Temple children in Bagan can be as young as four or five years old, though the average age is about fourteen or fifteen. They are taught to recite the history of a particular temple in either Burmese or English without a missing a single beat.They seek out tourists and visitors to practice their trade and earn money for their family. Usually, they expected about 500-1000 kyat, or more if they are hired to follow you around the whole day. Note, the monetary conversion come out to $0.50 to $1.00. Our guide asked for 10,000 kyats ($10). My aunt and uncle thought it was too much, but I was almost livid at the complaint. Ten dollars? I can spare more than that. The lunches I eat can cost more than that.
I was uncomfortable with having a child workers and I wanted to avoid it when I could (there are times restaurants have 10 year old working as waiters and I can’t avoid it). My mom, however, told me that they usually depend on the money from the work they do.
We gave out a lot of money to the kids. They swarmed us fighting for a chance to recite the history on their own. We handed out $4-5 a child (which is about 2-3 week wage for a majority of them), and for our own a guide, an androgynous teenager with orange hair, we paid $20 dollars plus snacks and meals. She was hesitant to accept any more from us, so we let her be, not wanting to offend her.
I look very Burmese, with my dark skin and what my mom calls “country-girl” features. Slap on a longyi and I could have just come up from a village. I also speak exclusively Burmese when I’m in Burma, never letting on I was American unless my relatives very (proudly) and loudly declare I was. The difference in treatment is astounding.
Anyways, some Burmese people can tell by the way I speak and walk and do things I’m not exactly native, but other foreigners can’t. Sometimes they speak English or French near me, thinking that I wouldn’t understand. While I mostly hear a lot of really amusing things or complaints about the heat (something I sympathize with. I’m a spoiled Californian), there were a handful of times white tourists have been plain nasty and racist.
They complained about the kids asking them if they wanted a tour, or the people on the streets trying to sell them stuff. They turn their nose up at local customs and cuisines and spend their time in their wonderfully air conditioned luxury hotels. While I don’t begrudge them for the last bit (because I am guilty of being obsessed with the AC while in Burma), the rest of it pissed me off to no end.
Damn white people. A lot of British people there too—I mean, did you guys forget you colonized the country and plundered its good and had a hand in its political instability. Did you conveniently forget that the country you’re vacationing is so poor and destitute that your throwaway 1000 kyat note can feed them two meals? How dare these people act like they’re above the poverty they’ve benefited from?
Anyways, mini-rant done