I spent close to 6 weeks in Myanmar and in that time I acquired piles of stories to tell. I would like to put all of it into words, but yet again I find myself needing to be selective. I could go on and on about the friendships I’ve kindled with other travellers, the unique landscapes I’ve explored, the food, the language, the clothing, and the religion, but the most stand out aspects of my time in Myanmar were the connections I made with local people. This blog post is a conglomerate of bits and pieces of writing that I did throughout my time in Myanmar that I’ve put together. Since I left Myanmar I’ve spent a month in the Philippines, and two days in Japan so I have a lot to catch up on.
I crossed the border from Thailand to Myanmar on foot. The Thai departures booth spits you out onto a no-mans-land bridge which leads to Myanmar immigration. As I walked across the bridge I watched the sun set over the distant mountains and was flooded with a whirlwind of emotions. I felt free and excited and courageous, but I was nervous for how the night would go. All I had was the name of a meditation centre 300 kilometres away that I intended on going to. I had no plans for how to get there and no accommodation booked for the night, but as I walked across the bridge a few families passed me walking the in other direction. They smiled and bowed their heads as they passed me. I knew I was at the mercy of whatever this country was going to throw at me, but I already had the feeling that I was in good hands. The fact that I showed up in a new country, alone, just before nightfall and without a hotel booked may appear like really shortsighted planning, but allow me to defend my case: Busses rarely run on time, it’s difficult to buy a bus ticket from somewhere other than where you are (especially if you’re trying to organize transport in another country), and If you book a cheap hotel online it can be difficult to find once you get to town. The flip side of these inconveniences is that there’s always a place to stay near by, and locals are happy if not honoured to help you out.
The Burmese border guards seemed more interested in what I was planning to do in Myanmar than the formalities of my entering the country. They took my border form away before I was done filling it out and said I had done enough. They asked me where I was staying and I said I didn’t know yet. They asked me if I wanted a cheap or expensive hotel and I answered cheap. One of them walked with me for a few blocks in the direction of the River View Hotel, which he said would be affordable and clean. He carried my backpack for me and wished me happy travels before returning to the border booth.
That night, I met a group of students and their teacher who welcomed me into their school with open arms. I shared a Facebook post the following day: “I had been sitting alone at a festival in a Burmese town called Myawaddy for less than 2 minutes when a dozen teenagers surrounded me and asked me questions in broken English. They took me by the arm and led me to their school where they introduced me to their teacher Mae Sein. She and her father spoke good English and were able to translate for the students and I. I was there for a few hours during which time we sang each other songs, talked about our cultural differences, and Mae Sein gave me this beautiful traditional Burmese skirt and top set. At the end of the night one of the students drove me back to my hotel on the back of his motorbike. Since my arrival in Myanmar 3 days ago, I’ve been inundated with incredibly kind, generous acts such as this. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to be in this country. Blog post coming soon!”
I had started to realize that what had seemed like extraordinary interactions were actually just the standard way that people treated me. It is worth noting that I probably got an extra dose of special treatment because I was a solo female traveller. Seeing a young white girl by herself is a very weird sight for most Burmese people and I guess they felt an obligation to take care of me. Sadly, I don’t believe that the way I was treated will be the norm for much longer. As more and more travellers pour into the country, the Burmese (like Thais) won’t be phased by seeing white people in their markets or walking down their streets. They won’t be eager to invite foreigners into their homes, or tell them their stories because they’ll see foreigners all the time. So go to Myanmar before everyone else goes to Myanmar.
In the days that followed my first night in Myawaddy, I travelled from this small border town to the capital city Yangon. I made my way south to a suburb called Thanlyin where I settled in at the ThaBarWa Meditation Centre for the next three weeks. Check it out: http://www.thabarwa.org
Imagine a neighbourhood with one main road and a small cluster of five storey buildings. There are big leafy trees casting scattered shade on the dusty main street and a vendor selling brightly coloured syrupy drinks. One of the buildings contains an admin office and a library, one is an unfinished hospital, and one is filled with dorm rooms for foreigners. As you walk down the street your surrounded on all sides by people and sounds. Pali* chanting is amplified through the neighbourhood at all hours of the day. At first this sound is eerie at night and distracting during the day but eventually it becomes an unnoticed background noise, or better; comforting and meditative. There are groups of kids playing, some of whom have shaved heads and monks robes. Motorbikes carrying entire families honk as they zigzag between people without slowing. Old men nap on benches in the shade. The fences are lined with posters of the Buddha with encouraging slogans about mindfulness. Dozens of dogs with open wounds and sagging body parts bark at each other ruthlessly. Plastic bags and candy wrappers line the ground but somehow there’s an air of order and calmness. It’s not the perfectly warm weather, or the gold pagodas* towering over the neighbourhood with pride that strike you. It’s the smiles and unwavering eye contact of the people you pass.
