“His name is Ny, his brother is also Ny and even the guy working in Easy Bar is named Ny.”
This I found to be very confusing, as my Husband shared with me the information taken from ‘Ny’ – who we thought of as, the Burmese restaurant manager at the Sunshine Resort we were staying at.
We were starting to recognise the difference between the people of the two countries. Although bordering each other, we found their physique very different. The Thai people slighter in body frame, at times tiny in comparison with their Burmese counterparts – they were squarer, more solid looking.
We had broken down a few cultural barriers in our third stay on the little island of Koh Tao, finally managing to tease our way through their surly male exteriors – connecting with the women seemed nigh on impossible in the small amount of time allotted. We had such a short time to connect with the people living and working here, on a more personal level.
Maybe the fact the resort was quieter, gave them the time to engage a little more. I know I felt privileged when Ny suddenly sat down at our table and pulled photographs of his wife, daughter and family living in his home country of Burma, out for us to see.
As he spat a long line of tar coloured chewing tobacco over the side of the restaurant balcony and down onto the white sand below, he began to share a little of his life with us.
“I left Burma when I was 17, moving to Ranong first to work with my brother.” His broken english rolling each word into the next. “He left and came to Koh Tao, phoned me and told me about the work here and I arrived in 1998. There was only around 45 people on the island. Now there is about 10.000.
” The pay is better here than in Burma.” He continued. My brother and I sent money home to my parents when we were younger so they could buy a house. Burmese people are cheaper to employ than Thai – they pay one Thai 300 baht a day. A Burmese about 150.(Which works out to just over £3 a day.) This is still better pay than he can earn in his own country.
I listened intently, as some of his words were lost in translation and I asked questions to clarify my understanding. On with his story he carried.
” My wife live in Burma, with our daughter and my family next door. She went to university and has a degree in economic. I met her when she worked in the kitchen.”
As a western woman I struggled with the thought of an individual gaining such an education and then not using it. Maybe a visit to the country at some point, would allow me to make sense of it. Like coming to Thailand, allows me to make sense of my Thai Mother in Law.
“You send money back to her, I asked.”
“Yes.” His response, as he expertly avoided my gaze. I looked at him intently to ensure my understanding.
“Do you miss them?” The first thing to pop into my head.
“It ok, ” he responded with a shrug. “I go back for two months in a couple of weeks. Then we spend time together.” A broad smile crossed his face. The last time he saw his daughter she was a couple of months old. Now if my recollection is correct, she is over a year.
I felt sad for a moment, with this way of living. But didn’t know if I should. It seemed to be ‘the way’ it was done. He had steady work, money to send home to look after his wife and child with. They had a roof over their head and food in their belly, as did he. I thought, who am I to judge that.
Later as I paid for our dinner, I asked for a new toilet roll. Something not given readily or freely – you felt treated at times, as if you were being awkward asking for anything. Ny gave me one roll – then stopped. Looking thoughtful, he returned and gave me another. In that moment I felt humble for the small connection we had made, for a few short moments. A sharing of lives and of living.
“Thank you,” I looked at him and smiled.
“Yup.” His quick, short chewing tobacco response, as he turned to get on with another task.
For a moment all felt right in the world.
What personal exchanges has connected you with others lives when travelling?