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Embarassment at Paying


By Tatsuru Kimura

            I had so many chances to feel guilty for being “rich” throughout this voyage.  I also had several chances like that during a trip to Keng Tong, Myanmar.  I was sitting next to a monk of Hinayana Buddhism from Malaysia, who wore a yellow robe, during my flight from MandalayYangon.  After some conversation, he asked me how much I spent for the trip to Keng Tong.  Actually, I had been afraid to hear this question.  I spent nearly 600 dollars for this three night trip, and I hesitated to answer him because I was ashamed to have spent such large amount of money.  I know that 600 dollars is equivalent to one third of the per capita income of Myanmar.  I feel some kind of shame to do that and I could not explain why I felt guilty.  It is the same feeling that I had in Vietnam.  As I expected, the monk was surprised with my answer and proudly said that he only spent 300 dollars for his one month trip in Myanmar.  He had been also surprised when I told him about Semester At Sea and the cost for the program.  

Andrew, a porter who carried tons of water bottles for us during our entire day hike, said he got 2000 kyat for this job (about $2).  A famous heavy drinker of a village, he brightly said “I climbed up and down the mountain, and I got only this much”.   I just smiled awkwardly.

I got a strange feeling when I gave one dollar bill to an old woman in exchange for a fancy folk craft and the woman made a deep bow to me at the wayside in a small village.  Since I saw the local people making some handicrafts, I knew it cost more than a half day to make the article I bought.  I was able to buy the works that the local people had spent several days to make, only because I came from one of the economically rich countries.  Someone in our group said that it is good to spend money for that kind of work because it surely becomes the income for the old women rather than the income for government, and I agreed.  However, I still felt odd that I have the “power” to buy their work so easily.  Maybe I feel shame to show off this power when I pay for something.

            However, people in Myanmar seem happy to me, though they look poor and children asked me for money in a village near Keng Tong.  They were far from miserable.  Though the monk from Malaysia emphasized the unsanitary and poor aspect of Myanmar, I somewhat envied their life in the village.  They surely had something that can not measured by currency.  Actually, I was eager to find the evidence of fear caused by the military dictatorship such as Monique Skidmore mentioned in Darker than Midnight, which describes her research on laborers who are refugees from Myanmar at Myanmar-Thailand border.  I saw some such evidence, but I also felt some peaceful moments in the small village near to Thailand border.  Although I think it is good to develop economically if the local people hope to do that, but in fact, I also hope they can keep their lifestyle.

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