My alarm goes off at 4:45 am. I slip my hand out from under the mosquito net that hangs over my bed to tap ‘snooze’ on my iPhone screen. It’s still dark but there’s a blaring white light that shines through the window and helps me come to life at this ungodly hour. I put on loose cotton pants, a long-sleeve top, a hoodie, and a scarf. I brush my teeth, and I fasten my mosquito net up so that it’s out of the way. I do these things quietly to avoid waking the five sleeping girls who share the dorm room with me. By 5 am I’ve made my pilgrimage from the second floor to the fifth and am sitting cross legged in the meditation hall. The top floor of this newly developed building is a clean, bright hall designated for meditation and lessons for foreigners. The floor is covered in patterned plastic linoleum that reminds me of a kitchen from the 70s. The walls are painted sky blue and are lined with windows on all sides. There’s a gold Buddha shrine along the north wall that one should refrain from pointing her feet and bum towards.
After an hour of chasing our minds like wild horses we emerge from the meditation hall and stand outside it’s sliding glass doors. I share a few words with Sayalay Aloka* about this morning’s meditation and we converse about the Dhamma*. Sayalay Aloka is a young woman from Virginia who has been living in Myanmar as a Buddhist nun for four years. She welcomes my questions and knows the challenges to understanding Buddhism from a western perspective. She isn’t afraid to say she doesn’t know the answer to a question or that there isn’t an answer to a question. Without her, my understanding of Buddhism would be far shallower than it is. I can’t help but wonder what Sayalay Aloka would have been like five years ago before she shaved her head and dedicated her life to the pursuit of mindfulness. The sun rises over already bustling streets and smoky farmland that stretches out beyond.
I’ve come in the dry season and farmers have finished their harvests. Now they scrape together piles of dead foliage and garbage to burn. I still don’t completely understand why they do this. Perhaps it’s easier to burn the remnants of their crops than to pull it out of the ground? Or maybe it serves to replenish nutrients in the soil? It seems that their only options with garbage are to burn it or allow it to pile up on their land, because nobody comes to collect it.
Journals About Soro Sati and Company
1: When I arrived at ThaBarWa Meditation Centre there was a unique volunteer project underway. A group of travellers had began building a small house for a family in need. This Indian family of six had been living in a house with broken floorboards and scarcely existing walls, it was six feet wide by six feet long, and was raised only one foot above the ground. I was told that a foot of height is okay at this time of year when it’s dry but when the rainy season comes and the river plain floods, this little house will be swallowed. I went to offer my help to the building project but when I arrived I found that there were so many pairs of hands at work that I was only getting in the way. I offered moral support and took some photos with another traveller’s camera. There were hordes of little kids running barefoot around the construction site, and people on motor bikes stopped along the road to observe the excitement of the new project.
There was a baby who the travellers had nicknamed ‘The Grumpy Baby’. She sat on a dirty palm mat, naked except for an oversized t-shirt and she was given this nickname because anyone who tried to interact with her would receive a menacing glare. Her parents were nowhere to be seen and when the older kids tried to maneuver her she’d squirm and screech viciously. When left to herself, she sat still on the mat and gazed blankly into space. I walked over to her and held my water bottle out for her to drink. That was the first time she gave me that unwavering, dark, suspicious stare. I held my water bottle steady and I held her gaze. She hesitated as if unsure whether to trust me but she proceeded to drink the water. She drank all of it, and this made me happy. I sat beside her on the mat and didn’t interact with her again for some time. At some point she decided to stand up and walk so I held out my index finger for her to hold onto. Once again she was reluctant but accepted my offer. We walked a few steps together until her four year old brother ran up to her and tried to pick her up. She shrieked and wriggled out of his grasp then collapsed on the ground crying and rubbing her eyes. I reached out to her and this time she reached back. I had known she was in need of a nap from the first moment I saw her and within minutes she was fast asleep in my arms. After that day I would visit the new bamboo house as often as I could, usually in the heat of the mid afternoon when Soro Sati would need a nap.
