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.
Here, You Take My Sandals
The first 13 months of The Happy Nomad Tour were wet. I somehow managed to hit the rainy season everywhere in Latin America and then the same in Southeast Asia. The rainy season was my shadow. It wasn’t until I got to Nepal that I could take my poncho and umbrella out of my backpack.
While taking my tour of Inle Lake by boat, it started to rain.. a lot. It hadn’t rained there in months. The leaves on the trees had a measureable layer of dust on them. It’s the middle of dry season and there shouldn’t have been any rain for months. But such is my luck.
At one point the boat driver stopped at a beautiful temple. It wasn’t raining at that point and the sky looked like it was clearing up. I left my shoes on the boat since shoes and socks are never allowed inside temples.
I went inside and explored a bit. Fifteen minutes later I returned and found my boat driver. All of a sudden it started raining really, really hard. It was like monsoon rain for about a minute, then moderate rain for several more minutes.
I hid under the protective covering of the temple walkway, and the boat driver paddled my way wearing his poncho.
Unfortunately, my shoes were soaked.
Later on in the day it was sunny at times and I did my best to get my shoes and socks in the sunlight.
At 6pm I had my night bus back to Yangon. Buses often overuse the air conditioning and everyone freezes. I’m always cold as it is, so I’m particularly susceptible to freezing. I decided it would be best to pack my shoes in a bag and wear my foot gloves for the journey. They have the added benefit of being warmer than my regular shoes.
The bad thing is that I knew my wet shoes would stink after a night in that bag. I didn’t have much of a choice though. I figured I could stick them in the sun all day in Yangon and they’d be fine.
When I got to Yangon the hotel said that they could wash the shoes for me if I wanted. They’d be ready at 8pm. Hmm.. It was tempting to get them washed. But I feared they wouldn’t be dry and I had a flight in 24 hours.
In the end, I had them washed and as I suspected, at 8pm I was given a wet pair of shoes. Yangon was uncharacteristically cloudy all day and the shoes didn’t dry well outside. At first I was angry, but I accepted the situation. I stuffed them with toilet paper and put them outside to dry overnight and catch the first glimpses of sun in the morning.
Before the shoes came back, I left the hotel in my glove shoes to go get some dinner. There was a Thai restaurant next door and due to the night bus I was too tired to venture out far for dinner. I had almost reached the restaurant when I heard someone running toward me from behind.
It was the owner of the hotel. He was barefoot and had a pair of flip flops in his hand.
I’ll never forget what he said next: “Your shoes come back 8pm. Here, you take my sandals. No problem.”
You see, this is Myanmar. He had never seen a pair of shoes as ridiculous as the ones I was wearing. He thought they were socks and wanted to spare me the discomfort of walking barefoot on the stone-laden street.
It was one of those moments when you swell up with emotion. I didn’t feel like crying. I don’t have kids, but maybe it’s like when your kid brings you home something made in school that you know was an assignment, but nevertheless treasure for the love it conveys.
This was a fantastic gesture and I’m not sure I could have picked a better story to end my time in Myanmar. I didn’t accept his sandals and I showed him that I was in fact wearing shoes, alien as they may be.
I didn’t get a chance to walk a mile in his shoes. But I hope by sharing these stories and experiences from Myanmar, mundane as they may have been at times, you got to walk a mile in my shoes and see what a fantastically beautiful people the Burmese are.