Some of my very best memories were made in this Burmese city. The city itself isn't especially nice - the traffic is painfully bad, the air is filled with pollution, and trash litters the streets. But the hearts of the people here made me forget all of that. I feel so fortunate to have found families abroad - I consider "home" to be a few very special places where people that I love dearly live - the USA, Honduras, and Italy. Yangon was a wonderful introduction to the country of Myanmar, and I am happy to say that I have found another "home" in this corner of Southeast Asia.
Quickly after checking-in to my hostel in Yangon, I met several friendly solo-travelers (who I would later end up traveling around the country with.) My first full day in the city, one of my new friends told me about an English class down the street from our hostel that was accepting volunteers. I gladly jumped at the chance for conversation with some locals, and off we went!
The head teacher was so kind and welcoming. He served us traditional tea and seated each of us with groups of students, where we each led conversation practice. I had 9 students in my group, all at varying levels of English-speaking ability. We talked about various topics - cultural differences between the United States and Myanmar, Myanmar's history and government, religion, travel tips for other cities I should visit in their country (thanks, guys!), food, future dreams... even what dating is like in Myanmar, haha. One of the girls in my group applied traditional "Thanaka" makeup to my face. It is a yellowish-white paste made from ground bark that I have seen many women and some men wearing around Myanmar.
I connected especially well with three of the students, and made plans to return the following day to volunteer again.
Later that morning, I went with a group of other travelers from the hostel and a few students from the English class to ride the "circle train." The loop connects suburban areas to the city, which allowed us to peek into life on the outskirts of Yangon.
I made conversation with several locals on the train, and they were all really friendly and eager to practice the little English that the knew.
A full loop takes about 3 hours, but we didn't make it that long, as we were getting hungry for lunch. We hopped off, and the students that were with us took us to a cute little restaurant, where we were seated on tiny plastic chairs and ate authentic Burmese food.
The next day, a few of my friends from the hostel and I returned to the morning English class. The students were excited to see familiar faces, and several of them ended up spending the rest of the day with us. Our first stop was the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Next, we visited People's Park, where we got lunch and walked around. Shin, Kyaw, Nay, and I rode a very sketchy looking roller coaster that was there, as well.
Later, some of them wanted to do karaoke - in Japan and South Korea, it is very popular to rent a little karaoke room, where you can order drinks and food and sing with your friends. It's pretty fun! However, here there was a big wooden stage where anyone in the park could watch and listen. I thought my friends were joking when they said they wanted to sing on stage, but they weren't, and they proceeded to get up and sing their hearts out. I actually really enjoyed this part of Myanmar culture - in the USA, it seems like a much bigger deal to get on stage and sing in front of a huge crowd, but here it's just a normal social activity.
Meeting Emy's Family
After a full day of exploring, Emy invited Seline, a Dutch girl I was traveling with, and I to her home to meet her family. I was so honored to be welcomed into their home. They served us delicious homemade food and were so happy to receive us. It was so much fun talking with them all and experiencing a little bit of Burmese life.
Unfortunately, we had to rush off in the evening in order to catch our night bus to Bagan. However, I ended up returning to Yangon at the end of my trip to Myanmar so that I could spend more time with Emy, her family, and other Burmese friends I made in the city.
My first day back in Yangon (after visiting Bagan and trekking from Kalaw-Inle Lake), I met up with my Burmese friends to explore more of the city. They took me to this beautiful park where we walked around, ate lunch, and laughed at our attempts to learn new vocabulary in the others' languages.
In the afternoon my "little sisters" Emy and Hun Ni had some "girl time" and did some more exploring and shopping, just the three of us.
That evening, Emy and I went to her family's house again, where we were all so excited to be reunited. They welcomed me in as part of their family, even instructing me to call each of them accordingly - I learned the Burmese words for father, mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle, brother, and sister :) These people are so special to my heart, and I am incredibly thankful for the time I've been able to spend with them.
The family knew that I love turtles, and so after dinner at home, they took me to visit the Botataung Pagoda. When they told me we were going to a "turtle" pagoda, I thought that they meant that it had turtle statues... but there was a pond with hundreds of live turtles that we were able to feed.
The skirt I'm wearing in these photos is a beautiful gift from the family - a traditional Burmese "longye."
National Races Village
The next day, I met up with Emy and Nay. We went to a teahouse in the morning, and then visited the National Races Village. This park has traditional homes from each of the ethnic groups in Myanmar. We had fun riding bicycles from house-to-house and seeing the cultural diversity present in this country.
Meeting Nay's Family
Later, the three of us went to Nay's home, where we met his kind family and ate lunch.
Nay's mother and aunt were so excited to dress me up in traditional clothing (which they gave me as a gift), and they let Emy and I put the traditional thanaka makeup on each other.
Once again, I was impressed, humbled by, and so thankful for the Burmese hospitality. After leaving Nay's home, I stopped by Emy's house one last time to say goodbye to her family, and then was off to the airport on my way to Jakarta, Indonesia.
See more from Myanmar here.