The World Living at a Different Pace

Soyung Lee

A tourist, dreaming of being an adventurer,
Meets the Resistance in Myanmar.
I want to talk about life in another time zone in a flexible manner and for a long enough time.
However, time passes quickly again.

Before we connect scenes in order to transform what we see and hear into a story, and just before the unfamiliar becomes familiar, some repeated incidents and objects come through the senses first.
The morning streets of Yangon are busy with people having their breakfasts at various street food stands. The street dogs are lying in the corners between them. The warm wind lingers deep in your body as if tiny air particles have permeated your skin.

The eyes of tourists (an outsider’s gaze) seem sharp but dull, foolish yet cautious; so they sometimes misunderstand new cultures and praise the absurd. But sometimes, they discover grace and beauty in mundane routines.

Whether you like sightseeing or not, a stranger in a foreign country is easily regarded as a tourist. If you are an unaccustomed stranger in an unfamiliar place, what would you see, and what would you ask?

I am curious about something more ordinary, something that I wouldn’t ask the people I normally encounter. You might believe that you’ll be able to understand the differences and sympathize with the people of a different culture through the short questions you ask as a tourist and the short answers you get, but you can never be sure how much such light conversations will imprint on your mind.

I approach them, slow my breath, squat down, and take a long time asking a question. If there is an opportunity to ask a common question seriously, the questioner and the answerer both need time to compose themselves.

In 2008, in Finland, where welfare policies are well established and education is free, I asked residents a hypothetical question about “being deprived.” In 2009, I asked the same question in Korea. Then, after a considerable period of time, I asked the same question in Myanmar where Buddhism is widespread in the society at large.

"Someone or something is trying to take something away from you. What would it be? How does it make you feel, and how do you respond to the situation?”

At intervals during the interviews, I asked some of them to tell traditional folk tales or myths of Myanmar. As if giving up is the key to achievement, in almost every story, there is an element of loss.

As I listened to their stories about being deprived of something, I experienced excessive heat and passing landscapes, pouring rain, and non-exclusive kindness.

What do we take when we go on an adventure? We may turn the flashlight on and wear a raincoat and boots, but although we are fully ready for the rain, we still slip in the mud. Like a double rainbow we get to see by chance, even with great effort, this ridiculously fantastic moment cannot be captured. Still, a question is asked of the person who sets off on a long journey despite all the difficulties: what do you expect this time?

There are dogs lurking in the streets. Dogs not raised by humans are neither submissive nor aggressive. A corner of a city becomes their dwelling, and they roam around a couple of blocks to maintain their boundaries. Although they look free to go anywhere, they don’t easily go out of their territories.

“You are not tamed enough to belong to me. From beginning to end, you are indifferent to me.
By putting a leash on you, stroking you, giving you food, taking you out for a walk, and for feeling happy when you wag your tail, must I tame you to move ‘your territory’ into ‘my territory’?”

When humans dominate a city, everything else exists only for humans, and the rest of the animals and plants have to survive in this environment. Pets, or companion animals, are subjects of protection but mice and cockroaches are subjects for elimination. It makes one ponder on humans living with animals, or objects; sharing a common space, not threatening each other, and coexisting.

The circular train in Yangon, where there were rarely any tourist, was moving forward, yet it felt still. As the train moved, the landscape changed, but the heart stayed tranquil.

People in Myanmar do not have a last name.
They believe in different animals and Buddhas for the day of the week in which they were born.