The Myanmar Work Ethic (Alternatively, The Ethics of Work in Myanmar)

The United States is a land devoted to the notion that the customer is always right and workers are there to provide service with a smile. Sometimes, this leads to disheartening but hilarious websites where workers share their worst customer service experiences with the world. Other times, this ideology is simply disheartening.

I’d like to believe that despite living for almost two decades in the US, I have not internalized too much of this mindset. I’d also like to believe that I am a nice person, but every once in a while I can feel the inner angry suburban soccer every American develops inside them getting agitated and getting ready to demand to see a manager.

The other day, I attempted to ride a trishaw to go visit a friend. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a trishaw is like a rickshaw but designed in a way that makes it even more dangerous to ride, and is pictured above. My desire to take this particular mode of transport was largely borne out of nostalgia and a romanticised vision of myself being whisked around the city feeling the sun on my face and the exhaust fumes in my hair. And I say attempt because I was denied the opportunity to ride said trishaw. After walking to the end of my street, I approached a cluster of trishaw drivers sitting in the vehicles and asked them to take me to a boba place less than thirty streets away. A twenty-minute walk according to Google maps. The four drivers, though not currently in the process of earning money, or in a situation where their services were being clamored for, told me that that was too far and too much work and that I should take the bus instead. I walked past them and immediately got into a taxi.

Now, I’m not advocating for a world where I should be given whatever I want so long as I can pay for it, but I do believe I should be able to purchase whatever good or service someone is selling so long as I ask politely and can pay for it. Trishaw drivers do not make a lot of money, and it’s not even like I was trying to haggle. And… this is their┬ájob? But I suppose situations like this and a slightly less imbalanced power dynamic between buyer and seller is part of the charm of living here.

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Going “Home”

“GO BACK TO (insert country here… usually China or a country the U.S. is currently bombing)!”

Is something I, and many other Asians in the United States, have heard screamed at us. Ironically, though the term “Asian-American” encapsulates such a dizzyingly diverse composition of peoples so as to be nearly meaningless, experiencing anti-Asian racism is one of the few things Asian-Americans actually have in common. Well, that and the love of rice and putting sewing materials into Danish Butter Cookie tins.

This kind of racial harassment, in addition to living in a country with a long history of anti-Asian immigration laws and anti-Asian violence, leads many Asian-Americans to feel as if they do not fully belong. I’ve certainly felt this way many times in my life, and it is a feeling that is complicated by the fact that I am an immigrant. Sure, I am a US citizen now, pay taxes, vote, and volunteer at my local elementary school, but there is a deep sense in me that the US is not my homeland. So, with the rise of President Trump and a quarter-life crisis in full swing, I’ve decided to go back “home”.

This blog will be a series of observations of Myanmar through the experiences of someone is is not quite a foreigner.

Side note: I was probably supposed to publish this post on this blog before posting anything else, but whatevs. We can be rebels here.