I don’t recall her name. She was a middle-aged woman with the chalky substance on her face commonly worn in the area as sun protection. She helped me, a common visitor, make an offering at a Buddhist temple just across the boarder from Thailand years ago. I had no idea I would be in Burma or if I should call it Myanmar. I still don’t know. The name means different things to different people who live there. I was just a visitor. She knew very little English, it wasn’t a requirement of her job. She helped tourists like me make offerings at this temple most days of the week. Let’s call her Soon. Let’s give her an imaginary life.
Soon In Real-Life
I imagine Soon to be the comedienne of her community. Tourists like me give her material for her nightly stand-up routine at Central Ragoon Tea House on Guy-Tsu Avenue every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8 p.m. She even has a local talent agent, his name is Raffy, an ex-pat from Bulgaria. Raffy has big dreams for Soon, but she’s smart enough not to believe them. Comedy is her passion, she’s not in it for the fame. She’s in it to make other laugh. To see the joy on peoples faces, taking in all the positive energy one of her nightly sets can bring. Soon’s husband and two children support her comedic hobby, although they don’t fully understand it. They only know it makes her happy, so they support her. They don’t know any other way.
Her aunt Pei is another story. Aunt Pei raised her since she was three. Her aunt thinks she can do more useful things with her evenings. Pei comes from a different time, even more turbulent than Soon. Each of these woman have seen things no one should see. Aunt Pei has worked hard her entire life, mostly at the river market selling jack fruit. She’s known for always having the sweetest jack fruit in the entire market. She’s modest about her notoriety, chalking it up to good luck and diligent prayers and offerings.
Life as we know it
Soon meets westerners like me everyday. She creates stories about us, crafting joke after joke for her nightly audience. Unbeknownst to us, we are her fuel. The funny white men and women stomping around the temple, not knowing what to do. Soon and her friends sometimes make up rituals just to see if the travelers will obey. Turnaround four times and then hop on one foot six times before you light the incense, all communicated through the physical acts themselves. Most tourists obey, diligently. I did. After a few short hours, I left Burma. It was much more raw than Thailand. I liked what I saw. It was real and a bit chaotic. I hope to return one day.