The monk who collects stamps  

The monk approached me at the U-Bein Bridge[i] near Mandalay. We chatted and he asked for a picture. We chatted a bit more.

He’s 64 years old. He’s been a monk for 11 years. Widower for 16. He has a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren. He was imprisoned for 5 years for protesting against the military government in mid-2000’s.

He is a teacher at the local monastery and practises vipassana meditation daily. He wakes up at 6am and goes to bed at 11pm. Every day he watches the sunset from the bridge. His English is impressive; he learned the language in his childhood when he studied in a Christian school.

He believes the country is better with the new government and will only improve. I checked if I could ask more political questions and despite saying “sure” he was pretty monosyllabic in his responses about the conflicts going on in Rakhine (Muslims) and Kachin (Christians). I then changed the subject.

Most important: he collects stamps! He gave me his address in the hope I’ll send him (mom!) some stamps from my country. In case anyone else wants to mail him stamps, send me a message and I’m happy to share his contact information.

Living and traveling in the Americas and Europe never really exposed me to what “being the different one” is. In Myanmar, although you find quite a bit of western tourists, I was the different one in many places I visited.

While I stared at the local traces and beauties, people stared back at me with curiosity. When I smiled back they returned an even wider smile.

Most people who approached me asked where I’m from. They tried to guess but never mentioned a developing country; only when I played my “Football card” they’d say Brazil, followed by “Neymar!” And then they’d look confused, check my skin color, think of Neymar again, and continue saying “I thought Brazilians had darker skin.” Well, apparently not and in fact we can have all skin colors and facial features.

A couple of times people asked if they could take pictures with me, to what I always answered yes, and then asked if I could take a picture with my own camera. I’d say it’s a mutual exchange of admiration and curiosity 🙂


The Burmese who wears a tie

[Or that time I played my Brazilian card]

I enter the elevator on the 6th floor.

Two floors down it stops. A Burmese man wearing a tie enters.

I noticed the tie because it’s not something I see around Yangon. A businessman or a lawyer. Or just someone who likes to wear ties.

He looks at me and says hello.

I’m wearing a summer outfit, ready for one more day exploring the city on foot.

He mentions the heat outside and I agree with a head gesture.

Then he says “You know, the heat is your fault. Developed countries’ fault.”

I smile and in a fraction of second think of something to say.

“Actually I’m from Brazil. So it’s not my fault.”

“Oh, Brazil! Then you’re nice.”

The door opens. We have reached the ground floor.

He leaves after me and we take different directions once we get to the street.

The only thing I could think of was “Oh wow! I finally played my Brazilian card!”

And smiled the whole day despite the scalding sun.

[Yangon, 2016]