I think travelling in Burma is the closest I will ever get to knowing what it's like to be a celebrity. Everywhere you go, even in the big cities, you're an attraction. People shout hello, run up to shake your hands and push their kids forward to practise their English with you. And while I know it's not exactly Heat magazine papping me on my doorstep, I've never been asked to be in so many photographs in my life. Burmese tourists from other towns who are visiting Bagan or Inle Lake seem to think a photo with the token white person is just as essential as getting a snap of a temple. I just really wish I wasn't wearing my poo pants in so many of them...
|Must the poo pants appear in every picture?|
In contrast to many countries in Asia, it's actually the older people who have a better grasp of English as a result of the former British rule and they love to pull up a chair in a teashop and ask their favourite question: "Where are you from?" Saying the UK usually leads seamlessly into a discussion about the Premier League, which they're all crazy about here. Note to self: learn more footballers' names.
One of my favourite people I have met so far is a teenage boy who, when we told him where we were from, gasped: "Do you have a British accent?" Not quite sure I'd adequately be able to explain the differences of a northern accent, I opted for yes. He was then extremely excited to tell me the two 'British' phrases he knew (as he explained to me that at school he was taught English with an American accent). Now I can only assume they were phrases he'd picked up from cable tv, although I have no idea what kind of programmes he'd been watching as the first phrase, said in a kind of weird Cockney accent, was "I love my dogs" and the second one, said in the Queen's English, was" "I'm from England". I then taught him how to say "Would you like a cup of tea?" in a posh accent (even though no one ever really says that - I just like to enhance the stereotype).
But it's the children who are the funniest. Some of them will sit on buses and gaze open mouthed at you; while the braver ones will run after you in the street, shouting and showing off to their friends, and they'll constantly point at your camera and then shriek with laughter when they see the picture of themselves on the screen.
In the south of Burma, which sees fewer tourists in general, we visited a lovely little town called Hpa'an. As we bumped along in a tuk tuk on a bone-rattling journey which would leave us aching for days, kids came running from their houses and chased us down the road shouting "bye bye". We became so used to people waving at us that I think it actually went to our heads a bit and at one point we started waving at two little boys who had absolutely no interest in us whatsoever. That's probably a sign that it's time to move on, before the attention goes to my head and I start asking to be know as the journalist formerly known as Em.