My Myanmar Identity

My Myanmar Identity

a person who does not belong to a particular organization or profession.
synonyms: stranger, visitor, non-member, odd man out
In a previous post I talked about my move to Yangon and how comfortable it is for me to be in the city where everyone seems be a newcomer or a member of a minority group. At first this made me feel quite welcome but the more time I spend here the more I’m starting to feel like an outsider looking in. I had an interesting conversation with someone in today’s cooking class at Harmoneat (where I’m volunteering) as he seemed to understand/relate to how I may feel. I would describe him as a mixed race African- American. He lives in Bangkok and has travelled and lived all over South East Asia. So I guess he’s had similar experiences to draw from. So it’s got me thinking…

In Yangon there are many ‘international volunteers’ who are living and working as expats whether for a few months or a few years. I somehow don’t see myself falling into this group of people as I see myself as being on a ‘working holiday’. Being ethinically Chinese and having a British accent confuses people wherever I travel. I’ve found that members of the local population would rather see me as ‘Chinese’ than ‘British’. Yet when I travel to China, more specifically Hong Kong, I’m seen as a foreigner there too! 😀

In Myanmar I am often mistaken for a local, by foreigners as well as locals. This can be quite amusing but is becoming a bit tedious. For example on a long distance bus journey we stopped as an immigration checkpoint, and despite me being the only foreigner on the bus, a typically Chinese looking family had their passports checked. I just blended in with the locals, with the guy sitting next to me giggling away and poking me in the ribs exclaiming something in Burmese (which of course I did not understand!) but he knew I was foreign.

On the other hand I have difficulty mixing with fellow travellers. Often tourists assume I’m a local and don’t attempt to talk to me so I always have to make the first move to start a conversation. This takes a lot of effort sometimes as I’m quite an introvert!  On one particular occassion I joined a group of 7 other people on a tour in the back of a tuk tuk and noone spoke to me for about half an hour as they assumed I was a local. It was early in the morning and I couldn’t be bothered to strike up a conversation so stayed quiet. But if I hadn’t spoken up on our first stop off point I’m sure I would have been ignored for the whole trip…

Often when locals speak to me in local language and I respond in English and they look surprised and slightly embarrassed. That makes me feel bad because it’s not their fault I don’t speak the language…

Anyway, just some thoughts that are going through my head today. No doubt I’ll feel differently in a few more weeks! Being in a new city is always difficult at first, finding my way is part of the adventure…

Unassumed Road

Unassumed Road

2 thoughts on “My Myanmar Identity

  1. I get that a lot too. I look and blend in with the locals in Taiwan until I open my mouth. Hahaha. But the local Taiwanese are friendly so it’s alright. After one year here in Taiwan I can speak Mandarin more fluently. I think if I get to stay here longer I might just be able to master the nuances of the language.

    • That’s so funny, I’m glad I’m not the only one who experiences this! I’ve not learned any of the local languages as I’m never in one place long enough and I’m very lazy! 😉

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