2: I walk along the dusty streets toward the unfinished hospital who’s bare concrete bones stand tall with the promise of much needed facilities. I approach an Indian woman selling fried food across from the construction site. She sits beside an open three-foot-wide gutter and dips battered vegetables into a inch of bubbling yellow oil. When she notices me she smiles and yells ‘mingalaba!’ from across the street. This is a blessing in Burmese and is the common greeting. ‘Mingalaba! Soro Sati?’ I say and swing my arms back and forth as if rocking a baby. The woman nods enthusiastically, gets up and walks away. I wait on the corner and impulsively place my hands together and bow my head when nuns, monks or old people walk by. Modesty and respect are deeply valued in Burmese culture and this is evident in the toothless grin I receive from an old lady walking by with a burlap sack of root vegetables slung over her shoulder.
When the Indian woman returns she has the one year old Soro Sati in her arms and a young boy at her side. When Soro Sati is passed to me she’s neither happy to see me nor disturbed by leaving her mothers grasp. She stares into my soul with huge dark eyes and a furrowed brow. When I first met Soro Sati, I interpreted her ominous stare as suspicion and cynicism towards me. Now I see it as a kind of detachment that I’ve never witnessed in a young child. Like his baby sister, Tang Gala has beautiful big brown eyes but his are full of trust and joy when he looks into mine. He calls my name as he runs out from behind his mother to greet me. We fist bump and exchange hellos in Burmese and English. He’s learned some English in school but for the most part we communicate through sign language and tone of voice. It’s surprising how much we manage to communicate despite our lack of a shared language.
Today Tang Gala has something to show me. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a silver Hohner harmonica. He begins to play and I’m impressed by his musicality. Soro Sati rests her head on my shoulder as the three of us walk slowly in the afternoon heat. Tang Gala plays heartfelt melodies that always resolve on the root note with slow vibrato. When we reach their bamboo house we’re stormed by a tornado of kids. Among them are Chag Gala and Leche Mi, who complete the foursome of siblings who live here. Soro Sati has a dazed expression and flimsy limbs. I shush the kids and motion that it’s time for Soro Sati’s nap. The kids already know the drill so they bring a plastic chair into the shade beside the house. I sing and rock her until she falls asleep and then I sit down with the crowd of kids around me. They show me drawings they’ve done, or ask me to read terribly written English stories from their school books, they give me snacks and point at different things I’m wearing inquisitively.
3: Each time we visit, more cultural differences surface between us. Lately I’ve begun to notice that hitting isn’t against the rules for these kids. My friends and I used to hit each other when we were little and I think it’s normal. These kids are never told not to hit each other the way Me and my friends were. When I get stern and tell the kids that hitting is not okay, they don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. When they hit each other I say “gentle gentle” and pat their arm gently to show what I mean. It’s turned into a funny joke for them now. They tease me playfully and say “gentle, gentle” and laugh. I’d like to think that little by little it’ll sink in and they will actually be a bit more gentle with each other. But maybe not.
It began to make more sense when I noticed how common it is for adults to hit kids. Even in a playful or lighthearted way. The other day I was walking with the kids, carrying Soro Sati when we passed a young woman that the kids seemed to know. She and Tang Gala started talking and were motioning towards me. I smiled at the woman. She smiled back and then looked at the baby in my arms. She said something to Soro Sati that sounded aggressive yet playful and then slapped her across the face. It made a loud smack and Soro Sati flinched and whimpered. I could tell that it had hurt her. I was shocked and pulled Soro Sati away. The young woman seemed taken aback by my reaction and the kids and I walked away awkwardly. I don’t know, I guess it’s normal in Myanmar to hit someone else’s baby. Since this incident I’ve been noticing a lot of unnecessarily roughness towards children.
Even the kids’ mom hits them on a regular basis. When they hit each other, she hits them. The irony is almost too much to process. It seems so obvious to me that this is the wrong way to raise your children but when is all you know, it’s what you do. The kids’ mom, who’s name I forget, is an energetic woman who’s always smiling. She really is lovely and she’s so kind to me. She hugs me when I see her, and tells me over and over how much her kids love me. She puts her hand over her heart and points to the kids and points to me.
