CHAPTER SEVEN

TOUGH LOVE

Myanmar

Buddhist monks gaze out onto to the tracks, elderly women carry baskets of freshly bargained market items, and everywhere the children are being cheeky as usual. Beside the train, people are walking the tracks or chatting near the road. We make quick stops at different stations, where platforms are occupied by hawkers and homeless families. Some adventurous commuters catch the train moving and contribute to the incredible show


Long awaited was the hug, I receive it just as I exit the Yangon International Airport immigration desk. “Myanmar is a far corner of the world to be meeting an old friend” -I think to myself. For a few seconds, I try to gather when was the last time we saw each other. Too long ago, that’s for sure.

My friend welcomes me into her new city, I welcome her into my adventures. As we slowly make for the exit, I ask something that will prove to be fairly naive. Asia must have biased my views, or perhaps I am taking the obvious shortcut of her having lived around Southeast Asia for a while. “Are you with your scooter?” Only, there are no motorbikes in Yangon. I find out that they are prohibited, and should you desire to know why, you would have to pick from a wide selection of theories. These range from official statements mentioning death tolls on the streets of Yangon, to more exotic ‘legends’ that all have a recurring theme: the abuse of power of paranoid military elites who, you guessed it, are spared the ban. A popular version is that a military official received a threatening (or impolite) gesture from teenagers on a motorbike when his driver stopped at a red light. One thing is sure, the trip will prove to be interesting.

I take a few days to rest and catch up on some work, glimpsing at the Shwedagon Pagoda with impatience. On a first impression, Yangon is a buzzing city of traffic jams, where the ban on motorbikes adds to the good old ‘me-first’ rule of the Asian city streets to make your life a miserable series of frustrating commute. No choice do I have but to suck it up and jump into a taxi for a break at the National Museum of Yangon. I arrive to the grim-looking building and explore some great artefacts of the Burmese culture. The museum has an impressive collection and I discover the different eras of the Burmese empire, as well as the current ethnic groups of Myanmar, as best I can given the confusing organisation of the exhibitions. The visit shows me countless representations of the Buddha and takes me as far back as Prehistory.

A few days and taxi rides later, my friend and I are headed to my most anticipated visit in Yangon: the circular train. The ride, famous for its display of local lifestyle, takes you on a three hour-long loop around the city and its ‘rural’ suburbs, though unfortunately we will only be able to ride half the length on that day. Regardless, I board the old wagon with excitement. We are sharing the train with a diverse crowd, and once again I am amazed by the amount of people wearing the very typical thanaka, made of ground bark and oil. Girls or boys, men or women, plenty are the faces displaying patches of the yellowish-white cosmetic paste. I decide to sit by the doorless entrance of the vehicle, and observe locals hop on and off the train. Buddhist monks gaze out onto to the tracks, elderly women carry baskets of freshly bargained market items, and everywhere the children are being cheeky as usual. Beside the train, people are walking the tracks or chatting near the road. We make quick stops at different stations, where platforms are occupied by hawkers and homeless families. Some adventurous commuters catch the train moving and contribute to the incredible show. We decide to leave the train when the sun shows signs of an escape, and before we venture too far out of the city, but I make a promise to myself: I will return to finish the loop.

The following day, we pay a visit to the most famous monument of Yangon: the Shwedagon Pagoda. I had caught glimpses at the impressive stupa, for it is hard to miss it. The monument sits on a hill in the center of the city, it tickles the sky at ninety-nine metres above ground level, and shines with gold. Shwedagon Zedi Daw is the most sacred of Buddhist sites in Myanmar, and is believed to contain the relics of four Buddhas. It is a place of convergence for the very devout people of Myanmar. Families or friends meet up and walk around the monument. They stop here and there to pray or make offerings, and the crowd seems of little concern.

