It was on a very sunny Sunday, in April, 2004. Since the early morning, holding a piece of paper written down an address, I had been wondering on streets in Dagon Myo Thit (the outskirt area of Yangon) and looking for the home of a former teacher who taught at the high school of my native village, Monywe. I was asked by my teachers from Monywe, who organized the homage ceremony for elderly teachers, to go and meet her who moved to this remote township of the capital and gave the presents for her in person.
The one who accompanied with me on the trip was ‘he’, a (handsome) gentleman who is also a Monywe native. He was in Yangon since a few days ago for his school application process. Till noon, we could not find that home. We asked several people for the direction but nobody knew exactly. After walking around lanes after lanes in the sun for hours – asking dwellers and taking several wrong buses, we arrived to the address it was mentioned in the letter given by my teachers. However, the house was in the hands of the new owner. They said the teacher and family moved back to Mingalar Taung Nyunt (downtown area of Yangon) since a few years ago and wrote down the new address for us.
Phew!! Both we were in deep sweat. And we had not had even breakfast yet. So, we both were very hungry and thirsty as well.
We bought a bottle of water from a nearby street vendor. He handed the bottle over to me first. But I gave him back, ‘you drink first’. He said, ‘you, first.’
After a single bottle going back and forth between for several times, we both came to an agreement – I’ll drink first and then, he’ll finish the rest.
But a bottle of water seems too little to our thirsty mouths. He bought another one.
He gave it to me first again. I said – “enough”. He asked me back, “are you sure? Drink more.” I drank a little more and gave the bottle back to him and told him ‘finish it’.
He made sure again – “are you fine with it? You don’t want to drink more?” I said, “no, I don’t.” Only after it, he finished the left-over in one single stroke.
So, I knew it was not enough for him yet. I bought the 3rd bottle and gave it to him. This time, he accepted – me asking him to drink. He gave me a smile and finished it. Yes, in one stoke again. I asked him – if he needed more. He responded – “no, no, I’m fine now. Let’s go.”
So, we walked to the bus stop. We walked for a while but we did not know for sure where the bus stop was because there were no signs of stops on the small lane. When we looked back, a green bus (WWII) was coming. So, we walked back to the bus and it stopped for us. As it was still in outskirt area, we got seats. Double seats – facing to the bus’s direction.
For the very first time, we both were sitting on the bus side by side. After taking the send next to me, he asked me ‘are you ok?’ I asked him back – “are you ok?” But – for what were we both checking each other? Clearly, we both were nervous for being such a close existence to each other. We avoided each others’ eyes and unusually silent and could not find words for each other for the most part of the way-back trip.
But later on, I said that I was going to treat him to lunch as he accompanied with me to this trip (even though he was the one who offered me to join the trip. ^_^ ). He just glanced at me and did not say, yes or no. So, I assumed it was yes, he accepted my arrangement. Since in high school, I have known him as a shy and quiet one – totally opposite of me. But as I thought about that day, I felt that he was too quiet on the bus.
We get off at the bus stop near Mingalar Taung Nyunt. My idea was – gave the present first and had lunch/dinner (at that time, already about 3:00 pm) at Hta-Min-Saing (restaurant) later. As I looked at him while I was talking, it seemed that he could no longer dwell and he just wanted to eat right away. I asked, ‘Do you want to eat first?’
He said – “let’s do it.” So, we had to look for Hta-min-saing. As I was not accustomed to Mingalar Taung Nyunt township, I had no idea where we could have good Hta-min and hin (foods). (There are two reason I were looking for a decent restaurant even thought we both were so hungry – 1.) Being the one who offered him lunch, I did not want him think of me – taking him to a ‘cheap/not good restaurant’ and 2.) He is from Monywe. Generally, I have to be really careful in everything – in treating people from Monywe who came and visited Yangon. If I treat them well in good restaurants, they gossiped about me back in village, I was spending too much in city. If I did not do so, they said that I did not do a good take care to the people from her village. Sigh!! )
He was following to me, a bit impatiently, I think. I am sure he had no idea the reasons why I was looking for a decent Hta-Min Saing. We kept walking in the very hot evening sun. He started saying to me, “How about that teashop? How about that roadside shop?” However, lunch time was way past over but still a bit early for dinner. Most of the roadside teashops were just placing tables but foods were not ready yet.
And then, he pointed to a small roadside shop. “‘Look at that little shop at the corner – the one under the banyan tree. We can ask if they open.” As I was still thinking what we could get there, he was the one trying to cross the road and asking me. “Let’s eat there. Come on.”
He questioned me once before – how people from Yangon survived. He had often seen them having lunch or dinner just at salad shops (pickled tea leaf salad or ginger salad, etc.) He said that he (big eater) did not regard salads with rice as meals.
We found out the one, he was taking me to, was a salad shop. I was still standing at and asking him, “Are you sure you want to have lunch/dinner here?” He has already helped the shop owner place the table and little stools for us. While he was wiping the table surface with tissue, he looked up me, “Why not? Come on. Come and sit”
He already sat. He responded me – eagerly this time, while placing a stool for me – next to him. May be, he was too hungry. And he forgot his own comment a few days ago.
