As I travel from country to country, catching hard glimpses into the lives of others, I’m set against myself as I think about how hard people work on a daily basis, as well as how much I have and how little everyone else needs in comparison. The lives here are very simple unless you’re staying in very westernized accommodation. But while the accommodation is nice, most people don’t live like this. The electricity in Myanmar goes out multiple times a day; someone in my hostel told me that it’s because there literally just isn’t enough power to go around. So it goes out. Frequently. When the power does go out in big hotels or hostels, a generator will kick on within a minute or two. Most places run on generators alone, like the monastery I stayed in on my trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake.
You can’t find these simple lives in the States. I mean, you can – but it’s farfetched; they’re mountain men or mountain women and they still probably have stable electricity, Internet, and a Netflix subscription. The life of bare necessities isn’t the norm in the States. Here, it is the norm. Someone asked me if I thought I could get used to a life like this; I didn’t really know how to answer. I’m sure that I could strip down to the bare necessities with no bank cards, limited electricity, shitting in a hole, and bathing with a bucket instead of a shower… but like any adjustment period, it would take time.
The people of Myanmar, and all of Asia for that matter, seem to know of a balance that I can barely comprehend. I see a lot of people lounging around, a lot of restaurant workers giggling in corners, and a lot of chit chat in any workplace seems to be fairly common. But when they’re actually working, they’re working harder than anyone else. Constantly cleaning, fixing, lifting, moving, transporting. The hostels I’ve stayed in here are SO clean, they smell amazing, and it’s because they’re always being cleaned. The airport workers don’t have automatic belts and machines; they literally check you in and walk your heavy ass bag to the plane. And they will still smile at you as they walk by.
It is really unfathomable how nice Burmese people are. People all across Southeast Asia are very kind, but Burmese people will bend over backward for you. When I was sitting in the airport, I got a coffee, and when a plane that wasn’t mine started to board, the worker made sure that it wasn’t my flight. I had another airport worker come over to me, in a different airport, to let me know that it was my time to go through security and check-in. I walked into a random notary in Yangon to ask if they knew where to get passport photos done, and no one did, but a few minutes later, a woman found me in the street and said “passport photo?” and pointed at a building. And I got my passport photos. In Bagan, arguably the most touristic place in Myanmar, I rented an e-bike and agreed to pay for an hour (which was $1..). I didn’t use the full hour, so he only charged me $.60. I would have been happy to pay for the full hour. On a boat tour in Inle Lake led by an 18-year-old who looked not a day over 15, our boat broke down – first, he tried to put more fuel in, but when he realized that wasn’t working, he started to paddle. And he smiled at us the entire time, assuring the boat of 5 that it would just be a moment. We had to be dragged by another boat to a restaurant on stilts where we waited, but I’m confident that if that other boat didn’t help, he would have just kept paddling.
I was very excited about this country for a lot of reasons, but the people were one of the biggest reasons. While my time here is over, I am absolutely looking forward to coming back… during a time of year that’s less hot!
Have you been to Myanmar? Tell me about your experiences in the comments! What’s your favorite place here?
Until next time,
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Have you ever gone trekking? Where? I just finished a 2-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake and it was quite the experience! Endless smiles and waves from locals, delicious food in locals’ homes, watching the sunset over a monastery, and a few blisters along the way. All worth it for the endless memories of friendly faces engrained into my mind forever. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Any experience that brings me closer to locals is always worth it!