while I’m sitting in Bangkok, I miss you more than you can imagine. Thank you for welcoming this Dutch girl into your country. I felt your warm arms around me the minute I walked on your soil. Over the past 24 days I have learned a lot about you; about your culture, your food, your landscapes and your people. These words are an ode, a serenade to you, my beloved Myanmar.
I love your extremely loud karaoke & James Bond buses, your bumpy trains, all your different, overcrowded tuk-tuks, your bike-takes that can fit three full-grown Westeners plus one skinny Burmese cyclist and your many, many constantly honking motorbikes.
I love your countless hello’s, mingalarbar’s, how are you’s, only one’s, byebye’s and which country?
I love exploring your landscapes, whether by foot, by bus, by train, by e-bike, by normal bike, by boat or by motorbike. Motorbike trekking around Kyaukme took me past rice paddies, up mountains and through grassy lands (highly recommended: firstname.lastname@example.org ). Whilst the almost 60km trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake transported me from the African savannah to Tuscany, Greece and Spain.
I love your food, even though it had me vomiting one afternoon. I love your Shan noodles, your absolutely mouthwatering avocado’s and the tiniest, sweetest mandarins I’ve ever tasted. Likewise, I love your drinks, Myanmar beer is light and refreshing especially in these temperatures and your fruit juices are to die for. Even your “muscle relaxation” is a part of my love for you. Furthermore, I love you prices. I barely paid more than 4000 Kyat (3,50 euro) for a whole meal and the best dishes were only 500 Kyat (0,45 eurocents).
I love all your temples, stupas and pagoda’s (yes, I know they’re basically the same). The impressive Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon or the temple-dotted plains of Bagan or the unexpectedly beautiful stupa in Pyay or the caverns filled with golden Buddha images in Hpa-an – they all define and enrich you.
I love all your sunrises and sunsets, and I’ve seen many of them. The most impressive one in Bagan, with all the hot air balloons floating above the hundreds of temples. Seeing the sun turn pink and red reminded me of where I was and how grateful I was to be there right there and then.
I love all your cats since I became friends with many of them. One of the red ones even wanted to join me on my motorbike. Sorry Kira & Mies!
I love your sense of fashion. Combining your traditional longyi with t-shirts adorning Mickey Mouse, Angry Birds or Spongebob Squarepants is a sight to see. On the other hand, your traditional clothes, especially for women, are insanely beautiful – including the towels on the heads of wrinkly old Burmese ladies.
I love how there are no McDonalds, no KFC’s, no Pizza Huts or any other international fast food chains soiling the streets of your cities. This is the second country and it’s liberating.
I love how all the men I’ve talked to know Robin van Persie, especially the monks seem to be football fans. Talking about monks, I love seeing monks drive a car, drive a motorbike, use a smartphone and rocking other technological stuff.
I love your betelnut red smile that appears on your people’s faces when I smile and wave – and almost everyone chews betelnut (including many of the women). And even though it was a big disgusting as well, I got used to your spitting and gurgling and your red spit-filled streets.
I love your notions of friends, family and love – from calling your significant other “doctor” to 528 (friends) & 1500 (love) affection, even though everyone I asked could not explain where it came from.
I love meeting fellow travellers and talking about our mutual love for the country – from sharing a room in a mental guesthouse in Pyay with Sophia (including cockroaches) to sharing homestays with my two different hiking groups (one of which included 4 Israeli’s and Sophie – the most positive English girl I’ve ever met, plus we were an injury-prone group!!).
But most of all, dear Myanmar, I love your people. I love how generous they are, inviting me inside their homes for tea and cookies. I love how they try to talk to me even though they don’t know English and I don’t know any Burmese. I love getting tipsy with the locals and Sophia, guessing English melodies played by a Burmese guy on a guitar rocking Burmese lyrics to Sweet Child O’ Mine and Love Hurts. I love asking difficult questions about politics, culture and everyday life and getting enthusiastic responses since they can (finally) talk openly about these things. I love talking to young kids in their English class taught by monks in Kyaukme (thanks again Johnny!). I love their curiosity, shyly looking at me and smiling broadly when I recognise them. I even love that they desperately wanted to go on a photo with me – now I’m wondering how many Facebook profile pictures I rock. I love how nobody tried to scam me or rip me off. I love how incredibly friendly every single person is, from taxi drivers to guesthouse owners, from trekking guides to little kids peeking out of their houses.
Though we must have a little talk, Myanmar. There is still a lot in your country that has to change. The fighting, the hate on the muslim minority, the politics… Many things have happened very fast the past years and even though change has been good so far, do not let it get to your head. Tourism will continue to rise and this is a double-edged sword. Meeting a military soldier with a huge rifle in front of our first homestay during the trek in Kyaukme was worrying, though they did nothing except snore very loud. Still it reminded me how close the fighting was. So be careful and watch out for yourself, I’d hate it if something were to happen to you.
Dear Myanmar, I hope I have made my feelings for you clear and even though I was with you for three and a half weeks, I had to leave you. Don’t worry, we will see each other soon.