I wanted to give Southeast Asia another chance. I wanted it badly. This is also why I chose to visit Myanmar. I thought that a country that was isolated for so many years, keeping much of its history and traditions, would gain my heart. But it didn’t happen.
People in Myanmar are awesome, the kindest I’ve ever met and probably the kindest I’ll ever meet. They incessantly smile at you, say hello, are curious about strangers and they are keen to proudly show how they’re keeping up with their traditions and abilities. Despite their poverty, Burmese people have a dignity that can teach us many things we have forgotten about the essential values of life.
Despite their poverty, Burmese people have a dignity that can teach us many things we have forgotten about the essential values of life.
I would like to get to know more about their lives, how it was during the dictatorship and how it is now. I’d like to ask about their expectations and dreams. But communication is not easy. Many of them speak a little english, but not enough – and with such a strong accent – to get longer conversations and discover more.
I’m now in Bagan, the land of the thousands temples. It’s quiet and peaceful. I like the place, but… the truth is that my heart is not beating hard and I am unable to feel strong emotions.
Once again, as it often happened during the last days, I wonder ‘what am I doing here’? And for the first time in years, I’m counting the days left, longing to go back home. How different I feel now from last winter in South Africa, where I tried any trick to extend my flight ticket to stay longer and had to give up only because it was too expensive. How bad I would have loved to stay longer!
At the beginning, I was feeling a little guilty. So may people fall in love with Southeast Asia, what is wrong with me? Why am I unable to fully appreciate this area of the world? I kept thinking about it, and I’m eventually convinced that Southeast Asia is simply not my place. But why?
So many people fall in love with Southeast Asia. Why am I feeling so out-of-place?
I guess it’s a matter of culture and climate. I grew up in an area where we have continental climate and while I’m not fond of extreme heat or cold, I like seasons and I’m fascinated when looking at how nature changes. I like landscapes with contrasts, changing brilliant colors, different and unusual shapes. In Southeast Asia, I feel overwhelmed by the heat, already exhausted after a couple of hours and losing interest for everything surrounding me. And although the landscape in Myanmar is nice, I feel rather bored by its monotony, like it often happens to me in tropical countries.
As for culture, like I said to someone – although I don’t remember who that was – many years ago, I’m afraid that I’m a descendant of the Ancient Greeks, strongly bound to ancient history and the amazing artistic and architectural remains scattering the Old World and the Mediterranean area, and profoundly latin. Apart from the stunning old temples in Bagan – unfortunately partly spoiled by the ubiquitous rubbish and newly built temples that are nothing more than a useless addition – not many buildings are more than a 100-150 years old. Even the universally acclaimed Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is so packed with Buddhas most likely stemming from mass-production and looking all the same – not to speak about the sparkling colorful lights at night making the place all the most kitsch – that it ended up being something nice to see but, to me, nothing more than that.
I am not a religious person, so maybe this makes me unable to understand the real importance and get a sense of the pagodas. What’s strange, though, is that when I visit a gothic church in Europe I can feel the spirituality that lays behind and that drove to its construction. I couldn’t feel anything of that in the Burma pagodas. And I wonder, what am I missing and why?
I am surrounded by smiles, but they look to me as if there was no joy.
I guess there’s also another reason I’m not experiencing a burst of love. Myanmar is calm and peaceful, but it’s not joyful. Now that I think of it, I found that none of the countries of Southeast Asia I visited so far is transmitting me a sense of joy. It’s more a sense of monotony in the calmness, as if there were no real highs or lows, no strong feelings, for the best or the worse.
In that I believe I am latin. I could cope with the heat in Cuba because of the music, the colors and the joy sparkling in people’s eyes. I still remember the never-ending astonishment in Peru, in front of an ever-changing scenario, from the sea to the sand dunes, from the jungle to the high mountains and the glaciers. And I didn’t care of the violence in Venezuela because the breathtaking landscape and the always laughing Venezuelan made me forget it all.
I know it now for sure. Contrasts make me feel alive. Contrasts give me strong emotions. Only lands of contrasts strike my heart and enliven my perception.