This is my first interview…I interviewed T on his trip back home (more than 35 years later). T and I visited Myanmar together last october for the first time. T is my adored husband.
M: Hi T!
T: Hi Michi!
M: When and where were you born?
T: I was born in Yangon Myanmar or Rangoon Burma in 1969. I lived in Rangoon until June 1975.
M: Why did you come back only now, after 38 years, what has changed in Myanmar and what has changed in you?
T: I came back to Rangoon because I felt it was safe and that I would be able to travel and speak freely. I heard from the news that signficant and meaningful changes including the release of the Aung San Suu Kyi and the political leaders of the Democratic party had take place. My father had travelled back several years ago and I was intriged to visit. I had take a trip to Thailand the year before and with my girlfriend’s support I thought it was the right time to visit my family.
M: How was landing in Yangon 38 years later?
T: It was strange as my memories of the airport are only from old photos. As 5 1/2 year old I had memories but they were short snippets. Things get fuzzy or unclear after such a long time. I was very excited because I wanted to meet my family and also see the place of my childhood and of all of the old photos that I remembered. I regret losing touch with my father’s side of the family so I was rather anxious to see if I could reconnect with them on my own. I worried because I remember being rather advanced for my age and could read and write Burmese very well. However, I lost that ability over time and I thought this might be a barrier with my relatives.
M: What do you remember of your life there when you were a kid?
T: I remember being the first born of my generation and therefore one that received the most affection from all of my young uncles and aunts. I remember being looked after by many uncles and aunts and living on the 3rd floor apartment overlooking a busy street. I remember that it was a big flat or apartment because I use to ride my tricycle all around by myself. I remember some of the foods and smells of the Burmese Kitchen and that we ate the traditional dishes of Mo Hinga and Ono Ko Swe often.
M: Did Yangon feel familiar to you or it was like a strange place?
T: Yangon and Rangoon felt familiar and strange or new at the same time. There would be moments of Deja Vue or I know something about a place or a view. But 38 years eroded a lot of the childhood memories.
M: How was to meet you relatives, your friends?
T: Meeting my relatives was amazing. My uncle who looks a lot like my father greeted us at the airport and I felt instantly welcome. He spoke English perfectly and I was immediately relieved. It turned out most if not all of my relatives spoke very good English. I regret I did not keep more in contact. However, I do recall the government was also very oppressive and that the Military State and the Economy was not doing well. So email and mobile phones until very recently were not available. But now, in the short span of a few months it seems that the whole city of Yangoon at least, took a huge step forward. Everyone seems to have mobile phones and if not 3G at least 2.5G phones with some web capability. On a personal note, it was very emotional to meet all of my relatives, as I had a good memory and awareness of all of uncles and aunts due to the care and affection they gave me when I was very little. Now I return 38 years later as an adult and in my mind they are the same age. However time has advanced, and now they are no longer in their youth but now in retirement or near retirement. I feel I missed out on their lives. However, I learned my mother and father kept them in touch with achievements and growth. The most emotional moment for me was to meet my very good neighbor and his family. My parents and my neighbours were very close and the oldest son of my neighbour, Win Nang was 15 when I was 5. He treated me like a little brother. After seeing him again and hisinvitation to see his family in a surprise visit over Chai and Burmese Tea Salad, I was presented with copies of my graduation pictures from grade school, high school, University and LBS. My parents had shared my life with them and they had kept my photos as precious keepsake. I was not aware of how close they kept up with my goings on and my life. I started to cry and couldn’t stop. It was 38 years of pent up emotion that was released.
M: Can you tell something about the visit to the place you used to live?
T: My parents apt is on the 3rd floor of block on X Street. It is under major renovation as the building is historic and housed an important gathering during Burmese Independence in 1948. I didn’t recall how central it is and how close it was to the Major Pagoda and round about.
M: Would you recommend people to visit Myanmar?
T: absolutely recommend it. In fact President Obama visit Myanmar a few weeks after we did and I think it is a great sign of the optimism and change that I hope takes place. Traveling to Myanmar is still truly an adventure especially outside of Yangon. There are so many things to see that are awe inspiring and different. I think with normal precautions and crisp US$, you will have an incredible trip….Remember you can always take your extra US$ home. That was my key travel tip.
M: Tips for travelers (I’d suggest crispy dollars).
T: Be adventurous and explore. Bring Euros and Sterling if you have it as the bills are accepted. Also know the exchange rate. Lastly, learn to trust if you need to make a booking for a hotel in another town because credit and debit cards are not accepted widely so Trust and calling to confirm is a requirement.
M: What do you think of this new wave of violence in Myanmar against muslims?
T: I was surprised to learn about violence from Buddhist monks in Myanmar or Burma. I was a monk for a few weeks as a right of passage. I studied the political history of the Burmese state. The Buddhist monks are the only universally respected institution in the new Union of Myanmar/Burma. However, I also recognize and acknowledge how rapid change can create bad outcomes and that Burma is not a democracy yet. Burma has so many ethnecities and peoples as well as religions that I guess this was bound to happen. Especially if the Military government is transitioning to democracy. However I am optimistic that political solution will emerge. Because, it is not just the Rohinga who are seeking a political voice and recognition. Many groups in Myanmar are.
Thank you T