I first ventured to Myanmar in 2010, and quickly found myself drawn to the beauty of the country. I connected with the people, who I discovered to be peaceful, friendly, generous, polite, and able to find happiness in any circumstance. The Burmese greeted me with big, warm smiles, and there was always laughter and a playful sense of humor among friends. I returned again in 2011, 2014, and 2015.
I traveled to explore and learn more about the culture and various ethnic groups of the people within Myanmar; I photographed the people I encountered hoping to reveal something about their personality and way of life.
Given my interest in different religious practices from around the world, I hoped to meet some Buddhist monks on my first trip to Myanmar. I was overwhelmed by the friendliness and hospitality of Burmese from the moment I arrived in Yangon. I sought out monasteries and temples in various cities and towns and was proudly shown around the monasteries where the monks reside. On a number of occasions I was invited to eat with them. The monks were hospitable and friendly, and the novice monks curious and playful. I aimed to capture these moments alongside the meditative and contemplative characteristics which are fundamental to Buddhism.
There are other fascinating components of the culture in Myanmar, aside from the strong presence of Buddhism. Many people, both men and women, wear the traditional longyi, a cloth sewn into a cylindrical shape that wraps around the waist and extends down to the feet. Thanaka paste is applied to the faces of women, children, and sometimes men. Made from a tree root ground down and mixed with water, the yellowish-white paste is applied to the face, and sometimes arms, and is used to keep the skin smooth, healthy, and protected from the sun. It is also worn for decoration, especially among young people who decorate their faces with different patterns.
There is something to be said about the innate sense of generosity of the Burmese people. Perhaps it is a reflection of the Buddhist philosophies and principles that are strongly integrated into their culture and way of life. I was frequently offered assistance, food, gifts, or invited to join locals for tea or company. A lady sitting next to me on a bus bought me peanuts; monks gave me tours around their monasteries or English books about Buddhism to keep; children gave me sweets; a family invited me to spend the afternoon and eat with them. I was looked after and no one expected anything in return.
Because of Myanmar, I have learned to appreciate beauty and diversity. I also learned that the happiest people on this earth may not be those with most monetary wealth. Myanmar is a country I know I will continue to visit throughout my life.