Often timid, always tender, Burmese people exude honesty in the face of changing politics. Proud and loyal, but sincerely critical, they are the first to know Myanmar is on the brink of something great.
Traditional face paint marks the cheeks of the majority of Burmese. What looks like war paint is actually a beauty product, leaving the skin protected from the sun, soft and “hlate” the Burmese word for beautiful.
Jobs are taken seriously and often done on a 7-days a week basis. In the tribal villages tucked up in the hills and valleys of the near Inle Lake, daily routine appears to be bliss of a simple life. Buddhism dominates the culture with seemingly every fifth person donning the deep red robe of a monk.
Before your date with the sunrise over some mystical Myanmar site, you’ll likely find a never ending single file line of monks walking through the dark. In the tribal villages, you hear 3am drum beats and chanting passing by as you lay awake on your modest floor mat in anticipation of the 8.5 hours of trekking the next day. Then again, just before sunrise, what sounds like an Islamic call to prayer echoes through the valley, gently vibrating your bamboo bungalow.
Guitar playing and sing-a-long with your motley crew of new friends makes wifi urges disintegrate completely. The passion seen in the closed-eyed faces of the local young men triggers feelings of euphoria, reminiscent of the magical camp fire songs of your youth.
We watched one man whisper in the ear of our guide as he strummed us “Country Roads,” what we assumed to be a reminder to shut down the music and stop the white people from banging on the table and whistling so much. But we were wrong…it was a request to join in.
Myanmar is not so much a mystery as it is like so many other places with warm-hearted people facing adversity. The Burmese I met found joy in their jobs, pride in their country, and accepting of the reality that the strength of their currency might never allow for them to see the rest of the world as they dream of.
The thirst for education is widespread, a reason monkhood is so popular and often pursued by boys as young as eight years old. But the realities of change are expressed by many. Some have less hope, some are unaware what a more economically and politically stable society looks like, some are content. I hear rumors that Myanmar’s resources give it the potential to be a South East Asia powerhouse, and I, personally, hope to live to see the day that this becomes true.