The Kindness of Strangers in Myanmar

I’ve had a full social calendar. I’ve made no less than six friends who show up randomly at my hotel, seeing if I want to hang out. And yesterday alone, I was introduced to at least a hundred family members and friends. The morning started with getting picked up for a sight seeing tour (gratis of course). I was sandwiched on a moto by two of my good friends. We stopped at one of their houses to parade in front of his mom. “Look mom! No job, but I’m hanging with a white dude and practicing English!” Then next door to a friend’s house. I was upstairs to be struck in the face with the sight of two small boys splayed out near naked on the floor, only covered by a little gauze on their dicks and tshirts. Fresh circumcisions. Nice. The extended family continued to fan the sick looking kids, but really I was the center of attention. If I got circumcised when I was five, I’d be crying. Met the four generations. Ate food, drank tea. Outside in the street were some wildly dressed, wildly dancing Hindus. You know, just a random festival, no big deal.

Finally, on to the excursion for the day. Got on the motos. Drove out of town. Check point! They’re pulling us over for not wearing helmets. Whistles blowing, pointing, cops in the street. Friend on the back says to friend driving “pull a u-turn”! We did, and I proceeded to run from the cops in a country known primarily for police brutality. Oh well. So it was decided we’d take the back way. It turned out to be a LONG detour, up and over a mountain pass, just to avoid the check point. Finally, we arrived at the famous Sleeping Buddha. It’s said to be the largest in the world at about 180 meters. It’s one of those projects that’s not finished and likely never to be finished. Still, quite a quirky and fun place to go though. It was 182 rooms. Kind of the grand project of an architectural nutcase. Some of the rooms a filled with concrete statues depicting the story of Buddha.

Then on to grandmother’s house. Who we woke up. “Look! A white guy!” Then lunch at a ‘famous’, beautiful lake of which the only thing that I learned about was that women are not allowed. Just like in the head of the Sleeping Buddha. For lunch I was again granted special treatment. We ate the food that the restauranteurs had made for themselves. And got free dishes on top of that. After the ride back to town and a nap, I was again picked up for some socializing.

More friends, more family. Hung out at a friend’s bettle nut stand. Bettle nut is a drug that lots of men and women chew. It does nasty work rotting your teeth, and you spit red juice everywhere. I got to try wrapping the leaf bundles and ever chewed one myself. Spent a few hours there. Then walked down to the continuation of the Hindu festival. Oggled at men with metal hooks in their backs pulling strongly while dancing and men with 80+ metal spikes in their bodies that supported elaborate head dresses. I followed the crowd right in to the tiny temple and the heated, manic, sweaty, colored powder covered, culmination of the festival. Finally the day ended after a long dinner where everyone talked about religion. They’re amazed by my atheism. Myanmar is extremely devout and I’ve had multiple conversations about faith so far.

That was just one day.

On other fronts. It’s hot. Burmese food is pretty ok, but not great. I’m going to Hpa-An by boat today (one of the nicest trips in the country). Might not have internet for phone access for a while. Who knows.

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