It’s hard to believe, when you are greeted by the genuine, bright smiles of the Burmese nationals that you are in a country which until only very recently was the host to demonetization of certain bank notes, brutal repression of peaceful protests and martial law.
A country which struggled to find it’s feet after corrupt British imperialism and empty Japanese promises of independence after co-operation during World War Two (Burma found themselves as a meeting point for the British and Japanese armies).
A country which is still dealing with armed conflict from rebel groups of ethnic minorities, conflict which has been ongoing since their declaration of independence in 1948.
An unfortunate history for a population who are majority Buddhist. A peaceful way of life which at the most basic level emphasizes sincere charity, purity of thought and conscious awareness through meditation.
The baking sun whose presence is felt throughout the year glistens off thousands of pagodas whose colour give the Golden Land it’s name. Despite it’s status as one of the least developed countries in the world, Myanmar, in the city centres is surprisingly the opposite as high rise flats and office blocks cast shadows onto the fresh markets and make shift restaurants below, which add to the utter chaos of the streets.
As you perch on the tiny plastic stools, to the side of the road. You can’t help but feel like you’re at a young cousins tea party, but this is serious business the young girl, beaming from behind a face covered in Thanaka (ground tree bark used for sun protection and decoration) lays down a lavish display of chicken, fish, beef, vegetables, spices and soups very much tapas in style but unique in taste.
It’s the kindness I’ll remember though. The kindness and those bashful smiles.
We’ve done nothing to deserve such a reception. Perhaps they see us as a beacon of hope. A sign that, finally, their country is changing for the better.
I sincerely hope that this is the case but as economic laws are relaxed, welcoming foreign investors and local gentlemen, teeth red from chewing on beetle nut, swing from bamboo scaffolding as they hustle to complete guest houses and hotels there is definitely a sense that Myanmar is about to be devoured by the septic jaws of the West.
A fate which South East Asia knows only too well in the cases of Bali and Thailand. Once humble, friendly people now forced to cater to a relentless stream of ignorant tourists.
The burmese elders are advocates of traditional living, laughter and an unrivaled energy. The younger generation though, having been exposed to Western films and music are moving away from this way of life. As they strive for reasons unbeknownst to me to be more like us their priorities are shifted from family and community to products and money.
If only they knew their profound beauty.