Before I sat at the stool he placed, I made sure him again. “Are you sure you want to eat here? – because, here, you can get only salads.” He gave me a long glance with big smile and assured me. “You know? I eat all. Don’t worry for me. Let’s order.”
So, we ordered, “two water bottle first pls.” And then, “two bowls of rice. And then, “pickled tea leaf salad (I guess, I don’t remember.) and another salad – vividly remember “Pickled duck egg salad.”
While waiting for the foods, I felt like I was no longer that hungry. It may be because lunch time was way passed, or I drank too much water, or may be too tired walking around in the sun.
When the foods arrived, as usual, salads plates and spoons putting there were so small and I often joke friends – we need microscope to look for duck egg in the salad.
“Look at the rice bowl. Gosh, too much rice. I could not manage all.” I said.
“Come on. Why not? It’s not too much. Eat a lot. You need to gain weight,” said he.
“I don’t need to,” I said. He responded, “Yeah, but you look so thin.”
“But, I’m not hungry anymore.” I said.
“Then, ok. Eat as much as you can. If you can’t, leave it, I’ll finish it later,” he said.
“No, take it now. Here, it is” I said while putting almost half of rice from my plate to his.
“Stop. Stop. I think, you should eat at least that amount.” He said, while putting some back to my plate.
And then, he picked the biggest duck-egg piece out of the salad, which just had several pieces, with that small spoon and put it on my plate.
I said, “No. No. You eat.” I placed it back to his plate right away.
But he looked at me with a smile, “No. No. You Eat.”
“Wait. No. You eat. I’ll get it later by myself.” I said.
He gave me a long glance wearing (sweet) smile, “You. Eat. Right?” Finally, the piece of duck egg was settled in my plate.
“Thank you.” I just murmured. And then, I placed some salad in his plate.
Later on, I was just eating quietly but more duck egg pieces – out of other vegetables, used as extension to duck egg salad) – gradually placed to my plate.
In my mind (may be his mind as well), the roadside teashop near the traffic point was seemed so quiet – even quieter than a typical meditation center. And we both could not find words to communicate. (In fact, we both were speaking so loudly in hearts).
For those good five to ten minutes, I had clearly heard to my heart. I felt ‘home’ for the very first time – in a (strange) man (apart from – of my father and my home.) This kind of moment was NOT a new thing for me. It was not just happened to me for the first time. I have experienced for the whole of my life in my home every day. The whole lunch (or dinner) with him was reminding me of the dinner time I had with my family back in our home in Monywe.
Every evening, as soon as our school was over, my mother and we, all of our siblings, usually went to our farms where dad was working and sometimes, we brought our homework and did it there for the whole evening. And while mom and dad doing their farming chores, they listened to our stories we experienced at school or they checked whether we were doing our homework well. Sometimes, we helped them. On the way back, we got all fresh/organic vegetables for dinner from our farm. Mostly, as a big family, we use vegetables as extension to meat (pork, beef, or chicken – as meat is more expensive). Only after we arrived back home, we all prepared dinner and have it together.
It’s everyday scenery – “mum will place a big chant of meat – to my dad’s plate. Dad will place it to one of his children’s plates. And mom will put another chant to Dad’s. Dad will place it back to mum’s plate. “No. No. Nu (my mum’s name). You eat.” Sometimes, you will hear – Dad will say with a smile– “Daddy loves bones. Meat(s) are for the children. And then, he will put more meat to our plate and mum’s plate.”
Now, I had been away from home – in Yangon alone.
The pickled duck egg pieces (he chose, out of other vegetables) placed to my plate, was giving me a great memory of home. And more over, that whole evening greatly reminded me of the image of a happy marriage dad and mum tied with, the family value I cherish so much, and happy/healthy childhood life that my siblings and I enjoyed.
Those pickled duck egg pieces played from a main role in making one of my most important decisions I had in life – to give “yes’ to him a few months after.
Of course (may be, in my unconscious mind), to get my own one one day, I took my parents’ marriage as a model. And I looked for my dad’s quality in a man who will be my ‘the’ man, subsequently, who will be the father of my future children one day.
I was confident in my decision – at least, if something went wrong or things not happened as I hoped, my decision would result no regret for believing in my dad’s quality and my parents’ marriage and taking them as my sole model – aiming to give my children at least with such a .
At first, I thought it was only me who vividly remembered the whole incident and took it seriously – based on my personal value. A few years after, I asked him if he remembered the trip and lunch we had.
“Pickled duck egg salad!! You know, it was so good. It was so good.” he responded with an underling message.
“Yes, Indeed.” I supported.
Later on, I often heard from him, “Chit yay, you know, our trip to Dagaon Myo Thit was such a great/sweet memory. It was really wonderful –taking the trip with you.”
From that trip on, we decided to another trip together with a stronger commitment– we are still on the trip – this time, the life-long trip. We are still walking in the sun. We often get lost. We may often have to take salad. And we have gained so much love, warmth, and confidence though the years. We enjoy our trip together, we have had so far.
(A few years later, I will upload this blog with this sentence.)
“We will bring our dearly loved, little two ‘sayargyilays,’ to the trip with us. We, four, as a team, taking the life-long journey.”