Myanmar, without a doubt, was one of the most interesting places I have visited. Apart from the beauty of the countryside and omnipresent temples, the wonderful people make this place unforgettable. In this series of articles, I share five short stories of small acts of kindness to give an insight into the heart of the Burmese people.
General Aung San’s House
On my second day in Myanmar I did some sightseeing in Yangon. I walked a ton and was on my way to the General Aung San museum.
General Aung San is basically the George Washington of Myanmar. He led the resistance against the British for Burmese independence. He was the country’s first leader and even today the Burmese hold him in high regard. He is also Aung San Suu Kyi’s dad.
The map of Yangon I had was quite good, but the museum is on a small road. I asked some ladies at a roadside stall if the adjacent street was the correct one for the museum. They didn’t speak English, so I just said “Aung San” hoping they’d understand. It took a while, but one of them realized what I was asking and they confirmed it was down this street.
I walked a bit, uphill, when I found a guy smoking a cigarette outside a house. I asked him if the General Aung San museum was down this road. He didn’t speak English though. So I tried the same thing, just mentioning the name but he still didn’t understand me.
I found it hard to believe. I think I’d understand it if someone said George Washington with a very heavy accent, even Jorge Washington as this street is called in Quito, Ecuador, but maybe Burmese is far more subtle with its sounds than English is.
I could see the light bulb go off in his head though. All of a sudden he realized someone inside the house spoke English. He went and got her. I could tell she was eating at the time, but happily asked how she could help me.
As this was happening, a girl walked by. She was young, in her early-20’s I’d say. She had a backpack on so I thought of asking her, figuring she spoke enough English to help me, or would at least understand my bad pronunciation of Aung San. But at this point the guy had already gone in to retrieve the English speaker.
The lady from the house spoke perfect English and told me to go up the road and turn right. Great!
As I walked up the road, that girl with the backpack kept turning around to look at me. It seemed a bit strange at first. Myanmar is not India. The people don’t rudely (culture is all relative, but in my opinion staring is rude) stare in Myanmar – and despite the relatively infrequent contact local people have had with foreigners given how closed the country has been, people don’t stare at foreigners.
Then, because I’m not immune from being, well, a man, I thought maybe she was attracted to me. I mean, come on. Who wouldn’t be attracted to my mane? (in case you can’t tell, that was sarcasm)
As I walked, I was slowly catching up to her and then I got to a street where I could make a right turn. I thought this was probably the turn I should make, but I didn’t see this road on the map. As I stood there confused, the girl turned around again and we made eye contact. She smiled and with her hands told me to take that right turn.
So she wasn’t attracted to me at all, she wasn’t staring.. she was concerned about me and wanted to make sure I got to my destination. She didn’t need to be. What’s the difference for her whether I make it to the General Aung San Museum or not?
But this is Myanmar. The people do care.