As intended, I later return to the circular train. Only, this time my luck has turned. The train is fairly more modern and the automatic doors make me the prisoner of a guided-tour group. For a moment, I wonder if I should give up on the circular train or see it all through closed doors. Fortunately, by this point in the travels, I have adopted a motto that will get you out of any situation with hesitation: “cut your losses!” Off I go after a few stations, and the rest of the loop will be my reason for coming back to Myanmar! I wander around the streets for a while, and stumble upon a group of men playing chinlone next to the train tracks. I had learned of the game, typical of the country, and had seen it once before, but never had I had a chance to mingle and learn a little more. As usual, I am quite the distraction when I approah them, though faithful to my experience of Myanmar so far, these men are fairly shy. In my first week in the country, I have had the feeling that the Burmese had a desire to interact, but they were reserved. They have struck me as incredibly humble, and so I decide to exchange a few words and see where it leads me. Before long, I am invited to join the circle and play. The handwoven ball, made of rattan, has to be passed around without touching the ground, using everything but our hands. The game is designed not to be competitive but needless to say, I am the worst player and they all have a great laugh. Soon, they move on to play a different game of chinlone which can be summarize as a no-hand version of volleyball with a chinlone ball. This one is definitely beyond my reach and I am rather invited to join a game of classic volleyball. I play for a while and eventually, I resume my observing of the chinlone games and passing trains. After a few hours, I decide to call it a day and say goodbye to this welcoming and cheerful crowd. The time has come to leave Yangon and I need to get my things in order.

On the bus to Bagan, I find myself wondering what’s ahead of me. The site is growing in popularity and I have found it being compared to Angkor multiple times. With the latter still fresh in mind, I am decided to study similarities and nuances closely. I dive into the travel guide I have been landed and start studying Bagan closely. A few temples strike out and I make a mental note to visit them. Notably, one seems to have Hindu influences, for which I have had a particular fondness when I visited the temples of Angkor. As for the rest, Bagan is almost exclusively Buddhist and has always been. The history of the empire and its temple has long been widely debated among the circles of archeology, notably as to what caused its decline. The popular belief is that the Mongols invaded either a full or deserted capital. Some believe they were stopped further North, and that Bagan naturally became a secondary city as the Kings’ insane temple-building race slowly lead to economic struggles. Something that isn’t debated is the Buddhist temples having know little modifications but the constant renovations that are still undertaken regularly. It is no secret that, without the many renovations over the centuries, the temples would be nothing but piles of rubbles, and notably due to the many earthquakes in the region. Some experts argue that Bagan is close to a ‘DisneyWorld’ of archeology while others consider the renovations to be part of the history and culture. Some of the renovations are made by benevolent locals who might have skills that are fully unrelated, though the UNESCO seems to be having some degree of supervision over some of the temples. I feel like there will be a lot to learn.

The hostel I have found is fairly comfortable though most of my nights are disrupted. On the first, loud self-centered tourists turn all lights on in the middle of the night and climb up to my bed to offer me “a drink?” On another, one of my most delightful fellow Westerner has drunk too much and gets sick over the bathroom floor. Both occasions offer me somewhat early rises and I spend a few days visiting the impressive temples of Bagan. The sheer number of them is quite impressive on its own, but I am surprised by the scale of some. Major temples, such as Ananda, Htilominlo or Sulamani, are simply massive.
Catching sunrise or sunset around Old Bagan, or exploring the dusty roads of the lower plain, I ride a snail-paced electric scooter around this historic site, in its unique atmosphere. Exploring the temples and their many surrounding villages, I realize how unique the experience of Bagan is. Unlike most touristic place, Bagan is alive. You venture into local life to witness history, and there’s no opening or closing hour! On a bright morning, I stumble upon an elderly lady sitting on the ground outside an active temple. She is selling a handful of fruits and stares at a man who has climbed up a coconut tree. She seems excited that the man has carried a saw up there, and I decide to buy a fruit or two and invite myself to sit with her. The lady is completely stunned, she looks at me and points to the man with excitement. Together, we watch long pieces of the tree being cut and fall down in a loud bump. She calls to the passersbys and point them in the direction of the show, and I am unsure whom of the man cutting the tree or that lady next to me is more fascinating.