4: The more time I spend with these kids the more we knock down the language barrier and the more I feel like an important care giver to them. I’ve certainly become some kind of something important to Soro Sati. She still doesn’t smile very much but she seeks out my attention and she cries when I leave. Sometime’s I can get a chuckle out of her when I zerbert her tummy. Her smile is so sweet, I wish she would smile more often.
I feel like I’ve kindled a very personal friendship with each of these kids. I’m already thinking about the fact that I’m going to have to say goodbye to them soon. Chag Gala, the four year old boy puts his hands up for a high-ten and I pull mine out of the way just before he can hit them. We do this over and over again until he falls down laughing. He’s just the right size to swing around by his arms. Of course he loves this and makes me do it over and over again.
Leche Mi loves to tease me about “gentle, gentle” and reminds me of another little girl I know. She’s always looking for an opportunity to cuddle with me and she throws her head back in fits of inconsolable laughter. She’s a tough cookie and I can tell she’s full of verve for life. Tang Gala, where do I start? I wish we could understand each other because I get the feeling he would have a lot of things to say. I also get the feeling that few people really listen to him. He tries tirelessly to teach me words in Burmese that I could never hope to remember and asks me to do the same thing for him. He’ll point at something and tell me the word in Burmese and I’ll repeat it, then I’ll tell him what it is in English and he’ll repeat it. We’re both getting better with our pronunciation but aren’t able to remember many of the words we teach each other. He’s taught me to say “la dey” which means beautiful and is a really handy word when meeting people. The kids have also taught me to say “piaw la?” (are you happy?) and “piaw dey” (yes, I am happy).
Tang Gala has a lot of responsibility for an 11 year old, he takes care of his siblings far more than his parents do. There are always parents and other adults around in the village but they never seem to pay much attention to the kids. The kids could be punching each other, or be running barefoot on broken glass, or babies could be putting garbage in their mouths, and nobody seems to do anything about it. It drives me crazy.
5: Today I was getting ready to head back to my dorm from the kids’ house when Sayadaw (the head monk at the meditation centre) walked by with a group of monks, nuns, and visitors. I had never seen him in the village before, I’d only ever seen him sitting cross legged by his collection of Buddha statues in the admin office. As he walked by the village people scrambled to stand facing him side by side in a line. They placed the palms of their hands together as he passed. The kids and I did the same thing as the others. Sayadaw and his group of followers continued on walking very slowly and talking quietly amongst themselves. This experience really made me aware of the rift between the Sangha (community of monks and nuns etc) and the villagers. I don’t mean to paint Sayadaw ThaBarWa or the Sangha at his monastery in a negative light, after all the money they raise goes to feeding and housing 3000 needy people. But I can’t help my gut reaction to seeing dirt poor people line up and pray to a person because they’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time in silent meditation. Maybe I’ve been socially conditioned so that any kind of religious idolatry immediately puts my bullshit-radar in the red zone. Gut reaction noted, and in the folder for further contemplation.
6: Today was my last day at the ThaBarWa centre. I didn’t tell the kids that I intend on coming back later this month. I don’t know enough Burmese language to explain to them that I don’t have solid plans, but mostly I don’t want to risk disappointing them.
When I go to meet the kids I usually find them playing near the corner where their mother sells fried food and their father sits against the wall chewing betel nut*. Today when I got to the corner nobody was there so I continued on towards their house. I found them outside playing in the grass. We said our usual hellos and Soro Sati reached up to me. I picked her up and bounced her but she was more squirmy and inconsolable than usual. Tang Gala pointed to her and put his hand to his mouth and said “no”. At first I didn’t understand. They had never complained about being hungry before. I asked Tang Gala over and over again: “No food? No food?”, and over and over again he nodded. The four kids crowded around me with big concerned eyes and said “no money, no food”. I told myself it must have been a misunderstanding, I had a moment of denial followed by a moment of panic. I looked down at these four little faces. I felt the baby wriggle in my arms. I suddenly felt responsible for these kids when all I had signed up for was to be their friend. I felt the world closing in around me. I went into a downward spiral where I feared for my freedom and my future. Then I felt selfish and guilty. I was surrounded by hungry children and my instinct had been to worry for my own life.
