at the bracelet, the metal reflecting the saffron colored sun, then set it back down. I took my son's hand and shepherded my daughter away from a bookstall. Joining up with my husband, we followed Boonie over the border and into the relative safety of the Thai frontier. As we walked across the red dusty earth to get in our car, I felt a pang of regret roiling my gut. I wanted that bracelet. Like a siren, it called to me.

Suddenly, I pivoted and headed back over the frontier. "Where are you going?" shouted my husband. "Watch the kids - I'll be right back," I yelled over my shoulder, hearing him shout again, "You have only five minutes!"

I ran through the checkpoint and into the dust and confusion of the bazaar. Rounding the first corner, I sprinted down a narrow alleyway, turning my head right and left, scanning the piles of hand rolled cigarettes and vendors hawking roasted cicadas. I felt the clock ticking down in my head - where was the table of silver? The stalls all looked alike and I started to feel overwhelmed by the press of people and the pungent cocktail of barbecued meats, body odor and cooking oil. I was about to turn back to the frontier when a glitter caught my eye; behind a vendor of sticky rice sweets was a tableful of silver bangles, spread out on a black velvet mat. I dodged the vendor and fingered through the pile. There it was, the minute chevrons, odd little etchings and tiny suns, glowing in between. I slipped it on my wrist and it settled onto my skin, a new member of my silver choir. I asked how much, but I had already committed; the vendor held up seven fingers and in a single fluid movement I handed over a fistful of Baht and sprinted back across the Thai border.

Every time I look down at this bracelet encircling my wrist, I think about that day. This slender band of silver reminds me to not pass up opportunities to do something I really want. It reminds me I may never pass this way again. 

19 comments:

  1. You were brave! Yes, indeed, don't pass up a once in a life opportunity. My Burmese daughter-in-law even after decades in this country loves to wear here armful of bangles. (And yes, it is a small world, isn't it?)

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  2. Oh, those silver bangles are fabulous. I love them!

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  3. I love silver bangles but I have a problem because my wrist is so small that many of them tend to fall off of my hand :( I bought two really cute vintage Mexican ones online but have never worn them because they slide right out. I love all of yours and all the stories behind them.

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    1. I've lost one bangle, driving a stick shift in Greece. Particularly sad because it was one my daughter made for me, so I sympathize with that :((

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  4. Bravo on the bangles! So beautiful! Yes, you were quite brave that day, but worth it I am sure.

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  5. that's a great story, I am with you on the concept. small reminders of wonderful trips are the best. who needs big things, when a small silver bangle will remind you of a great trip and a mad dash thru crowds.

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  6. Tears of quiet joy in my eyes. This was wonderful. Thank you so much for taking me there!

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  7. My favorite one. It could easily have been made by a native American Indian. I love the look of wearing those bracelets.

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  8. I sometimes think about lost opportunities - glad this one of yours worked out well.

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    1. Me too - was happy to not miss our ride!

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  9. What a wonderful story! You should write a whole travel book full of the stories behind each bracelet :)

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    1. Fabulous idea Sarah - I had planned to post about each bracelet, so before I pitch the idea maybe some nice editor will read them and think - yeah, great idea for a book! :))

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  10. from now on i'll think of your bangles as stories, not bracelets.

    I love to see the children so young here. somehow this causes me to note the depth of their experience.))

    xo
    erin

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    1. Yes, each a story, circling my skin. You always inspire me, Erin. Thank you♡

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  11. What a wonderful collection of bracelets and memories. It is nice to have something, however small from our travels. I loved this post. x

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  12. You made me realize that I call Myanmar Burma too. And Mumbai is still Bombay to me. I don't call Sri Lanka Ceylon though… my mind's been scanning ever since you mentioned it.

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    1. Burma just sounds much more.......Orwellian, doesn't it? ;)

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  13. Oh, wow, how much you must have wanted that bracelet! I rarely want anything that much, because I tend to grow into (or out of) things. Which is a kind of a problem when buying, since nice stuff often doesn't stay in the shops for long. Still, I can't change the way I am :)

    I love your idea of taking the kids around the world, what an interesting life.

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  14. Very beautiful. I agree with Sarah.

    One of the many Thai students who lived with us when I was growing up was named Boonchuay. We called him B.C. I wonder if Boonie's name was also Boonchuay. :)

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