I have kept a nice little quest for my last day. In fact, there is somewhere in Bagan a painting of a Mongol warrior and his commander, which have fueled the debate on the impact of the Mongol empire on Bagan. I head to the very popular Shwezigon Pagoda, with its famous little hole of water in the ground, reflecting the stupa. Its purpose was for the kings of Bagan to avoid looking up at the risk of dropping their crown. I start my search from there and am directed to a small temple digged into a hill, where I find the painting. The Mongol warrior is shooting an arrow at a duck, while his commander relaxes under a tree. For a moment, I consider the argument that this depiction contradicts claims of an aggressive invasion of Bagan, though we will likely never know. I decide to leave it at that, and head to the lower plain, where I will pay a goodbye visit to the temple I have most liked in Bagan: the hindu-influenced temple of Payathonzu. I arrive and pass the all-too-common souvenir stalls of Bagan. Inside the temple, a local points to depictions I have missed on my first visit. Notably, Brahma and Shiva! We spark a conversation that we finish outside. His name is Ko, he introduces himself as Ko Ko, a painter from New Bagan. He is patrolling the temples to try and sell his paintings and mentions how a stall would be too expensive, given the fees of the “Department of Archeology.” I agree with him and think to myself that the less money he spares here, the better. Indeed, this somewhat opaque local authority charges twenty dollars for every vehicle entering the Bagan area, another roughly twenty per person for a five days pass checked at a few temples, and concession fees to every souvenir vendor stationed in front of the temples. Meanwhile, the government of India has pledged twenty-two million dollars to the Ananda temple, and most others are being renovated by devout locals who volunteer for merits. I keep these thoughts to myself. Engaging locals on political debates in Myanmar would be clumsy to say the least. Instead, I enjoy Ko Ko’s company for a while and admire his beautiful sand paintings.

My last day comes to an end, I am ready to go on a night bus to Nyaung Shwe. Bagan has been a great experience, and definitely one of new aspects. I have explored a lively site that locals share with centuries old temples. It has seduced me for different reasons than Angkor, and for that I can never compare them. The general experience of Bagan has been truly unique, and especially pleasant, I will say that. I leave now with hopes that the site never becomes so transfigured by tourism as others I have seen, though there are early signs. Notably, Bagan has already its share of the irrespectful tourist, a species that seems to be plaguing the world as a whole. Unfortunately, here is no exception, you will find your tourists taking a picture with flash when there are locals trying to pray in front of them. You will see groups of foreigners take close-range frontal pictures of religious children who are clearly uncomfortable. Maybe you will never understand how they dare ask not for consent, maybe you will think that this is not a zoo. I agree.

Catching sunrise or sunset around Old Bagan, or exploring the dusty roads of the lower plain, I ride a snail-paced electric scooter around this historic site, in its unique atmosphere. Exploring the temples and their many surrounding villages, I realize how unique the experience of Bagan is. Unlike most touristic place, Bagan is alive

We sail among the typical fishermen who are famous for their large fishing traps, resembling baskets, as well as for their rowing techniques. They stand on a leg and row with the other


I have been sold a night bus that would reach Nyaung Shwe “around eight in the morning.” It is now four and we have arrived. Typical. I throw a little mental curse at the guesthouse guy, who didn’t want to miss a sale, and jump into a tuktuk. The man of the homestay opens the door with a yawn and I apology for waking him up. He checks me in, even though the bed will not be ready before noon. “That is my chance to go on the boat tour!” -I tell myself.

Waiting in the lobby, I run a few online errands I had been putting off for too long, and breakfast hour comes in no time. Soon after, I am boarding a long boat and will be headed out onto Inle lake. The young man who will drive me around smiles generously and, as soon as I am sitted, we set off into the canal. The boats used here are propulsed with incredible speed and I soon understand why: the canal leads to an unbelievably large lake, where regular engines surely don’t allow significant commute. We sail among the typical fishermen who are famous for their large fishing traps, resembling baskets, as well as for their rowing techniques. They stand on a leg and row with the other. The visit of the lake and its many villages takes me to silver smith ateliers and lotus weaving workshops, where we encounter Kayan women and their prolonged necks. Later, I can visit the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda, which is a key religious site. Here, the sheer amount of devotees and their gold leaf offering have turned five statues of the Buddha into shapeless blobs. We sail back onto the lake and through the floating gardens, where villagers grow vegetables. Unfortunately, my night on the bus catches up on me eventually and I am happy for the tour to come to an end. We have spent a good few hours out on the lake, and I have marveled at its immensity. I have been amazed at the buzzing local life on this beautiful patch of water, and I would be happy to return but for now, time for a nap.

