Friday, October 26, 2012

Deadly Scorpions, and Why Burmese People Are So Sweet

Night falls. I walk back towards my room, an outline on the barely illuminated pathway triggers an ancient neurological association, instantly stopping me dead in my tracks. Scorpion! Small, poisonous, deadly.
Burmese scorpion- best to avoid

I stare, the beast sits perfectly still, completely unconcerned by my presence. I could walk around this creature, but suddenly see an image of it lashing it out at me like a snake. They're related right? I mean, they're both poisonous ... Where's Charles Darwin when you need him?

"Do you have a lot of scorpions around here?" I call out to the hotel worker I passed ten yards back. 
"Oh, all the time," he replies from the darkness behind me, offering me no sense of relief, 

He approaches me and Scorpy, surveys the scene, and takes immediate action. I'm certain something along the lines of "smashy-smashy" is about to take place, and am shocked when he takes a piece of paper, covers Scorpy's eyes, and dexterously picks him up by his fat tail. Scorpy's mad, thrashing his body around like a hooked shark, trying to sting my friend, but his grip on the tail is secure. 
I sit there, jaw agape, amazed by the quickly unfolding events. He turns and approaches me with Scorpy still thrashing about, instinctively I begin to run the other away, like a woman from a mouse; the only thing missing is me shrieking, standing on a narrow stool in the corner. 
My friend laughs, surprised and amused by my reaction. For him, scorpions are a daily occurrence. 
"What will you do with him?" I ask. 
"Release him outside the hotel grounds." Smiling, he walks away to finish his duty. 

I'm floored, amazed. He put his health/ life at risk, and used extra time to transport this deadly insect/ spider/reptile/alien being (whatever Darwin says) out of harms way. 

Lying on my mattress, I'm unable to sleep. The scene playing out in my head, Scorpy's fate so different than it would have been anywhere else. Why? 

The Sweetness of Burmese

The Burmese are the sweetest and most open on the planet I have experienced; only the Balinese and Fijians rivaling
I think of a conversation I had with a young women who works at the hotel, whom mid-conversation I felt like gently taking into my arms and holding to protect. She's so open, so sweet, so present, ready to help me, answer any question I might have had. No fear, no angst in her. I swear to you, this ultimate in male/ female energy polarity is almost a religious experience. 

And while I'm certain not all Burmese could be described as open and sweet, the average person is far more kind and easy going than in the in the West. 

I relate the scorpion story to a fellow traveler, he replies, "It's Buddhism man. They are taught to respect ALL life. Hell, when they pray they're praying for the happiness of the world, not just their own." 
Buddhism teaches respect for all life, including scorpions (I don't necessarily agree.) It teaches a unity of beings in the world- all interconnected.
And karma. No Buddhist wants to kill a creature and come back in a reincarnation in the form of the being whose life he put to end. 
While the Burmese are more prudish than the Thais, Buddhist countries don't have the same stigma around sex that exists in areas of the world dominated by Catholicism or Islam. It's just a part of life, accepted. There is little resistance.
In all the time I was in Burma, I don't think I once heard someone raise their voice in anger. No one got mad when I wouldn't buy from them. 
Newly made Burmese friends at a wedding we crashed
In Brazil, if you show any signs of wealth, or even are recognized as a tourist, you are instantly targeted for mugging/ robbery. In Myanmar, where the average person has far less than their Brazilian counterparts, there is zero crime.
For sure it is partly the draconian penalties imposed by the military junta government for even petty theft. There are rumors of tourists accusing Burmese of ripping them off, and the military throws the offending party in boiling water.

According to a fellow traveller, Martin, who now resides in Burma: "the reason why Myanmar people appear to be very nice to foreigners are

- hospitality is important in their culture
- curiosity
- most haven't had bad experiences with westerners
- openly shown anger is usually last resort in a personal conflict
- hierarchical society and foreigners are seen as pretty high."

For sure the government isn't great: traffic cops take bribes and if you don't have the cash, instead throw you in jail, the military continues to commit unspeakable atrocities against its own people ... the list goes on.

But the average person you interact with wants to help you, smiles freely, wants to learn from you and is willing to patiently answer any question you have, wants to be friends.
When you're amongst these economically poor people, one cannot help to judge them far wealthier than most Westerners as they truly seem to enjoy life, share what little they have, and seem to have far less ego/ insecurity.
The best thing Burma is definitely its people- just ask Scorpy.


  1. Ah the lovely Burmese....wonderful, wonderful country and kind, gentle people.



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