L and I were running low on kyats (the local Burmese currency) in Bagan. We heard that in Myanmar, they accept both kyats and USD but in Bagan, the people have a huge preference for kyats. Probably that’s because Bagan is a more rural area and they can spend kyats more readily as compared to USD. L and I tried to keep an eye out for any money changer to exchange our USD for kyats as we cycled around Bagan but unfortunately, we could not find one that was open. We spoke to the person at the guesthouse just to find out if there was a money changer that we were not aware of. The person, who was a university student working to earn some money over the school holidays, said, “Sorry, all money changers in Bagan do not work on weekends. But I can exchange some money for you. How much kyats do you need?”
“The equivalent of USD 40,” I replied.
“Okay. What is the money exchange rate between USD and kyats?”
I was not sure so I took out my smartphone and googled the current exchange rate between USD and kyats and showed it to him. We were pleasantly surprised that he exchanged exactly the same amount as reflected on Google. Where in the world can you get such a good exchange rate?
In the same guesthouse, the bathrooms and toilets were communal so we needed to have our own toiletries and towel. I realized that I forgot to pack a towel, soap and shampoo in my backpack. When I went to the front desk, I was already mentally prepared to pay for these items based on my previous travel experiences in other countries. When I asked the lady, she led me to the part of the guesthouse that the family which operated the guesthouse stayed at and gave me the towel, soap and shampoo. When I asked her how much these items cost, she said, “No money. Free.”
Bagan just suffered an earthquake yesterday, damaging over 185 pagodas (according to latest news) as well as the lives of the people of Bagan. I have met kind, simple-minded and very good human beings in Bagan who have taught me what being a human really means. Human relationships are more than mere transactions or chess pieces waiting to be manipulated; human relationships require empathy and sincerity. It is hard to act like a human but it is harder for the people in Bagan to do so because they are so poor in cash. If they can do it, why can’t we do that in urban parts of the world? I pray to the God up there to have a heart for Bagan and the people of Bagan. Save Bagan.