I have planned to spend a short two days in Nyaung Shwe, and it will be enough. The day I have left happens to be when the itinerant market is in town and it will animate the otherwise dull place. I spend the morning with my head down, exploring a market shaded by tarpaulin at local people’s heights. Different minorities have descended from the hills and are selling fruit, vegetables, peanuts or tea, to quote but a few. The villagers seem to be wearing typical head dressings and yet again, thanaka is the common attire. For a while, I observe their behaviour and try to decipher the habits of these locals without being in the way too much. People are clearly not here to wander, this is their grocery supply zone! After buying a few snacks, I decide to leave everybody to their business and head out into the street.

The rest of the afternoon, I explore the streets of this small town, trying to make a census of all the monasteries I see. Nyaung Shwe seems to be quite the religious spot, but then again Myanmar as a whole is incredibly devout. Trying to figure out if the monasteries are grouped into a certain part of town or spread more widely, I end up following directions religious people are walking to or from. Eventually, I stumble upon a football field where a great number of the local youths have gathered to play ball. Among them, religious boys and young men have tied their robes into shorts to take part in the games. The display is quite unexpected, and I sit to watch the games for a while. What a perfect end to my short visit here!

The bus to Mawlamyine has taken me through the more ‘tropical’ landscape of Southeast Myanmar, and over a large bridge leading into the city. A man I have met a few streets down from the bus station has offered me a reasonably priced ride to my hotel and I didn’t hesitate twice to jump in the truck. The man uses the little English he has learned when he was working in Singapore, as we drive through the colonial town. Mawlamyine, as Moulmein, was the colonial settlement of the British empire in Burma, and consequently it used to be an important port. Nowadays, it is a quiet town with colonial roots, beautiful temples and little tourism.

I have but a few days to spend here, collecting the curious looks of locals. My walk around colonial town takes me through the Indian quarter and village-looking streets on the hill. I walk up to a monastery that seems to be guarding the entrance to the Kyaik Than Lan pagoda. Inside the monastery, a boy is playing with a bike, and he stops a minute to greet me. He points me in the direction of stairs leading to the temple. I walk up to the sacred place, so dear to Kipling, and I am offered a magnificent view over the town and its surrounding. The river embrasses Mawlamyine to the North and West, and the sea makes a distant appearance. I start walking around the massive stupa and observe locals making their offerings. Two bridges lead to towers built on the slopes of the hill, from where speakers advertise the chantings of a Monk. The Northern entrance leads me to the Mahamuni pagoda, with its glittering central chamber and a replica of the Buddha from the Mandalay pagoda. The religious sites of Mawlamyine are glorious and can seem a little off-scale with the town itself, I offer myself another quick tour of the Kyaik Than Lan before I head back into the old colonial part of town, heading down through the main entrance and refusing drug offers from young teenagers. My walk takes me around the Muslim part of Mawlamyine, and finishes in front of the beautiful Surti Sunni Jama Mosque. Mawlamyine has an ancient feel and at each of its corner, I was expecting people in centuries old outfits to turn up on centuries old bicycles. It has offered me a great day but the blasting heat of Southeast Myanmar gives it an early end.

