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.
Don’t Worry, I Will Help You
For my first day at Inle Lake I rented a bike and cycled around the lake. It’s an insight into rural Burmese life and there are spectacular views of nature.
One thing I read online is that you should inspect your bike well before departing on such an adventure. Much of the road is unpaved and getting a flat tire would basically ruin your day. One of my bike’s tires was bent, but it seemed ok. At one point I thought I got a flat since it was so hard to pedal, but I just didn’t realize that I was going uphill. 🙂 I was tired from not sleeping at all on the bus the night before.
I stopped at the so-called hot springs and had some juice and took a break. The hot springs are really just two pools set in a rustic environment and I didn’t feel like paying $8 to go for a swim.
From there I took a boat to cross the lake to the other side and make my way to a winery, then back to where I was staying. I had about 6mi/10km of peddling to go.
About 1mi/1.6km into the journey, the road was closed for repairs and a detour took you through a somewhat sandy road. I had to switch gears quickly to the lowest gear. The combination of me peddling fast and switching too many gears at the same time knocked the chain right off.
When I lived in Denmark I bought a bike. It was my main form of transportation there. I bought the cheapest one I could find and the chain would fall off about once or twice per week. I went to a hardware store and bought plastic gloves so I could put it back on without showing up to work with greasy hands.
I had no plastic gloves on hand, but when I stopped in the shade I did go looking through my backpack for a packaged wet napkin I had kept from a bus ride several months earlier in Vietnam. I got it ready so I couldn’t have to dig through my bag with nasty hands.
Before I could find the packaged wet napkin, a local guy had started fixing my bike! I didn’t even see or hear him coming!
He had a different technique to get the chain back on than I would have tried. The problem was that the chain was protected in the front and back by a guard, which made it difficult to get the chain to cooperate. It would also have been very difficult to put the chain in place and pedal at the same time.
But no problem, another local guy came over to help! He lifted the back tire and pedaled when asked to do so. I stood there worthless, in awe of the generosity on display. I took these pictures.
It took them about five minutes and the first guy resorted to using a stick to push the chain up onto the gears. It worked.
I was so thankful these guys helped I can’t even put it into words. At the end I put my hands together in front of my chest and said thank you. They didn’t speak English, but they understood what I was trying to convey.
I handed them the wet napkin I had retrieved earlier. It was literally the least I could offer them. They smiled and refused. I don’t know if they refused because they didn’t want to take anything from me, or because wiping your hands with a wet napkin isn’t the most manly thing in the world to do. I think it was the former though. I had to force them to take it.
I said thank you several more times and rode off down the dirt road to the winery. It might be an exaggeration to say that these guys saved my day. I probably would have been able to get the chain back on myself, though I’m not sure.
But there’s no denying that these guys made my day all the more enjoyable. I couldn’t help but think “This is what humanity should be like – people helping people with no agenda and with no expectation of anything in return.” I found my thought ironic given how brutal the military dictatorship has been in Myanmar, in many ways representing the worst of humanity. Quite a contrast.