Sunday, May 5, 2013

Memorable Faces

During my time in Myanmar I have met too many lovely people to count. Some, however, have made a lasting impression on me and I'm unlikely to forget them anytime soon.

11 hours and one hectic train ride later I had arrived in the sleepy coastal town of Mawlamyine. One of the staff at my guesthouse was extra welcoming and his name was Mr. Anthony. On his days off, Mr. Anthony acts as a tour guide and takes tourists over to an island some 10 kilometers away from the mainland. Obviously it's more with his while if there is a group of people wanting to go but I was the only person interested that day. In every other country I've been to this would have meant no tour for me, but not in Myanmar - Mr. Anthony kindly took me anyway, which meant I had my own personal guide for the day! He made a huge effort to make sure his 'Canadian daughter' (which introduced me to people as) had a safe and enjoyable day. When I left Mawlamyine for a town called Hpa-an, Mr. Anthony called my guesthouse there to make sure I had arrived safely. I don’t think people get more sweet than him.

I met this young woman and her daughter on the way back from my island tour with Mr. Anthony. As our boat pulled away from the dock, the young woman was crying and waving goodbye to an older woman still on shore. This girl spoke no English so I asked Mr. Anthony to ask her who the woman was. He told me that it was the girl's mother, who she only gets to see every four or five years because she works in Thailand where she can earn more money. I actually started crying when I heard that. I miss my family all the time but it's 100% my choice - I don't have to be traveling, whereas this girl
has to work in Thailand. I asked Mr. Anthony to tell her that I missed my mom too, which made her smile a little.

I met this couple while on a three hour train ride in Yangon that does a circle around the city. About an hour and a half in on this very hot day, I ran out of water. No one was selling it on the train and it didn't make long enough stops for me to run out and buy any. The couple noticed me looking around and my empty bottle, so they somehow flagged down a vendor at one of the stops, bought a new bottle, poured half into a bottle they already had and kindly gave the rest to me. I tried to pay them, but they wouldn't take any money. I got to talking with them and the guy spoke decent English. He told me that he had been with his girlfriend for five years, but that he was moving to Japan for work, and she to Singapore. This had me a bit panicked because they were so cute together! When I asked what they were planning to do, he answered by asking if I had seen the movie Going the Distance (chick flick about Drew Barrymore and Justin Long making a LD relationship work). I told him I had, and he pretty much just said, that's what we're gonna do! (Spoiler alert: Drew and Justin end up together in the same place - I hope it will be the same for this adorable couple!)

I met Ma Cho my first day in Myanmar. I was wandering around one of the city’s many pagodas, and upon leaving, stopped to say hello to some stray dogs. They were all very fond of one woman in particular, who has a small shop just outside the pagoda, and that’s how I met Ma Cho. She speaks virtually no English but is so good-humored that it doesn't matter at all. I could not get through a visit with her without eating tons of food - one time I had to eat an entire papaya. She is one of the most bubbly and generous people I have ever met.

I met this family while at the temples in Bagan. The young girl, who couldn't have been more than 12 years old, asked (in very good English) if she could take a picture with me. After we did, her younger brother shyly muttered something to her in Burmese, which must have been 'I want a picture too' because she then asked if I would take one with her brother. I chatted with the father for a bit, and then we said our goodbyes as they made their way down the temple. When they were at the bottom I happened to look down and realized they were taking another picture of me, so I took one of them too!

I met these kids on the night bus heading from Inle Lake to Bagan. They were a few rows in front of me and as the only foreigner on the bus, seemed to find me quite interesting. They would not stop turning around and looking at me, so I waved them over and offered them my iPhone and iPod, which they thoroughly enjoyed playing with. Eventually they went back to their seats, but a few hours later the little girl came back to where I was sitting, sat down in the empty seat next to me, curled up beside me and promptly fell asleep. So sweet.

The woman at the market in Mawlamyine who gave me some thanaka and when I tried to pay her, wouldn't accept any money.

The awesome man I sat next to one day while I was eating lunch on the street, who drank his midday beer out of a straw.

The woman who invited me into her house, where she was hanging out with her sister, and went out and bought me a cold drink from a stand outside.

Some gifts I received on a bus from locals. Never in a million years would I be offered a beer and/or two apples from perfect strangers in Canada!

This is probably me stating the obvious by this point, but the highlight of this country has by far been its kind people.

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