The following day, I decide to rent a scooter and head to the Pa-Auk monastery, which is a meditation center open to foreigners and -or so I read- is worth a visit. I arrive and meet a crowd of religious people enjoying an early lunch. They invite me to have a free meal and I end up with a plate in my hands that I can only call ‘more than full.’ I had read about the lunch ritual but unfortunately I am too late to eat among the monks. “What generosity!” -I tell myself, remembering that the people enrolling in meditation ‘camps’ are also given accomodation, courses and counseling for free. Sharing lunch with me are three women from Indonesia. They are visiting the son/brother who has enrolled as a monk here, and offer to call him if I have any question. The young man comes and discusses life at the monastery. He explains that this is a fairly strict monastery, though one of the most open to outsiders. I ask a few questions and he explains the goals of meditation in Buddhism: to free oneself from attachment, hatred/prejudice and illusion. I thank him for the nice talk and leave him to enjoy his last day with the family he is not allowed to show affection to. I wander around the premises, confident that visits are allowed, but I come across a few curious, almost disapproving looks from the monks. After a while, I decide to pay a visit to the ’foreigner registration office’ to ask a few question to -I am sure- a kind and enthusiastic religious man in charge of the reception desk. The man ‘welcoming’ me must be his evil twin brother. A twin brother with some kind of eye condition because he keeps rolling them for some reason. We sit and, after I have to make religious salutes to the Buddha, I proceed to asking a few questions. The man draws the picture of a strict, narrow minded monastery that welcomes those who are willing to cut themselves off from the outside world and will accept an overwhelming propaganda for Buddhism. His impatient attitude is a clear statement of his prejudice against someone he likely considers an ignorant sinner from the superficial world. I conclude that even the most expert monk still has a lot of work to do on their hatred, and seize the first chance I have to make a polite escape from the 'meditation center’.
Thankfully, I have a plan for the afternoon. I make a quick visit to the Mon State Museum, where I observe beautiful artefacts and learn about Mon culture. The museum is a quick visit, with a kind reminder that "regional cultures are important but unity of the nation is all the more." I leave the museum sooner than I had expected. I decide to head back into town and have another walk around one of the colonial quarter. The heat is still relentless and I stop in the shade of a building for a while. I am sitting on a few steps that lead into a small alley. Suddenly, a six year old boy appears, jumping around and screaming. As I take a few seconds to sympathise with the parents, he spots me. “Hello! Hello! Beautiful! Beautiful!” and he invites me into the alley, where his friends are playing a game of marbles. I spend an hour in the alley, watching and joining games. The kids share a few candies with me and I share some with them, though the boy who has invited me clearly doesn’t need a sugar boost. After a while, a woman joins the groups and a circle forms around me. She leads a chat, we exchange a few questions and laughter, and the times comes for me to leave and return the scooter. Great game of marbles!

My time is up in Mawlamyine and somehow, I have let myself be convinced that it would be a good idea to reach Hpa An with a boat. “It will only take four and a half hours, sure thing!” -the man had told me. I board the boat and embark on what will be a six and a half hours journey upstream. A short while after we leave Mawlamyine, we stop at a monastery and I realize that the boat ride to Hpa An is really a boat tour to Hpa An. “So long as we make it in four hours, because I have planned visits in the afternoon…” -I think, naively. The monastery is a peaceful religious site in the middle of nowhere. A fair amount of young men are giving the walls a fresh layer of paint, and one is climbing up a tree to shake down some fruits. The kids watching him explain how the fruit is endemic to the place, and how I will never find it anywhere else. I grab a bite and they offer me one to take away with me. I thank them and leave them to their admiring the beehive that is buzzing a few meters away from the man in the tree. I decide to walk back through the village and eventually I reach the boat. We are ready to continue the trip! My enthusiasm lasts a few meters only, and the boat comes to a stop among a few others. The river has gone down significantly in the season, and boats are struggling to go through. A few of the passengers get off the boat to help the boat men push, and wander around to try and scan the river’s depth. The whole thing eventually leads to a catch twenty-two situation where the remaining passengers are sitting on the boat waiting for something to happen, and the boat men are sitting at the back, waiting for the passengers to get off and lighten the embarkation, even though they have not communicated so. After a fair struggle, we make it through and sail further, only to stop again when our driver spots another boat with the engine being repaired. He helps fix the engine and we sail again. This time we should be good.