In the span of less than a minute I watched myself descend into fear, guilt and delusion, and then return back to reality as if waking up from a nightmare. I asked Tang Gala where his parents were and he explained that his mom had gone to Yangon and then he pointed to his house and said “my father”.
Until today I hadn’t had any interactions with the kids’ dad. As I mentioned I would see him sitting behind his wife chewing betel nut when I went to pick up the children and that’s it. I had heard the house builders gossip about the father being lazy and negligent but I hadn’t witnessed it for myself so I had given him the benefit of the doubt. Until today.
The man must have heard Tang Gala and I talking because shortly after, he came out of the house adjusting his longi* and squinting in the sun. He smiled at me and I smiled back as I walked towards him. I said “No food?” and pointed to the kids. He pretended not to know what I was talking about. I could feel my smile fading fast. The father sat on the front steps and lit a cigarette, his eyes were full of sleep and his longi was barely on tight enough to conceal him. I continued to explain and sign that his children were hungry and he continued to pretend he didn’t understand me. I was full of disgust and contempt as I stared at him. I gathered up a gob of saliva in my mouth that I desperately wanted to spit in his face. I restrained myself. It wouldn’t have made him get a job or feed his children, and I don’t know what he would have done. But my expression made it perfectly clear that I was repulsed by him as he continued to smile lazily and feign ignorance. My fear and guilt had transformed into burning rage.
When I emerged from my blind hatred I found myself walking away from the house with the kids in tow. I didn’t know where I was taking them and I was overwhelmed. Out of habit we walked to the corner where we would usually meet their parents, which happens to be in front of a dining hall where monks, nuns and foreigners eat. Tang Gala motioned to the dining hall and I considered the possibility of taking them in to eat. I knew that usually they wouldn’t be allowed in this dining hall, I had often seen them peering in through the window waving at me and other foreigners having lunch. Meals are a meditative process for monks and nuns and I understand why they don’t allow neighbourhood children to disturb them. If you let one kid in you have to let all of them in, and it could easily become a chaotic free for all. I didn’t feel comfortable asking to bring the kids in to eat with me, but I also felt that I couldn’t let them go without a meal. Looking back I probably should have brought them to a restaurant, but since I had never eaten at a restaurant in the village, and I never carried cash on me, it didn’t even cross my mind.
I was sitting on the corner with the kids, stressed by the decision I had to make, when a woman emerged from the double doors of the dining hall. She was someone that I had often spoken to in English, and she worked in the dining hall. Me and my posse walked over to her and I explained the situation. I told her I was taking care of these kids and that they were hungry. I said I was sorry to ask her to make an exception to the rules. Tang Gala explained the situation in Burmese. She must have read my emotional distress because she nodded and smiled and said we could all come in.
A sea of bald monk heads turned when the five of us walked in. The room fell silent except for the kids foot steps and squeals of excitement. I could tell they felt like royalty walking into the dining hall and I couldn’t blame them. If I was accustomed to squatting on a palm mat around a communal pot of rice, I would feel like the queen of Versailles in a clean hall full of plastic chairs and fluorescent lighting. I couldn’t tell whether the stares I was getting from the monks and nuns were heart-warmed and encouraging, or irritated by their space being invaded. It can be hard to read the emotions of experienced meditators.
We were lead to a table where I sat Soro Sati on my lap and Chag Gala, the four year old boy, beside me. We were served bowl after bowl of different curries and the kids devoured their food. I fed Soro Sati with one hand and tried to keep Chag Gala in his seat with the other. The ladies who served us smiled sweetly at me and brought us plates of treats and fruit at the end of our meal. There was food all over the floor when we got up to leave and I tried to clean it up at least a little bit. The ladies said I shouldn’t bother and told me that I had done a good thing by bringing them. Indeed we were treated like royalty.
After lunch I was due to join a lesson in basic Buddhism in the foreigner’s building. I walked the kids back to their house feeling accomplished and happy that I had fed them, but solemn with the knowledge that all I had given them was a quick fix. I couldn’t give them a father that would take care of them, or a reliable source of food, or knowledge of basic hygiene, and much less could I give them the long term emotional support and affection that they’re hungry for. I’ve given them my attention for a few weeks but I can’t give them the opportunities that they deserve and it breaks my heart. I’ve imagined Tang Gala becoming a great musician one day, and I’ve imagined Leche Mi, and Soro Sati going to university, or travelling the world, or doing anything more than being dirt poor house wives. It brought tears to my eyes, and does once again as I write this.
