The bright colours of Myanmar disappear into the shadows as night falls, but the sights and sounds of Yangon magnify. I experience the sweetness of jasmine in the hotel lobby but as I step outside the pungent scent of a nearby food stall trails me on to the motor coach. The sounds of traffic croon an unrelenting urban soundtrack.
Tonight, my group will be enjoying dinner with a local family featuring homemade Burmese dishes and time to learn about their life in Yangon.
The driver slowly navigates the dirt street as residents stroll home from work, briefly lit by the coach's headlights.
Disembarking into darkness, I’m soon greeted by a smiling Mrs. San Myo Ei, who introduces her family and friends, as we exchange hellos and shake hands. Long tables are set for dinner with tabletop essentials and small vases of flowers, gently illuminated by a few lights. As I choose a seat, Mr. Ei smiles, pours me a drink and asks, "Where are you from?"
We're soon quickly exchanging snippets of our lives, me explaining how lucky I was to see sunrise at the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda, him telling me how excited he is to meet people from around the world. When he learns I’m from Canada, he immediately says he would love to see snow one day since he’s only seen it on television.
The distant sounds of chanting permeates the multiple conversations and Mr. Ei encourages me and others to walk down the lane. I stroll towards the sounds, arriving quickly at a small white and gold structure. Many neighbours are standing in reverence as the robed monks speak in unison, a large speaker amplifying the mesmerizing chants throughout the neighbourhood. Since dinner is about to be served, I don't linger, but I feel like I'm seeing a small part of daily life in Yangon.
As I return to my seat, Mr. and Mrs. Ei are darting from kitchen to tables, serving plates of crisp myin kwa ywet thoke (pennywort salad) and tasty bowls of pe ni lay hin cho (lentil soup) as the first course. Next comes steaming bowls of rice to be eaten with see-pyan (chicken and potato curry) and Amethar Hnat (traditional beef curry), fresh yum makruatad keow (green tomato salad) and for this spice lover, spoonfuls of balachaung, a dried shrimp, onion and chili condiment, which adds a more heat to the garlic and ginger flavours of the chicken and beef curries.
As we eat, I hear shouts of laughter and watch my fellow group members speak animatedly with their hands, swapping facts and comments with Mr. and Mrs Ei, as the kids sneak glances at us, the brave ones coming closer to shake a hand or answer a quick question before running back into the house to their nightly ritual of watching cartoons. Mr. Ei encourages me to come inside their home: there's a large main floor sitting area, the corners filled with toys and books and a minimalist kitchen, where bowls are filled with fruit and vegetables, cooking pots are piled high and spice jars line the counter.
As dinner ends, Mr. Ei produces his prized possession, an acoustic guitar. With his friend also playing guitar, Mr. Ei begins serenading us with a folk song from his wedding day, Mrs. Ei smiling and blushing at the Burmese lyrics. He then a belts out a raucous rendition of Take Me Home Country Roads that draws smiles and laughter from the entire group. A burst of applause and soon I’m leaving with a satiated palate, new friends made and a memorable night under the stars.
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