When walking around in Kalaw we notice a lot of people singing on the streets. Apparently there are also a lot of karaoke bars, most of them in hotels. Compared to Yangon and Nyaung Shwe, this is something that strikes us positively. Tuesday: After a long day of interviews, our translator Soe Hman invited us to his house up in the mountains. After a 45 minute walk we arrived in a beautiful house with really high ceilings, which we hadn’t seen before in Myanmar. We met his ‘auntie’, as he called her, she was 83 years old and her English was really good. She learned English when the British were still here. But when the military regime came, they forbid to speak English for 35 years, only the Burmese language was allowed. After a while the daughter of Soe Hman and his nephew and niece performed a song with a dance for us. They started singing “I got peace like a river, I got joy like a fountain, I got love like an ocean in my soul!”. (Click HERE for the full version)

We asked if they could teach us the song and the dance. We all sang the song and moved our arms together. Me and Saskia looked at each other and we both had tears in our eyes and a lump in our throat. Their voices were so soft and sweet and the song was so peaceful. They represented all the citizens of Myanmar, who are always smiling and are always willing to help. Even at the beginning of the village in Kalaw there is a big sign which says “be nice to tourists”.

Our next musical encounter was on Friday: Samantha and I went on a one-day trekking. We met our guide named Kyaw Hla, pronounced as “Jay La”. He was very spontaneous and it promised to be a good day. Our guide was the same age as us and he studied Philosophy back in Mandalay. The students can choose between day and distance education. Day education means that they have to go to school 9 months per year; distance education is only 2,5 months per year. This means that students can earn money the rest of the year to pay for their education, just like our guide. Living in the city is really expensive he said, because instead of reducing prices for students, like we are used to in Europe, they increase the prices for students.

When we were close to our second village of that day he told us that 6 years ago he started learning to be a guide. Kyaw Hla went along with another guide who already did the trekking for many years and could speak English. Kyaw however couldn’t really speak English because in school they only learn to write and read, not speak. The 2 Germans on this trek asked Kyaw Hla if he could sing a song for them. As he already told us, he could play the guitar and also did some try outs in some singing contests in Kalaw. He decided to sing a rain song for the Germans. Unfortunately, the rain song worked and they had to hide for an hour at a local house.

Samantha and I asked him if he could also sing the song for us. He began to sing and Samantha and I were quiet instantly. His voice was so soft and high and he put so much emotion in it that I immediately felt my throat lump up again. Now I finally understand what all the judges in the signing contests mean, when they say: “You can have a beautiful voice, but if you don’t put emotion in the song, your voice is worthless.”

When he was singing I realized how freaking lucky we are that we can fly to Myanmar for a university project and we can visit these beautiful surroundings and get to know the world. The people here in Myanmar can be so happy with doing the same job everyday, over and over again. We Dutchies should be way more grateful and happy with what we have and enjoy the things we experience.

Luckily he stopped singing because he forgot the words of the song. Otherwise I would have cried my eyes out, in the middle of Myanmar on a mountaintop.

Be grateful!

Author: Marijn (with the help of Saskia)