Abstract: Traveling as a tourist in a foreign country, one may not be able to assimilate much of the culture and way of life of the locals. You just get to see scenic spots, eat some local fare if you are up to it and take photographs. However, when one is staying in a foreign country for a considerable period of time, the cultural mix and divergence may evince surprise as the way things are done are different. This is not a cultural shock. It is acceptance that each community is different.
Calvin had a break for a couple of months. It would be timely for him to learn the ropes of gems trading. He just obtained his Graduate Gemologist (GG) from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in New York City.
When he was back home, we made a two-month buying trip to Myanmar. Our itinerary also included a week’s stay at the famous Mogok town in upper Myanmar, where the world’s finest rubies and sapphires were mined. The pigeon-blood rubies were much sought after by connoisseurs and collectors of fine gemstones.
Foreigners were not allowed to visit Mogok. It was gazetted as a black area by the government of Myanmar. As I had been in-country for several years, I was able to get a military permit to enter Mogok.
We stayed at the Mogok Hotel, the only hotel for travellers.
On the first morning of our arrival, we were at the restaurant lounge for breakfast. Thereafter, we would be going to the ruby mines.
It was indeed a rare treat to be given a military permit to visit the fabled ruby and sapphire mines of Mogok. As both of us were gemologist, it would be a real eye-opener for us.
I gave Calvin some background information on Myanmar as this would be part of his education, training and business experience.
I read through the restaurant menu. It was all typed written in Burmese on a faded foolscap yellowish paper. It only catered to local travellers.
There was a tiny picture beside each entry. A small cut-out from a color photo was paste alongside. At least, we would know what we were going to order.
“Just go for plain vanilla English breakfast, son.” I said.
Calvin was puzzled. He knew that I loved vanilla milkshake back home or in the good Old US of A or in foggy London. Surely this was not the place to order a milkshake.
“It’s an English expression. It simply means standard items. Go for bread toast, fried eggs or baked beans. It’s safer to eat as your stomach may not be too agreeable with their local mohinga curry noodles. Please order the same for me.”
I always introduced some colloquy English expressions when we were chatting.
The Burmese boy waiter was waiting patiently beside our table. Calvin pointed to the menu on the bread, fried eggs and hot drinks. Probably we could not know whether it was coffee or tea.
He said ‘nit’, two for Burmese. He showed a victory sign with two fingers for each item. He flashed his silly grin, which was quite an endearment especially to the locals.
I resumed our conversation with some Burmese history and Mogok as we waited for our breakfast.
Then came the bread with some margarine spread on a plate and the hot drinks. After some time the fried eggs were still not here yet. Strange, eggs were as ubiquitous as rice, but it sure took a long time for them to prepare.
“Ha! Probably the chickens have not hatched the eggs yet.” I said jokingly. Being in-country for years, I had cultivated a near divine patience to the way of life of the locals. One had to cut a lot of slack for these locals. They were not used to the strange tongue as spoken by foreigners.
Calvin waved for the boy waiter. He smilingly pointed to the fried eggs menu. Spreading his hands, he enquired, where were the eggs?
The boy bowed his head, with reverence like a Japanese. He murmured yes, yes and yes and hurried away.
Later the boy came out with a hand tray. He laid 4 plates of fried eggs on our table. Each plate had two fried eggs. So, the morning breakfast laid on the table for 2 guests had a total of 8 eggs for breakfast.
The boy waiter bowed and returned to his station at the far end.
Amusingly, we looked at each other. We cast our eyes on the 4 plates of 2 eggs each.
“Dad! I order two eggs each for two of us. Now they have double our order.” Calvin said hilariously. He was beginning to have the wisdom of understanding the locals. “And the waiter kept on saying yes, yes, yes. So I thought he would have understood.”
I pondered a while. I had a vague feeling that the boy waiter did not get it wrong.
The menu was still on the table. I pointed to the small photo on the fried eggs.
“Son, the entry said it’s one plate with two eggs. You ordered two.”
Back home, at coffee stalls or in small restaurants the order came by the number of eggs. We would order as 1 half boiled egg or 2 fried eggs, and not by per plate.
Immediately, Calvin got the drift. He said, “Then I reminded the waiter that the eggs were not here yet, so he thought I have made another re-order” He was laughing now.
“But Dad! Mum said one should not take more than 2 eggs for a day. 4 eggs at one go would be very bad for something like high cholesterol. Surely, they would have thought that two foreigners would not order 8 eggs.”
“Hey! Son. This is Burma. Most village folks live below the poverty line. Probably this waiter earns less than US$30 per month. He has not even heard of high cholesterol before.”
We ate with relish on the plate of 2 fried eggs. Perhaps I may be able to fry eggs better than the chef. It was the cheap oil they used, I decided.
Calvin waved for the waiter again. He told him that the balance of the two plates would be for him. And Calvin gave a generous tip, too. The waiter gave us a big toothy smile. He gave us another of his Japanese bow.
We were still laughing when we went out of the restaurant for the day’s trip to the ruby mines.
Enough for today!