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Lost In Translation: One Confusing Afternoon In Yangon

“The wind blows from North to South!”

“The wind blows from North to South.”

A small breeze wafted past the cobwebbed windows, cooling our sweaty foreheads.

The sleepy fishing village of Dala, Yangon

This little wooden shack of a restaurant by the sea looked like a good place to stop for a breather. We’d been walking under the hot Burmese sun for a while now and a cold drink would be nice. Though the restaurant could use some lighting and a good dusting, the locals seem to like it, it’s rather full for a weekday afternoon.

“The wind blows from North to South,” an old man behind us repeated.

He was amused to see us in this corner of Yangon, Myanmar. Not many tourists come to Dala and even if they do, this restaurant don’t see many of them.

The crowd in the restaurant welcomed us with a curious grin, the same bewildered grin I had when we stumbled upon a shabby snooker house in the middle of this lazy fishing village. While we waited for an empty snooker table, the sweet transgender managers took selfies with us and struggled to explain the Burmese version of the game that somehow involved poker cards.

Lost in translation, we gave up waiting to play a game we didn’t understand and left to look for food. The ladies laughed at us as we politely said our goodbyes.

The shabby snooker house in Dala, Yangon

The shabby snooker house in the fishing village of Dala, Yangon

The day of aimlessly walking around Dala had been filled with weird discoveries like this. My favourite was a chain of watermelon-throwing men who expertly tossed heavy watermelon from one another to move the goods from boat to land.

A waitress came to take our orders but they didn’t serve any food. Tea? No, they don’t have tea. Coffee? Nope, don’t sell that either.

She walked to the back of the kitchen and returned with three bottles of coloured soda, we settled on the green one.

Chuckling to herself, she walked back to the kitchen. Her chuckles echoed everyone’s giggling and staring. Even the baby in the corner is laughing. Did we order a funny choice of drink? 

The only person who isn’t laughing is the old man behind us. He is busy informing us that the wind blows from North to South. It might be the only English he knows. Wearing jet black sunglasses and an old hat, he took a sip of his drink and continued speaking in a murky English I pretended to understand.

Outside, the brown sea looked peaceful and oddly refreshing.

A young fisherman

The table of young men next to us erupted in laughter. One jovial young chap came over and started talking to us in Burmese.

There were lots of smiling and nodding. A big happy nod from him as he friends looked on approvingly, and a small, very unsure nod from David and I.

The longyi-wearing chap gestured for us to join his table. “Come!” his hands said, “No, thank you,” our heads replied.

He held his beverage up to us and drank in honour of us. Or at least that’s what it looked like.

More laughing, gesturing and Burmese from the young chap. His friends laughed. He laughed. We don’t know why but now we’re laughing. “The wind blows from North to South.” More laughing and gesturing. Is he offering us snacks? What is that? No, no thank you, we have soda. Haha, yes, I don’t know what you’re saying but that’s very funny. “The wind blows from North to South.”

The waitress who is now playing with the baby looks on and now she laughs, this time it sounded like pity.

“David, what is happening!?” I cried to my fellow backpacker whom I had just met yesterday.

He shook his blonde head hopelessly. The Briton knew as much Burmese as I had in my pocket, but the little piece of paper scrunched up in my pocket didn’t have the translations to the conversation that is flying over our heads.

A grandfatherly man holding the baby suddenly piped up. He pointed at the young chap’s drink.

“Bh- Beh-yarrrr.. Behyar howse,” he said.   

The baby looked at us with eyes asking “Isn’t it obvious? You’re in a beer house.”

Yangon city in the background of Dala’s river view

Finally, all the laughing and wind-blowing made sense. These merry men weren’t making sense in the first place, they were just drunk. We’d been entertaining drunks all afternoon!

But that begs a question, why didn’t the waitress offer us beer?

David and I left as soon as we finished our soda. We’ve been stared at enough in the past hour to make us feel awkward for the entire year.

The cooling breeze wafted past us again as we stepped out of the dim ‘restaurant’. I looked up at the swaying tree leaves and you know what, the wind really is blowing from North to South.

Dala baby


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