I believe that all of us in this trip have experienced some form of privilege before. As the daughter and sister of active members at the Anglican Community in Yangon, I have witnessed the differences in the way people treat me and my friends whose families are not as active as mine.
I grew up seeing my sister, who is a doctor, often traveling with Anglican missionaries to volunteer in rural areas. When I finished high school, I started volunteering in different short-term trips to rural communities. Then I came to Hong Kong alone for university, and then to North Carolina for exchange. To me, rural areas and parting home are no longer new experiences. At least that is what I believed before I came.
For my stay in the Philippines, I am partnered with Ann to live with Rebecca and Lito, a kind-hearted Mormon couple who are in their late 30s. As soon as we arrived to Tubod Mar, Rebecca was ready to take us home. As a welcome dinner and celebration for the birthday of Taitai, Rebecca’s father, we walked down from the house all the way to the sea shore. Tai Tai is a full-time father of nine and grandfather of twenty-one. To support his family, TaiTai used to work as a part-time carpenter and a part-time fisherman. Due to his age, he rarely goes out fishing now. We were warmly welcomed among family members and had our first taste of Lito’s delicious cooking that night.
Dinner by the sea (and under the moonlight) on our first night in Tubod Mar
Photo Credit: Ann
Lito is a barber in Cebu but was called back home by Rebecca to help prepare the meals during our stay. In the beginning of every meal, one of us has to pray. In Myanmar, the first scoop of rice/ food goes to the eldest and last to the youngest. I have introduced this tradition to Lito and Rebecca and sometimes I will put the rice into their plates first, then Ann’s, and mine. If Lito gets a hold of the rice plate first, he will first put into Ann’s and my plates first then Rebecca and his.
Lito and Rebecca posing for the camera
Within a week of our stay, Ann and I had the opportunity to enjoy different varieties of dishes made by Lito. There were squid, shrimps, pork ribs, chicken legs, beef, fish, etc. My favourite dish so far is his beef soup. It seemed as if they have different varieties everyday. In reality, they do not get to enjoy these in their ordinary days when we are not in Tubod Mar. So all these meals were prepared especially for us.
Different meals prepared by Lito
In Tubod Mar, people always go to sleep early and do not consume a lot during dinner, which is the total opposite from my usual habits. I tend to eat in large amount during dinner, even though I understand this habit may not be healthy. Therefore, despite their best preparation and despite enjoying the food, I always finish my dinner feeling half empty. Even while I volunteered back in rural areas of Myanmar, I rarely experience going to bed on a half-hungry stomach. This is probably because Burmese people enjoy feeding guests with large amounts of food and will always ask guests to eat more. In Myanmar, there will rarely be an occasion that there is only one dish and rice for guests on the table. My host family do ask me to eat more but I will politely reject sometimes knowing that there is only a small amount of food we have on the table. Although I may go to bed a little hungry, my escape the next day would be Garden cafe or the market where I can eat any amount I want. For Rebecca and Lito, there is no escape. This was their reality.
There were other feelings of discomfort at times. My body seemed to adjust well while awake but deep down it realized the unfamiliar surrounding. I would almost always wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning, usually between 3 and 4 am. Last Thursday, I woke up exactly at 3:55am by the sound of roosters, not just one but a flock of them. It went on for a while. It reminds me of nighttime in Yangon when several street dogs howl at around 1 am every night. If these animals were in a choir competition, I am sure the roosters will go home with the title “Worst Synchronization”.
In addition to this, my struggle to conquer my snake phobia got real in Tubod Mar. Everytime I head back home and go through the grassland I would walk fast. From another person’s perspective, I looked like a person who is very energetic to start the day or if it’s in the evening, excited to head back home. But the truth is I am very afraid inside that I might accidentally encounter a snake. I expressed this to Beau, our professor, and he gave me food for thought when he said that I would only experience this for three week while the locals here experience this everyday. When I talked with Rebecca and her sister, Neneng, I realized they were scared of snakes as well. After this three week journey in Tubod Mar, I will head back to the concrete fort in Hong Kong and Yangon where I will be safely protected from snakes. For Rebecca and Neneng, Tubod Mar is their home and their weapons are only bravery and sticks.
Rebecca grew up with eight siblings and growing up with eight siblings was not easy for her. When she was young, she would run to the mango tree nearby every morning to pick mangoes up for breakfast, which was mango and plain rice. Every amount of food for the household were divided into 11 pieces (9 children & 2 parents). She would always say how lucky her nieces Pauline and Elaine were able to go to school have food everyday. She expressed how lucky I was to live in a city (Yangon) where I faced only one severe cyclone throughout my lifetime. “Here in the Philippines, there are around 20 typhoons throughout the year.”
I have always been grateful for having a shelter, eating adequately daily, and being able to attend university without financial worries but this whole experience gave me fresh perspectives to reflect more. So after a few days living in Tubod Mar, I acquainted myself to the living conditions. Somehow I still did not feel right. On the sixth day in Tubod Mar, I had one of the movies picked out to view. It was one of my niece’s favourite movies, called “Paddington”. I picked the movie because it was family friendly and has no sex scene, which means the kids at home can view it too (They wanted a thriller before, so I picked Gone Girl on Tuesday but it did not go well as there were sex scenes involved).
Everyone is enjoying the story of Paddington Bear
The movie was about a bear called Paddington whose home in Peru was destroyed and was sent to London to find a new home. There was a scene in Paddington where an immigrant mentioned to Paddington that “A home is more than a roof on your head”. Then I realized what I was missing, my family. I was homesick. My birthday, as well as my dad’s, was drawing near. To celebrate our birthdays, my family goes out to a restaurant for a big family dinner with close relatives every year in June. We sometimes hold a thanksgiving session at home. I knew that I would not be able to join them this year.
In another scene, Paddington talked with Judy Brown, one of the members of his temporary host family, that “It’s not easy being in a new place”. Judy replied, “No it’s not”.
Birthday with my new family
Photo Credit: Ann
On the other hand, I know that Lito and Rebecca are making sure Ann and I are doing fine. They made us new wooden beds for comfortable sleep. They covered the hole in the shower, which served as a window, because I felt uncomfortable being seen from the outside while I am showering. When they realized 9th June was my birthday, they decided to tell everyone and celebrated my birthday! They even killed Taitai’s chicken and made a dish to celebrate my birthday. In short, they will react to every discomfort I show and will try to fulfill every wish I express, if they can.
Taitai’s special chicken prepared by Lito
I am getting acquainted with Lito, Rebecca, her sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews. Just like in one of the letters Paddington wrote to his aunt, “It’s very strange… but I am beginning to feel like home here.” At the same time, knowing how fortunate I am to enjoy being myself is also a realization that my privilege comes with responsibility. This has reminded me again to keep being humble, unselfish and ponder how my actions could impact others around me.
Reflections by the beautiful sea view on my 22nd birthday