My Almost Burmese Romance in Papua New Guinea

Receiving an e-mail from  Giju, the protagonist of the post, The haunting effect of War,  he was undecided which country as his next traveling destination, including Burma or northern Laos or Nepal.  I told him that I would choose Burma as my next travel destination due to my personal attachment towards Burmese. It was quite an encounter.

Back in 2009, together with a group of independent filmmakers, we went to Papua New Guinea for five weeks trekking, traveling and filming local lifestyle and culture. We started from Port Moresby, then trekked the Bulldog Track to reach Wau, then we visited Goroka, Madang, Sek Island, Lae and returned to Port Moresby to fly back to Hong Kong.

A rough traveling route
A rough traveling route

We met a burmese in Wau as both of us were waiting in line to change money. Seeing our foreign faces (I was with Seb, a blond swedish guy),  he stroke up a conversation with us. He needed USD, while we were using our USD to change for local money. From there, we decided to exchange money on our own with a better exchange rate for both parties. It turned out that Thomas, the Burmese, was the chairperson of Burmese Association in Papua New Guinea. (As many Burmese are eager to escape from the bleak economic and political situation in their home country, those with better qualification and resources will apply for overseas jobs. Australia is a hot pick. But quite few of them have been cheated by the head-hunt agency, end up in Tribal Papua New Guinea.) He invited us for dinner and we became connected. Later, whenever we reached a city in need of accommodation, we would contact Burmese Association branch there and get things sorted out.

The forth man (from the left hand side) is Thomas, the chairman of Burmese Association we met in a bank.
The forth man (from the left hand side) is Thomas, the chairman of Burmese Association we met in a bank.

That’s a long introduction. Here comes to the story.

When we returned to Port Moresby to take our return flight to Hong Kong, we stayed in the Burmese community there.  The night before our flight, we had a big community party. They prepared a feast for us. We ate, we drank, we sang, we danced, we smoked.

Ah Soet was one of the members there. Back then, he was a new-comer, still struggling to settle down in Papua New Guinea.  As the night  went deeper,  few people were too drunk to socialise with each other.  The major lights were off, only the toilet light was on. Ah Soet and I were still sober enough to talk. We sat on the floor together, sipping the remaining half bottle of beer and chitchatted on life.

” I miss Burma, half of my family is still there.” He sighed, “but there is no job opportunities. Life is hard. Although we are able to produce food ourselves, we can never have extra to deal with other emergencies in life, we don’t have money to buy medicine, new cloths.”

“Although I don’t like to live in Burma, I love my country. Only Education will be the solution. I want to save up enough money and go back to Burma to set up an educational centre, to teach the next generation English, teach them about the world, about business and things that help them see the world differently and enable them to create their own path.”  He told me about his vision.

“Wow, that’s great. Go for it. I am sure you can do it.” I encouraged.

“Yes. One day, I will make it happen. We are the privileged ones, we got to go to the college, we have the opportunity to work overseas, even we are stuck in Papua New Guinea now.”  He said.

He told me that his father used to be a university professor, he grew up a in a middle class family.  ” But everything has changed since the military tyranny was in power. My father was persecuted, in fact, all of his colleagues were sent to jail for standing up to what they believed intellectuals should do in times of situation like that.  We bribed the government officials to get him out of the prison. But he has changed to another person that we barely know after the release. He lost his charm and wit. He is like a living dead. My mom can’t deal with the situation, she had a nerve breakdown. The family is shattered.” His lowered his voice, such a profound sadness from within.

I fell on silence and held his hands in the dim light.

“Wow! Look at you two. what a perfect match! Chau, do you have a boyfriend? If not, you should be with Ah Soet. He is a good guy. Long distance will work. I can assure you, Ah Soet will be loyal to you.”  Another Burmese guy went awake for the toilet and teased us.

Ah Soet smiled shyly.

“Hahaha”  I smiled drily. Secretly, I felt happy. I felt connected with Ah Soet. Over the past two days, we shared a lot,  it felt like we had known each other for a long time. It felt great. For a moment, I felt like he resembled the kind of guy that I could count on for the rest of my life. Yes, I did have feelings for him. But so what? Be realistic ! Papua New Guinea is too much for me.

Ah Sot in Long hair
Ah Soet in Long hair

The transient  and probably will-not-meet-again-soon-in-the-near-future encounter makes people more forthcoming and relaxed to be who they are. The intensity of emotions, the spark of romanticism during the short encounter, it is almost like an ar-ha moment: “I’ve found you!”  As separation comes, all the emotions and feelings become distant gradually.  Then rationality plays its role, ” Forget it, it is not going to work out. ” There, the budding affection comes to an end and we come to terms with reality.

Ah Soet and I  did not cling on the subject any longer.  We lived at the moment. We just sat there, drinking our beer and chatted till the break of the day came in.

Before we left, Ah Soet gave me a big hug, he hugged me so tightly that I could feel his heartbeat.

We kept writing each other mails on and off about a year.

During the Chinese New Year back in 2010, which duplicated with the Western Valentine’s day, he wrote me a mail, accounted a shooting incident happened in the supermarket he was working on.

Gong Xi Fa Cai ! (Means Good fortune)
hey hey how do u celebrate ya Valentine’s Day?????????? any Special??????????
for me sleep the whole day !!!!!!!!!!!
PNG is still PNG!!
oopss! i need to share my last Saturday about shoplifting
some 10 customers came n looting the stocks in store so i have no choice to inform
police squad n clear all the mess with fire gun but no casualty only some of my doors r broken n my security wounded
it’s usual in PNG
I didn’t know what to say. Chinese New Year is supposed to be a season for family reunion. However, he was alone, sleeping. That made me sad.
Our email friendship went on for a year, then we stopped writing. I guess both of us have moved on.  We believe we will meet other people that we can connect with.
Like what Celine said in Before Sunset 
when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.
That’s why after almost four years, I still remembered him—bittersweetly….  (Well, that’s the first time for me to travel out of Hong Kong. Worth remembering.)

The night before we left, the Burmese people prepared us a feast, we sang. Ah Soet was playing the Guitar.  Back then, I didn’t know how to shoot a proper video and I only had a basic digital camera, so the video quality is rather poor. Nonetheless, the song is nice.

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