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Family Fun in Burma

Inle Lake, Myanmar

By Michelle Cox

        When Chloe and I returned to our bungalows after trekking, we decided to take a guided traditional canoe ride through the floating gardens by our floating hotel on Inle Lake.  After a while of floating down a little river surrounded by tall tomato plants and flowers, we eventually ended up in a small village on stilts.  It was a very small and very happy community.  Everyone was outside laughing and playing and they all waved and said hello to us as we passed by.  Halfway through the village, we caught up to another canoe in which adult passengers Dwight and Jane had been riding and we rode alongside each other through the rest of the village. 

            Dwight and Jane began to ask the guides questions about themselves, such as: “Is this where you live?” “Are you married?” “Do you have children?”  The guides kind of answered with very vague answers which we could hardly understand, so we all just figured that maybe they didn’t understand the question since they hardly spoke English.  All of a sudden the guides turned the canoes around, pulled over in front of one of the houses, got out of the canoe, and led us up the stairway to this house.  We all took off our shoes and headed up the stairs not really understanding what was going on or what we were doing there. 

            At the top of the stairs there was a large living room with posters and family pictures plastered all over the walls.  The guides then invited us to sit down at a Little-tyke sized table in the corner of the room where there was a metal tea pot.  When we sat down, a little old woman brought out some “fine china” and a bowl of bananas and tangerines, then poured us each a cup of tea.  They really didn’t say much, but we knew this wasn’t the ordinary route for these canoe rides.  We attempted to ask how many of them lived in this one house as more and more people walked into the room.  They told us there is the mother and father, the two grandparents, two brother and two sisters.  The sisters were in their early 20’s and were very bright-eyed and curious about us. 

            Out of no where, one of the sisters grabbed a calendar off the wall and pointed at November 4th as she motioned up to the sky at the same time.  She didn’t use words, because she knew we wouldn’t understand what she was saying.  We still had no idea what she was trying to tell us, so Jane handed her a piece of paper and a pen to see if she would draw it.  The girls ended up drawing a hot air balloon and wrote the word “tongyi”.  We still were slightly unclear as to what she was communicating to us, but she was obviously excited to share with us that she would be riding in a hot air balloon on November 4th.  Later we found out from our tour guide that Tongyi is the full moon festival where everyone goes into the mountains and rides in hot air balloons to celebrate.  It was interesting to see what makes Burmese people excited and how they communicate that to people who don’t understand their language.

            After we took a group picture of all of us with the family, we thanked them all repeatedly.  The mother of the household kept on saying “nevermind” in response to us.  To me, the “nevermind” was their way of asking us for money in return.  I might have drawn this assumption just because we had become so used to Burmese people asking us for money and expecting things from us.  However, when I asked the others in our group what they thought about the “nevermind,” they all thought it was their way of saying no problem or don’t worry about it. 

            The time that I spent with the Burmese family raised some questions in my own head about their true happiness.  I wonder if the family lives with the same amount of fear of the government considering they don’t live in such an urban area and aren’t completely exposed to the military as much as those in the larger cities.  I wonder if that is why the family seems so content and happy even though they have very few possessions and practically live in the middle of nowhere.  As Monique Skidmore frequently mentions in her article “Darker than Midnight: Fear, Vulnerability, and Terror Making in Urban Burma,” fear is quite common and obviously noticeable in more urban cities of Burma.  Skidmore reports that  the Burmese are constantly living in fear and always on guard to make sure they don’t get in the way of the military government.  On Inle Lake, all the Burmese seemed at ease and extremely happy with where they are and what they are doing.  I was surprised to see just how happy some of them are knowing they have little to zero options in what they can do with their lives.

            This was definitely my favorite experience in Burma because we got to see how people live and had a close interaction with this family.  They were so kind, friendly, and hospitable.  I was very surprised at how much they actually do have though, such as the television and DVD player.  Although they live in the middle of nowhere, they are well off in the sense that they have a lovely family, a nice big house, and a tight knit community.  This may not seem like too much to us, but they seem very happy with their lives and that may be all they need to be content. 

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