Reposted for the ’30 Days of Indie Travel Project” challenge
It was Independence Day in Burma; the day that Burma earned their freedom from British colonial rule. Expecting celebrations and festivities, I hurried back to Rangoon from Mandalay.
As usual, I sat downstairs at breakfast, ordering the local breakfast of mohinga, a fish noodle soup. Maung Si-Tu, who worked at Beautyland II Hotel engaged me in more conversation than he had in the last few weeks.
“There’s nothing here in Rangoon. No celebrations.” he told me. “You should go to Kyaiktiyo.”
One of Burma’s most spiritual places for one of Burma’s most spiritual men. He couldn’t sing enough praises about this little town where a Golden Rock is said to house one strand of Buddha’s hair. He spoke of his own experiences there, and made my decision for me. “Its 9:00 and the bus leaves at 11:00. You need to hurry.” I was to go.
I was down to my last kyat, and the contents of my pack were strewn everywhere around my room. I hadn’t planned to go anywhere.
I don’t know if I’ll have enough time…I need to go to the bank.”
“Ok. Don’t worry. Just go pack,” he said. “Hurry”
I was in my room for about 10 minutes when he rang. “You won’t have time to the bank. I have the money. Just get it from me.” I didn’t want to delve in black market exchanges with a friend. “No, its ok. I’m packing now. I’ll go the bank.”
Si-Tu rang again a few minutes later. “I’ll get you the money. You don’t have time to go to the bank. And you have to catch the bus.” I finally relented.
He came to my room with 20,000 kyat….a laborer in Burma makes approximately 500-1000 kyat per month. Here, he said. Take this. It should be more than enough for a few days over there. I reached into my pocket for the equivalent in US dollars. He wouldn’t take it. I left one of my cameras as collateral. He grudgingly accepted it.
He just wanted me to have a great time….”I want to loan it to you. I trust you and I don’t need your money.” He said that I was like a fifth sister to him. 20,000 kyat is two years worth of hard laborous work in Burma. And he was handing it to me. A stranger who would leave Burma to come home in 3 days. What if I didn’t show up? I left with the 20,000 kyat in my pocket, bewildered and humbled.
I arrived at the bus station and the show began with the foreigner. “Ma Khinkhinwin? Are you the actress?” the boys joked. They ripped me off by about 200 kyat. I didn’t care though, and neither did they. “You guys charged me more than anyone else for a plastic stool in the middle of the aisle?! I couldn’t do anything about it though. They knew I knew…
“I’m only going to the end of the road. You should take my seat.” a woman offered. We went back and forth for a while, and finally, I agreed. I had a 5 hour ride and she would just be minutes. I took her seat. A proper seat. 3 hours later, she was still sitting there. In the middle of the aisle….on a plastic stool. She had given up her seat for a stranger.
In Kyaiktiyo, I made good friends whom I visit whenever I return. They took me to dinner, a young couple with very little. They told me, “In just a few days, you’ve become such a close friend to us…you’re one of us.” They paid for dinner, this couple who had nothing. It would have cost me just 2 US dollars, but they wouldn’t hear of it. It cost them 2000 kyat.
Maung Si-Tu was no where to be seen when I arrived back at the guest house in Rangoon. I thought nothing of it, though I had stories that I was anxious to share with him. Several hours later, I received a call in my room. I was glad to hear his voice. He told me that he had been busy all afternoon, but was calling to let me know that he’s around; that he didn’t want me to think that he’d run off with my camera. He loaned me his life savings, yet he was concerned about my peace of mind.
I had found what I’d come for on this trip. Examples of humanity. Moral lessons to be heard. A reminder of what unconditional, genuine kindness is.
And there are so many more stories….
Of the man who was with on the bus with me from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur. I needed to transfer to the local subway, but had no idea how to do this. KL was a last minute detour, and it was late at night and the streets and station were empty. He walked me through the station, helped me with the telephone booth, and paid my fare into the subway. No, the amount wasn’t significant, but the compassion and kindness for this stranger left permanent impressions of all things good.
Or the young Thai lady, on the bus ride back from KL to Bangkok, who insisted on sharing a taxi with me, so that I wouldn’t be taken advantage of, even though I’d told her that I’d been there many times and traveled all around. We had been seatmates on the bus. When I’d reached my destination in the taxi, she pushed away my money, telling me, “No. Welcome to Bangkok. You are in my country and it is my pleasure.”
All of these people….they knew that I was better off economically than they were. Anyone who visits Burma is. Nevertheless, their capacity to give and love so generously is unequivocal to almost any that I’ve ever experienced. Their faith in humanity resuscitated my own.No comments