My visit to the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was highlighted by the beautiful temples I saw and of course, some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
Though I’m usually greeted with a sense of acceptance anywhere in Southeast Asia due to my Asian features, I found the Burmese more welcoming and warm.
Perhaps, it’s their way of embracing the recent change after years of military rule that have encumbered their willingness to communicate with the outside world. Nonetheless, the exchanges were genuine and the smiles hearfelt.
Here are some of the memorable individuals I’ve met on the road in Myanmar. They’re special because our interaction sprung at the most unlikely moment / situation. In spite of the language barrier, they communicated with me through kind gestures.
And this is what I love about traveling – you go out without any plans but then you meet people and share a special moment with each one of them and create one of the best memories of your life.
1. The Bagan Gang
Tired and exhausted from a 2 hour cycling escapade under a 12 noon heat, I stopped over an area surrounded with trees and was welcomed by this very friendly group of people. I spoke a few words in English when I approached them but I did not get any reply. All I got was friendly smiles and a hand that led me to a comfortable shack where I was allowed take shelter.
He is the owner and the bicycle manager of a guesthouse in Bagan. Before he lets any traveler on one of his bikes, he checks the brakes and gives the tires a soft kick. He may walk slow, but his wisdom remains intact. Our conversations were priceless and made my afternoons in his guesthouse worthwhile.
3. The Friendly Horsecart driver
After seeing me braving the midday heat in Bagan while pushing my bicycle uphill, he politely apologized that he couldn’t take me back to my guesthouse in his horsecart because he had other guests to take care of. But in his broken English, he told me how to get a ride by using an inconspicuous public transportation. Without him, I would have been left dehydrated in the middle of nowhere.
4. Mr. Motorbike
He doesn’t speak a word of English. He only smiles at me, proudly showing his betel nut stained teeth, which usually means “let’s go”. He’s like my private chauffeur, always going wherever I wanted him to go, without question. Between him and me, it didn’t feel like a tourist business transaction. It was a “ride with a friend” all the way.
There is nothing like meeting music lovers in a foreign country. I find interaction with them more interesting than eating a meal with them. For me, music is the general language – no matter what you appreciate, your love for the SOUND connects you with one another. And once he and the rest of the boys started singing and showing dance moves in front of me, I knew I found the music lovers I’ve been looking for in Myanmar. Let’s just say that they’re more inclined to listen to popular / radio music. But it didn’t matter. Music became my window to their world – a world that longed for the freedom their tunes have been proclaiming for a long time.