7: After two weeks of travelling around Myanmar, I came back to ThaBarWa and visited the kids. They didn’t know that I would be coming back and they were so excited that they treated me like a resurrected saint. They hugged my legs and Tang Gala’s face lit up like a search light. It only occurred to me at this moment that I might be his first unattainable crush.
Today was one of the first times that I had witnessed all six family members together under their little roof. The mother invited me in and the father lay snoozing along one walls of the house. My rage towards him had mostly dissipated, but nonetheless I was happy not to interact with him. The rest of us sat knee to knee in their tiny house. The kids crowded around me and their mother and I struggled to communicate about my recent travels. She told me that they came to Myanmar from India when Tang Gala was small and that she has another son who lives there still. Then she asked me something that stunned me. She asked me if I would take her children to Canada with me. At first I didn’t understand her, like when the kids told me they were hungry, I couldn’t accept what I was hearing. First she asked about Soro Sati. The woman asked me if I would take her baby away to a foreign country!! What?! I was shocked and didn’t know how to answer. I explained that I was too young to have a baby, that I couldn’t possibly take her baby from her. Then she pointed to Tang Gala, and said “work” and did a hammer-swinging motion. She thought that perhaps if I wouldn’t take Soro Sati, I would take her eldest son because he could start working soon. The boy is 11. WHAT?!
After explaining that there was no way I could take any of her children back to Canada with me, the mother understood and brushed it off as if it had been no big deal. She and her kids hugged me and told me they loved me and asked when I would be coming back. I told them I didn’t know, maybe in ten years. I gave them my email address and it occurred to me only later that they don’t have access to the Internet (duh). Maybe one day they will, and maybe Tang Gala will hold onto that little piece of paper that I wrote my email on.
When I walked away from the house for the last time it felt like a scene from a movie. I turned back over and over to see the four kids and their mother standing in a clump out front of their house waving and blowing kisses at me. I smiled and blew kisses back. When I turned the corner and out of sight I burst into tears.
8: I’ve never felt the need to be rich. I have everything and more than I need in my life. But since meeting these kids I’ve dreamt of winning the lottery or becoming a CEO instead of a songwriter. If I was rich I would go back to Myanmar and pick up Soro Sati, and Tang Gala, and Leche Mi, and Chag Gala and take them travelling around the world. In reality my money would be put to better use by donating to Myanmar’s whole education system, but my own personal desire is to show these kids the world and give them the opportunities that I was given as a child.
*Pali: Ancient Indian language spoken in the Buddha’s time. Most Buddhist literature is written in Pali.
*Pagoda: A large bell-shaped shrine used for meditation or other Buddhist ritual. Many are painted gold, some are adorned with real gold and precious jewels, and some are said to hold relics of Siddhartha Gotama himself. There is a massive pagoda in downtown Yangon called Shwedagon Pagoda which is said to contain some of Siddhartha’s hair.
*Sayalay Aloka: ‘Sayalay’ means ‘nun’ and ‘Aloka’ means ‘light’.
*Longi: A longi is a simple piece of fabric sewed together at the ends to make a loop. Both men and women wear them wrapped tightly around their hips as a skirt. Men’s longis are usually made out of dark coloured dress shirt material and are tied in a knot at the front of their body, this knot is used as a pocket for money. Women’s longis are wrapped and tucked in on the side (the way you might wrap a towel around yourself). The fabrics used for women’s longis can be simple but are often hand woven with intricate patterns and beautiful bright colours.
*Betel nut: A bright red nut that is chopped into pieces and wrapped in a leaf along with a number of other plants, sometimes including tobacco. This little leaf wrap is chewed all day long by almost all men and most older women. I’ve heard it causes an awesome head rush. This addiction has a few unfortunate side effects. First of all, the streets everywhere in Myanmar are covered in bright red betel nut spit. Secondly, it’s pretty gross being spit on accidentally. It’s happened to me more than once (one time in the back of a moving pick up truck when the driver spat out the window). The third and most unfortunate symptom of the betel nut is that at least half the population of Myanmar has dyed red, rotten, and missing teeth. Teeth brushing doesn’t seem to be within most people’s realm of awareness or budget.