This morning I caught a bus from Hpa-an to Yangon, Myanmar. A handful of other foreigners boarded the bus with me, but got off a few hours later. After that, it seemed I was the only foreigner for the rest of the seven-hour journey.
We stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. Outside near the entrance to the restaurant there was a large stone sink with a bar of soap and I took the opportunity to wash my hands.
Suddenly behind me I heard a voice say, “Hey you!” Thinking I had done something wrong, I turned around and a smiling young man in a longyi said, “What do you want?” I looked at him in confusion, then he said, “To eat, you want rice?” Gratefully, I told him yes, I wanted rice with vegetables, no meat, and some tofu if they had any.
I wasn’t sure if he understood me, but within minutes a woman brought out a plate of vegetables and tofu in a tasty sauce, and a minute later another waitress set on my table some steaming rice in a big bowl, from which she served me. A few minutes later they brought a clear spinach broth, and then came some lentil soup, like a thick and very mildly spiced Indian daal. The meal was great, but to top it all off they sent a pretty young woman to wave a fan while standing beside my table.
Meanwhile, the restaurant staff and the other bus passengers looked on curiously at this strange alien being (me) speaking a weird language. It was all too much!
My meal cost 2000 kyat (about $2 US). As I would in the USA after receiving excellent service, I left a tip, and a very modest one too. (So far I had gathered that tipping wasn’t customary here, but I felt giving a little extra was no real sacrifice for me but might be helpful to those who had much less than I did).
One of the servers tried to give the money back to me as I was leaving, and I explained that it was for the staff. She looked confused as she held the 200 kyat note (about 20 cents US) as if it were a delicate and precious jewel that did not belong to her, and walked away in the direction of her colleagues, presumably to ask them whatever in the world she should do about the crazy foreigner who wouldn’t take his own money with him.