Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Relaxing Lawn of Rakhine Gone

People in Myanmar are undoubtedly the friendliest in the world. Good thing too, imagine if you had a nation of unemployed loiterers who weren't friendly. That would suck. Fortunately that ain't the case, and multiple times a day one is forced to marvel at how good-natured and kind everyone is. I figure once you're welcomed into someone's home people everywhere tend to be warm and open, they just don't seem to distinguish between the hospitality you extend to a guest versus that to a random person in the street here. Still though, it's always nice to hang out with/be adopted by a family for a few days.

On the bus met an older Burmese couple who live in Australia and were visiting family here. They invited me to join them on their homecoming and I was happy to tag along. Hopped in a taxi (of the pickup truck sort. Suppose they got cars with the word TAXI written on a rooftop sign too, but far more prevalent are motorcycles, bicycles, and pickup trucks. You'd be surprised at how many dozen people you can cram into the back of a little Japanese pickup. Those were buses and not taxis though) and headed off to wherever it was they were taking me. There is always that brief moment of "wait a minute, am I going to die?" whenever you find yourself following people you just met into unknown places. Especially in strange countries where you don't speak the language. There tend to be more serial killers on television that in reality though, and the fact that I don't live in a cheesy horror movie also decreases the likelihood of anything bad occurring. I'll post pictures (I've got bazillions) when I get back to 'Merica, meanwhile here are some insights into what happens when a giant white guy drops into a Burmese family's village compound:

As a preposterously tall foreigner, inquiries regarding my height are fairly common. I answered, one thing led to another and two guys started arguing about which one of them was taller. They stood up, faced each other, and everyone starting shouting their opinion. The whole thing was pretty ridiculous so I intervened and lined them up back to back. All the commotion ceased as it was evident to everyone that the taxi driver was a few millimeters taller than the fat guy. This debate being abruptly settled, a conversation praising the genius of the back to back method of height comparison ensued. Apparently in Myanmar judging who is taller has always been a difficult task because when face to face the disputing parties disqualify each other on grounds of chest swelling, raised eyebrows, improper neck angles, hairstyles, and other such height falsifying factors. Shoulder to shoulder yields many of the same disputes and is more a source of controversy than an arbitrator. Not so with this novel back to back approach. A mutual third party must officially declare the winner, but so foolproof this solution that any observer would arrive at the same conclusion. My failure to take credit for inventing this revolutionary technique was taken as proof of my modesty and further endeared everyone to me.

. . .

This 4 year old girl really liked me and we had a lot of fun goofing around. One day she had a new toy. Now before you judge, please remember that these are country folks living in what is far from a wealthy nation. The only other toys I saw were a little car and two rubber bands. From what I could infer these she shared with her 7 year old brother. Her new toy was a beetle. You could watch it curl up, set it on a chair, flick it across the floor, all sorts of fun games. I pretended to eat it, but she didn't believe me for a second. I showed her how to do it and we had a good time pretending to eat it and then cough it up, pull a beetle out of your nose, out of the other guy's ear, hours of fun. Later that afternoon the whole family was sitting around when she pranced in showing off her new toy. No one was much impressed and paid her little attention. So she ate the beetle. "SHE ATE THE BEETLE!!!" "No, she ate it?" "Yes, she ate it!!" "That beetle she was playing with?" "Ate it?" "She'll be sick" "She'll be fine" "Ate it?" "Popped it in her mouth and swallowed it." She was quite happy to be the center of attention and to have gotten everyone with her prank. I had never before seen let alone imagined a more successful performance in all my years of pretending to eat stuff.

. . .

Not quite sure how the family hierarchy worked, but there was most certainly a ranking. The Australian couple were at the top, and as their prize souvenir I was too. We sat on chairs instead of the floor, we got fanned by pretty girls, we got to eat first, all sorts of perks. I thought dude was kind of a jerk about it, but maybe that's how alpha males in Myanmar are supposed to behave. Getting to eat first was cool though. I got to have all the local delicacies and more fresh fruit than you can imagine. Lemme tell you, people who live in fruit orchards have lots and lots and lots and lots of fresh fruit. It got got to be a bit much though, as the women folk whose duties consisted of cooking and serving food took tremendous pleasure in watching me eat. I generally have a healthy appetite, and when my taking seconds makes people happy I will do my best to oblige them. The first few days were alright, but when my gorging failed to keep pace with their expectations I would be encouraged to "sa, sa" (eat, eat) and when compliance was unsatisfactory was commanded quite aggressively to "Sa!! Sa!! Sa!!" certain items. I tried to vary my consumption so as not to favor any particular chef and would end every feeding pleading to be allowed to move on to the multiple course fruit eating session that served as an interlude before dessert. Never before had I so wanted to correct the imbalance of disparity, but as Myanmar is wont to imprison those seeking to alter the status quo, thought it best to continue suffering in overindulged silence.

All in all it was a great week. If any of you are heading out to Myanmar (yeah, right) I'd be happy to recommend a host family 11 hours south of Yangon 'bout 30 minutes east of Mawlamyang


Joe said...

Great stories as usual. Teaching them the "back to back" method was a stroke of genius. You will forever be known as the genius foreign guy who solved their height-dispute-resolution enigma.

I know you never reveal your travel plans, but when you actually do come back to the states you should have a slideshow party where you project your photos for everyone to see and give a "lecture" on your travels while we all get hammered.

Jess Lynd said...