Mawlamyine has an ancient feel and at each of its corner, I was expecting people in centuries old outfits to turn up on centuries old bicycles. It has offered me a great day

The road goes from pavement to dust and before I know it, I find myself in the lush greens of the countryside. I progress on this reddish-brown of a road that gives a great contrast to the surrounding fields, and suddenly my attention is caught by Chinese fishing nets along a small canal. A man seems to be tending to them and I stop to investigate


I am decided not to let the two hours delay ruin my plans, and I quickly head to the hotel. There, I drop my bags, arrange to rent a scooter, and off I go to Sa Dan cave. I drive out of town and through a few villages. The road goes from pavement to dust and before I know it, I find myself in the lush greens of the countryside. I progress on this reddish-brown of a road that gives a great contrast to the surrounding fields, and suddenly my attention is caught by Chinese fishing nets along a small canal. A man seems to be tending to them and I stop to investigate. I approach the man who is fishing out of the small canal, though he uses the net directly into the water, and it seems that I will not see the Chinese nets in use. We exchange a few words and I watch him for a little while. I wouldn’t want to overstay my welcome though, and so I head to the cave shortly after.
You enter Sa Dan cave through a massive chamber where, of course, countless Buddhas and a few neons are found. I walk past them and progress into an impressive cave. I can hear the many bats arguing over head, and I can imagine the ‘mud’ under my bare feet for what it really is. Eventually, I reach the end of the cave, which is another entrance. From my direction, it is a gorgeous exit into a small clearing bordered by a small lake. A few locals are selling beverages here, and some are operating rowing boats across the lake. The discovery leaves me well excited for the remaining sights of Hpa An.

The following day, I grab a taxi-bike to the foot of mount Zwegabin for what I was warned would be a demanding hike up countless flights of stairs. I walk and walk up the little path and, after almost two hours, I reach the monastery and offer myself a break. The religious place is home to a few monks, a few youths who make and sale the meals, and a fair amount of mostly-local visitors. For another two hours, I walk around the monastery and the stupa that is believed to contain one of Buddha’s hair. I catch clouded views of the surrounding lands and sit with the locals for a few “selfie please?” After a while, I talk with one of the youths arranging meal and decide to get some body fuel before the strenuous descent on the East side of the mountain. Grateful for having decided to go up the other side, I reach the end of an endless journey down mount Zwegabin and I am completely drenched in sweat. After a quick break, I head in the direction of the Kawt Ka Taung cave, where I am told I will be able to swim! I stop for a chat with a few locals who are chewing betel -the typical nut that mixes with tobacco in ruinning the teeth of Myanmar- and I am offered a ride to my destination. The natural pool I find is fed by freshwater and… overtaken by children. Regardless, the refreshing is long overdue and I take a dip into the water. The kids are having fun and it is a nice spectacle to watch for a short while. Soon enough, I take off and start brainstorming on a ride back into Hpa An. I find a man and a few children waiting next to a truck and I ask them if they would give me a lift. They agree and I get my first ride at the back of a truck!
As soon as we reach Hpa An, I rent a scooter and head to yet another cave overtaken by the Buddha: Kawgun cave. I visit quickly and head back through small villages. I stop for a while and watch a group of young men play the ‘volleyball’ version of chinlone with a dexterity I truly admire, and eventually I have to consider the time. In fact, I have planned to visit one last cave before I head back to Hpa An. It is commonly known as “bat cave” and, as one might guess, it is home to an incredible amount of bats! I find myself among a crowd of enthusiastic visitors, chatting to a funny woman from Hpa An. She has accompanied people here, which makes makes me assume she is some kind of local host, or guide. After a while, the light is deemed enough for the colony of over-a-million bats to come out. A cloud of bats flaps their wings through the cave’s entrance, and I watch the back waves follow the river downstream…

