I wandered about Yangon today, semi-stalking these young nuns. They moved pretty quickly through the market streets in the city centre, chanting for alms, dodging traffic.
They stopped in unison for a drink of water from one of the many water kegs on the public streets, and as they paused, so did I. My guide told me that Myanmar people don’t drink bottled water, it is too expensive, but many at homes put a water pot outside, with a cup. “You can go to anyone and say give me a cup of water,” she said. “We give to each other.”
It does seem to be a country where money slides across hands in ways I haven’t experienced before. There are very few actual beggars, but there is a continual beat of requests from monks, nuns, donation centres. Most people contribute something.
This little girls moved me to tears for the first time on this trip. Trying to imagine her life, her thoughts. Trying to imagine what all of the people so fervent in the temples and in front of the pagodas are praying for.
One thing I notice about Yangon is that it doesn’t seem to have the pent up aggression that so many cities have. My sister once said that she preferred Asian chaos to South American chaos, and I think I am beginning to understand what she meant, if I can extrapolate to two entire continents based on three days in one unique city. There is traffic here, and a lot of honking, but the honking seems salutary, signals of intention not to hit the other person, rather than an aggressive demand that the other person give way, borne of the weirdness of right hand steering cars on right hand drive roads, where passing is always into a blind spot.
Before she left me, my guide said “just ask anyone. People want to help you.” Helping is indeed government policy….
… but it also seems to be part of the DNA of the culture. At least as far as I have discerned so far. Teenage boys smiled when I asked them for directions (even though they steered me wrong). One of my taxi drivers today tried to teach me some Burmese (first, commands — straight ahead, right, left, then some basic pleasantries). Foreigners are supposed to follow their part of the bargain — there is a poster of “do’s and don’ts” for tourists in my hotel that includes don’t point with your foot, don’t touch anyone on the head, women are very safe in myanmar, don’t kiss in public, do smile, and please learn the basic words in the Myanmar language. I’m practicing how to ask for the toilet.