Lessons learned from 30 days in Myanmar being disconnected

Bagan Myanmar
Bagan, Myanmar(Burma)

As some may know, I spent the entire month of April in Myanmar(Burma), on a solo trip, with my backpack. My main motivation for going there, was without a doubt, to see the country before it changes too much. I wanted to see this very different country, that seemed so shut off, compared to the rest of Asia. What I also wanted; was to do it myself. I wanted to deal with all the up’s and downs, of traveling around in this country, alone. If I had the most exciting experience ever, only I would be there to experience it. If everything went wrong, if I ended up getting depressed, there would be no one to turn to, but myself. The thought scared me. And more than anything, that fact made me certain; I had to do it.

So what did I learn from going to this country and why was it so special? The thing about Myanmar is, that it is one of the first countries I have been to, for many many years, where your phone just does not work. Nothing about expensive rates or anything, it just won’t find a signal. I never use my phone that much, during my vacations, but being totally without the option to receive or send anything, sure is a different feeling. I had read that there probably wouldn’t be any wi-fi available at the hotels, but arriving at my first stop in Mandalay they had quite good wi-fi. I found myself using it, checking mail, checking facebook, the usual forums I am active on etc. whenever I had some downtime and waited for my next move. It sorta filled the void as those sites are extremely powerful at doing.

When I moved on from Mandalay and got to Bagan, luckily they didn’t have wifi, at the place I chose to stay. There were some cafées and restaurants that advertised with wifi, but rather early on, I made the decision to be disconnected. The reason for going alone in the first place, was to handle everything by myself – up’s and downs. If I filled the voids with distractions, then I would be sort of missing the point of the whole trip in the first place. But the decision seemed kind of intimidating. I had left rather quickly, only a handful of people really knew I had left, so quite a lot of people could be left without answers to emails, messages etc. Of course, rationally it should be quite obvious to everyone, that in 99.9% of cases, not answering will not be that big of a deal. Very few issues are irreversible and no matter what I ever tell myself; then I am not THAT important. But taking the decision did cause a variety of thoughts running through my mind.

Now, how did being disconnected change my experience of each day. First thing, my fancy does-everything-iPhone suddenly saw itself deducted to a simple mp3-player. It dramatically decreased its use, but when you only use it for music, even though you hear a lot of music, the battery-life skyrockets.

What also happens is that you start to be more aware of how you feel. When you remove the distractions that are always present to fill the times between activities, you are left with only your thoughts.

When you no longer spend time reading emails, news etc. on your phone, you can be more aware of what happens around you. You notice more people, you notice what they are up to. You even become more aware of what you, yourself are up to, how you feel. Notice more of the surroundings, which always is a positive thing, but especially when you find yourself in a foreign country soaking up impressions. As a consequence you interact a lot more and therefore experience more.

When you sit around a table, you suddenly have to talk to each other, if there is a sudden silence, no one grabs for their phones to check for updates, they just sit look at each other and then after a while, someone starts a new subject or continues the old. Conversation and thought, shared among people, gathered around a table – just as it should be.

At one point, around halfway through my trip, I sat at a restaurant, where, what must have been some wealthy locals sat at a table. A mother and her two sons. From the second they sat down, they all had phones in their hands, not exchanging much more than a single word or two, but sometimes showing the others some things they had found on the phones. In probably most parts of the world, this wouldn’t stand out in any way. But here in this reality, you suddenly noticed how incredibly stupid it is to be out with friends or family and then focus your attention, on a stupid gadget, instead of the people right in front of you.

When you don’t occupy your mind with stupid distractions, you are suddenly forced to think much more creatively. Focus your mind on creating new ideas, instead of just reacting to the stimulus you get bombarded with. When you’re not distracted, you think a lot more. You come up with ideas as to how you will spend your time, which activities you would actually like to do. You’re not being wound up in awe, over all the things other people experience, you think about what your options are right here, right now and then you act upon them.

The really hard part about all this, is coming home and not just fall head first into the good old habits of checking mail, facebook, instagram, whatever all the time. But in my experience, once you have come aware of how stupid all this online-all-the-time is, you are more likely to leave your phone behind and just enjoy the moment. You know that the moment does not lose any significance just because you did not share it with the world. They might actually do the exact opposite.

Focus on one thing at a time

L-sit gymnastic rings
Doing L-sit near the beach at Ngapali. Myanmar(Burma)

When I returned from my month of traveling in Myanmar, I found myself having lost quite some muscle and weight. I had brought my gymnastic rings, had been working out rather regularly, with bodyweight, which in the past had been adequate on vacations, to somewhat keep my physical condition. But this time, I think one of the deciding factors, was the lack of proteins in the meals. This just made it almost impossible for me, to keep my weight and muscles.