My time is nearly up in Hpa An the next day. I have an early afternoon bus away from this green paradise and I want to make the most of my morning here. I rent a scooter once more and decide to explore some of the villages I have had a chance to cross. As discreetly as possible, I intrude into the daily life of the locals, walking down the one village street, at the sound of children’s greetings. “Hello bye bye!” Same old, same old… only, it never gets old. I pass men who have gathered to help build a house and I am really amazed. And yet, a fair amount seem uneasy around foreigners. For a moment, I wonder if it has to do with their biased conception of foreigner’s wealth, as well as a fair dose of pride, though to me it would seem absurd. These are men who can fix an engine and build a house, among other things, while working and being involved fathers. What more can a man want, really?
I visit a few other villages as the clock is pointing nearer to my departure. The last village is where I have watched the game of chinlone, the day before, and I had noticed irrigation canals. I pass them again and my eyes are caught by a group of children and teenagers playing near the pipes that pump water from the river. I get closer and greet a man who is using the water to clean his scooter. A woman passes by with a basket of laundry, or is it vegetables? She barely notices the children jumping and laughing. Not even the most adventurous, who are doing backflips into the water. For a short while, I ponder how nice it would be to also have a dip, yet how I have packed changes of cloth away already. I don’t hesitate for long though, a backpack can be opened at any time, and what a perfect ending to my trip to Hpa An!

I look through the back window of the car and see my friend crossing the street. I have returned to Yangon to say a goodbye with more than a layer. I am headed to the Yangon International Airport, away from my friend, from a country and from a continent. The game is changing and I have to part from the corner of the world I have explored in the last six month. In the streets, the lights are flashing by. I feel the urge to ask the taxi driver if he could please not take me away so fast, for the night is young and I have a dreadful journey ahead of me.

I came to Myanmar with little knowledge but its economical potential and its political shortcomings. I came with little insights but the few people who said they loved it. I was lucky though. Lucky enough to find my way to here and see it for myself. I have found a singular country, which only recently has peeked through the curtains of the world. And the world, Myanmar regards it with a cautious look of curiosity. The look is not one of envy, for Myanmar has the boundless riches of culture. I have discovered only so much of these riches, though they have far exceeded what I could envision.

Myanmar is more than ancient temples and lush rice fields. Myanmar is a story of restrictions and resilience. Somewhere beyond corruption and questionable politics; somewhere beyond social issues and discrimination; somewhere beyond extreme poverty, there is a land the Burmese have made their own. A land of a people who ranks among the most generous in the world, and not only by their level of donation per capita I believe. Here, people beat struggle to the curve by helping each other, they make a game of giving small gift regularly. Here, everyone goes by ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. I am leaving now, with the feeling that I should not have favorites, but Myanmar has impressed upon me anyway.

I have struggled in the traffic of Yangon and had to change plans when buses were full or hotels were overpriced. I have not always found a decent place to eat or known which way to go. I could not claim Myanmar is the easiest place to navigate, but I have often found someone to help, and more often yet have they found me. Every little bit of hassle Myanmar has given me has been a small price to pay for so many wonders, and I am forever grateful, because who doesn’t like a bit of tough love?

Myanmar is a thanaka-painted face giving you a full hearted smile. It has sometimes a set of teeth clouded with the shade of betel, but the smile will not be shy, for you have been studied from afar a little, and it is sincere. Myanmar will offer you a fruit and just as well it will a game of chinlone. It will share a laugh, and sometimes offer you a ride for which it will refuse payment. You will observe customs and think that Myanmar is powerful, for teaching a great lesson of humility, yes. But, and that is more, because it has made you look into the great mirror of human values, whether you wanted it or not.

Myanmar is more than ancient temples and lush rice fields. Myanmar is a story of restrictions and resilience. Somewhere beyond corruption and questionable politics; somewhere beyond social issues and discrimination; somewhere beyond extreme poverty, there is a land the Burmese have made their own. A land of a people who ranks among the most generous in the world, and not only by their level of donation per capita I believe. Here, people beat struggle to the curve by helping each other, they make a game of giving small gift regularly. Here, everyone goes by ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. I am leaving now, with the feeling that I should not have favorites, but Myanmar has impressed upon me anyway


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