The first time I went to Burma was when I was about 15 years old. The second and last time I went to Burma I was about 30. I’d like my next trip to Burma to be much sooner than every 15 years.
I have no connection to Burma only that my parents were born and raised there. Burma was a far off mystical land. It was used as a threat. As in, we were threatened to be sent there as punishment. It was as elusive and mysterious and poor as the commercials charities in America use to depict the entire continent of Africa. (Not a fair comparison.) Burma was our Africa. Finish your dinner, there are kids starving in Burma….and in Africa!
When my parents announced that we were going to Asia for summer vacation, we were thrilled! First time to Taiwan. First time to Thailand. First time to Burma. Excitement, fear, hope, wonder, surprise. All emotions I was feeling getting on that first transpacific flight.
What did I expect on this trip? I don’t know. What I experienced was….
Hot. Hot and more hot. Taiwan was so hot. Why do I feel like I’m melting? Thailand was hot too. Tom yum on the street. Spicy, sour, hot and delicious. Smells of car exhaust and grilled meat swirling in the air together. You've never experienced traffic like Bangkok traffic. Manhattan traffic is a breeze compared to Bangkok.
Growing up in California, where humidity does not exist, we did not know how to deal. How do you breathe in this thick hot air? After years in NYC, I'm ready for any weather now. But back then, humidity + high temperatures + walking anywhere outside = not happy travellers.
Compared to Taiwan and Thailand, Burma was hot and under developed. Like a sleepy medieval village in Provence in the summer. Both had gorgeous landscapes and friendly, gracious people. Burma had a bustling city in Rangoon. It had thousands of pagodas on deep red earth in Bagan. It had cool mountain towns in Shan State.
A lot of firsts on that trip. First time using a squat toilet. First time taking a bucket shower. Where a huge container is filled up with trickling water. You bathe by pouring bowlfuls of water over you. First time using an outhouse in the countryside. A little scary when you’ve just learned the squat toilet and the drop below looks at least four feet down. First time sleeping inside a mosquito net. Doesn’t work that well when there is a mosquito on the inside of the net. First time in a Buddhist temple. So much gold! First time wearing a longyi. (Burmese sarong) Gotta master the cinch at the waist! First time meeting “aunties” and “uncles” who never left Burma. First time eating the best Burmese food ever. I still remember eating the tastiest curried shrimp of my life. They were so big only 2 shrimp came in one order. First time eating mohinga from a roadside stall. That’s when my sister and I were going to dump the hard boiled egg from our bowls because it had too much cholesterol. But the eggs were intercepted by our day trip driver who looked at what we were about to do in disbelief.
Looking back on our first Asia trip, I was humbled and awed and awaked to how we lived and grew up compared to how others in the world lived. There’s always an appreciation for life and the way of life of others and our own after spending time abroad. I’m always grateful for the opportunity to travel and to experience how others live.