I had gone from being in the best shape of my life, to probably the worst I have looked for the last 6-8 years. A lot of what was lost, of course, was just water, and my muscles being flat, from lacking proper nutrition and exercise.

But it made me decide that the next period, would consist of primarily bodybuilding. It is very possible to gain muscles with gymnastic movements and strength exercises – I have done so in the past. But is it the most optimal way to do so – no. If it were, you would see bodybuilders do gymnastics, instead of free weights. Therefore for a couple of months, my focus will be primarily on building muscle. I will do lower weight with very high volume, except for Standing OH Press and Deadlift where I will use Wendler 5/3/1 – which did wonders for me when I prepared for Danish Crossfit Open. Even more specific, my focus is on arms and upper back, since these seem to have suffered the most loss of mass.

So even myself, being a big proponent of bodyweight exercises, looks in other directions if this makes more sense, given my goals at that point. I am a strong believer of doing one thing at a time. Or at least having one main goal to measure all your decisions up against.

Now that my main goal is putting on muscle mass, especially on my upper back and arms, I choose exercises that targets specifically those and focus all my energy on them. If I still wanted to incorporate ring exercises, they would be put at the end of the workout or perhaps completely different days. But the second I felt they had a negative impact on my ability to recover – they would be removed. One actual example of me “removing” something from my workouts, is sprints. Usually this time of year, I would drive to a track and run a number of 2 or 400 meter sprints, after my strength-sessions. But with the increased stress on the body, of very high volume workouts, my body is simply not able to recover properly, if I added sprints as well. Instead I added some recreational running, the day after each hard workout, which burns some calories and actually feels like it inhibits my recovery.

All this boils down to. Have a main goal. You can have additional goals, as long as they are not detrimental to your main goal – but have a main goal and work your as of to get to that goal. If you haven’t got a main goal, how do you know if what you are doing, are moving you in the right direction? This is probably one of the most difficult things for most people working out. They want to do everything at once – which in the majority of cases ends up leading them to achieve nothing.

Vagabonding solo for a month in Myanmar

Updates on this blog will be probably close to nonexistent, for the next month. I have left the cold Northern Europe behind and set out to spend a month in Myanmar. Some of the big cities, may have internet connectivity, but my focus will be elsewhere, so do not expect much for the entire month of April.

What it should bring however, is some cool handstand and other gymnastic pictures of me, that I can use in the posts, I plan to write, upon returning. Even brought my gymnastic rings, and hope to find some good places to hang them and have a good workout, in different and amazing scenery.

As a little story of the start of my journey. I started by going to Bangkok, where I am at the moment. I needed a visa for Myanmar, but since I only figured that part out too late, I was not able to get it fixed before leaving home, as my country did not have a Myanmar embassy. I was just about to let go of the thought of coming to Myanmar this April; but then I read about the possibility of getting same day visa in Bangkok. It sounded possible, so I booked my flight to Bangkok with return from Yangoon and 2 days in Bangkok to get the visa.

First of Google maps pulled a “Apple maps” on me, and the address I got for the embassy was right, it just were nowhere close to where Google maps, had it placed. A friendly guard outside the German embassy helped me by getting a taxi and of I went. When I got there the queue was pretty long, as expected. But most people, had some formulas they had filled, and I could not spot them anywhere. I asked someone and he said that I should ask by the counter. Then I walked past everybody, all the way to the counter, asked for it, and two for a Spanish couple that needed them as well. And with a smile, the girl at the counter gave them to me, that just took some of the tension of early on – as long as they smile, you are able to talk your way out of most things.

I filled the form, found two pictures and a copy of my passport, then got in line. By the counter I even found glue, for attaching the one picture to the form and paper clips, to keep everything together. When I got to the counter, I handed over the papers, she looked at them, gave a few stamps and handed me a number – then I just had to wait, in a hot dense room, full of people, until it was my turn to get to the next step. But for some very odd reason, I only managed to turn around, before my number was called. I went to the other counter, handed in my papers once more. She asked me when I was leaving, which is Saturday and when I wanted it back, same day or next day – I said same day if possible – it was, cost was like 200 bath more, but that was very worth it. I wanted my passport back as soon as possible. Then I just payed the total amount and went out the door, a passport poorer and a little yellow slip of paper richer.

Then all I had to do, was return at 15:30 to pick up my passport; this was easier than anticipated. Checking in at my hotel without a passport, gave the fun process, at least for my simple mind, of seeing the clerk take a photocopy, of my photocopy, of my passport.

I returned that afternoon to the embassy, had to wait some time as there was totally packed with people in the little room, which was equipped with two very large aircon-units, that for some reason was not running, but instead was replaced with a little fan on the floor. But after some waiting, I got my passport back and now I can make my way into Myanmar. Let the adventure begin…