What is it about Myanmar that makes you feel like you have separation anxiety everytime you leave? I say its the people that make me feel this way.
I am a Malaysian, an 80’s baby and for me, I am used to hospitality, neighborly love and openness. Growing up in Malaysia in the 80’s and having spent holidays at my grandparents and relatives who used to live in the estates, kampungs, I grew up amongst lots of people who genuinely cared for you and your well being. Over the years we moved, we no longer had “kampungs” and people became less and less interested in spending time with you or sharing stuff with you.
Having lived in New Zealand for some months, I received the same openness and welcome. I used to walk down the streets and never greet anyone, you do not do this in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, and it was great to have people smile at you and make you feel like you mean something. I never knew how big acknowledging someone’s presence was until I experienced it in New Zealand. Some of my friends who see me greet the bus drivers, cabbies and say “Thank you” would probably know that it was habit I picked up while traveling in New Zealand.
BUT nothing prepared me for Myanmar. I was there last year in May and I was stranded , within 10 minutes I got a lift from a guy who felt very offended when I tried to offer him some cash for the ride. The same day, I decided to go to a Hindu temple, and the priest invited me to meet his sister who he mentioned I would love meeting. I ended up watching Tamil movies at their home having vegetarian lunch that they bought for me specifically, letting me try her mango acar that she made for the new years and even offered me a lift to the bus station. I was NOT expecting that at all. What makes a stranger open their door to someone they have no relation to at all? To open your home, to feed and to make me feel comfortable. I truly felt love that day.
Fast forward to today. We were in Yangon a few weeks ago and we got a lift from a 21 year old guy. We were still traveling with my uncle, but he was to stay in Yangon for a night and we would head on to Inle Lake. This guy hearing this offered my uncle his home. Later I learnt, that his mom had cooked fish curry, let him sleep on the bed and did not accept any money for the cab ride to the airport. We are not looking for handouts and freebies, but someone who struggles everyday to make a living, this is a big sacrifice and I for one am so grateful to learn and pass on this kindness. I decided to meet Kumar and meet his family as he insisted I do when I came back to Yangon. We had a delicious meal prepared from scratch. I made sure we bought the ingredients for the lunch and left him a big tip for the ride. I know I was not able to help his family as much as I wanted to, but what he did for us would be something I remember for a long time.
After all, isn’t that what we strive for? To be remembered for the good deeds that you do. To do good. I learn so much from these people I meet that I would not have had the chance to if I stayed home.