Anticipating Myanmar –The “before” post
It’s been a long time since I’ve been so excited about a trip.
The last time I experienced this degree of anticipation was 20 years ago, when my husband brought my two older children and me to Vietnam for our first visit. I can understand why I was so anxious to see Vietnam. The country and its history loomed large in my experience. It was my husband’s birthplace, his family had become mine if only through their monthly letters through the 15 years of my marriage before the trip. I’d lived in America among the 1975 refugees, the boat people and the American Vets. I’d even worked at the Rand Corporation, where much research on the war had been carried out. I was invested in Vietnam.
But Myanmar? Why?
This is the sum of my experience of Myanmar:
1: In the 1970’s – Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Road to Mandalay’ which I detested for it’s white man’s colonialist slant.
2: In the 1990’s – Four quarterly reports from a Singaporean woman working with Burmese Karen and Kachin refugees in a camp on the Thai Burmese border.
3: In the 1990’s – An ex-colleague’s stories about an entrepreneur friend who believed he’d been a Burmese prince in a previous incarnation and was now buying a old-fashioned Mississippi style riverboat to refurbish into a hotel to cruise the Irrawaddy River.
3: In the early 2000’s – A plate of fermented tea-leaf salad at a Singapore international school food fair booth run by my children’s schoolmates, daughters of a Burmese millionaire.
4: In 2010 – A conversation with my neighbor about his 2 home helpers, who were Christian Myanmarese.
5: In 2011 – The movie “The Lady”.
6: Three months ago – Reading Amitav Ghosh’s “The Glass Palace,” a historical novel about Myanmar, India and Malaya that spans the last 120 years.
7: Last week – A friend telling me about sunrise in a hot-air balloon with the pagodas of Bagan spread out below him.
8: All through this time – Occasional meals at the Peninsula Shopping Centre in the Museum District of Singapore, a hangout for all the Myanmarese migrant workers in the country.
It can’t be the food. Fermented tea leaves and river fish, soups thickened with dried fried chickpea flour and salty sweet sour tamarind juice are tastes that must be acquired in childhood.
It can’t be the people. I don’t know any.
The reason I’m thinking is because Myanmar is one part mystery, one part story and one part possibility.
It’s been hidden and isolated for so long. So many stories have been told about it, both the old ones and the ones from just last week. And now, after so many years, Myanmar’s shedding its chains. Something new is beginning.
It’s the possibilities. There’s hope. And don’t I know it? I’m a sucker for hope. It’s why I’m excited about Myanmar. It’s why I celebrate that baby at Christmas.
Time will tell whether all the hopes in Myanmar will be realized. But I’m willing to take a bet on it. If it fails, I’ll still have that baby at Christmas, the one that hasn’t failed us. Not for the last two thousand years.