Happy Valentine’s Day from Singapore – By Lydian Shipp
Asia Myanmar Southeast Asia

Happy Valentine’s Day from Singapore – By Lydian Shipp

Meeting and falling in love with a Burmese boy was not in my plans for this trip. Totally unexpected. I didn’t think in a million years that I’d be going home a married woman. But at the same time that I’m totally shocked, it makes sense. And I’m happy about it. Very happy.

When we started this trip, I was unsure of why the hell I was even going to Southeast Asia in the first place. On the bus from Guanajuato to Mexico City, I cried about leaving home because I didn’t want to go (it was like I was homesick before I’d even left). I spent most of the trip (until Myanmar) in a state of despair about what I was doing and why I was doing it. In the bustling pollution of each new massive metropolis we visited, I searched for a purpose to it all. Was the purpose of this trip to wind down and take some chill time? To learn more about health? To form a system for managing our vacation rental business from afar? The reason didn’t seem forthcoming.

In Bangkok, two days before our flight to Mandalay, my dad and I walked to a convenience store together to get some Happy Fun Snacks for the night. We’d both been looking at our upcoming trip to Myanmar, and we talked about a vegetarian restaurant called The Moon that we’d both found in Bagan. We agreed that Bagan looked like a really cool place. Much cooler than Mandalay. When we got back to our studio apartment, we all decided (together, of course) to change our reservations to stay in Bagan for three nights instead of only one. From Bangkok, the idea of spending some time in a rural village was exciting and something to look forward to.

Sometimes I sneakily take pictures of me and Naing Naing to send to Mom and Dad… this is one I took from a coffeeshop. At the beginning of this trip, I would’ve been terrified if I’d known that my parents would fly all the way back to Mexico and I’d choose to stay in Myanmar (of all places) with a man I’d known for approximately 2 weeks. But, it’s worth it. VERY worth it.

When we got to Bagan, I went up to the terrace of our hotel and stared out at the sunset. From the moment we arrived in Bagan, my parents and I agreed that it looked like the type of place we could live in (a thought that worried us a bit, since the only other place we’d ever felt that way about was Guanajuato). And indeed, it’s a gorgeous place. Staring out at the fields of temples in the golden light, I imagined briefly how it would feel to be standing there alone, but then to have my husband walk up behind me, put his hand on my back, and stand with me watching the sky. The thought made me tear up (how the hell would I ever get married if I kept traveling to far flung places like Myanmar?). I chided myself briefly for the emotion, went back downstairs to the hotel room to gather up my phone and jacket, and then my parents and I walked to The Moon restaurant.

I was just excited about the food, to be honest. I didn’t expect anything  from The Moon except a brief reprieve from cooking with the steamer and maybe some blog-worthy dishes. The candle light was a nice touch. The open air design and the full moon was also cool. It would make a good photo op.

Looking through the menu, the Coconut Curry caught my eye first. As I discussed the menu with my mom and dad, I was acutely aware of the waiter standing close to our table next to a menu of specials. Usually, coconut milk has stuff in it I can’t eat (namely, preservatives), so I figured it wasn’t worth the risk getting something with coconut milk, but my mom encouraged me to ask the young man about the Coconut Curry instead of being shy. So, I tentatively wandered toward him into the uncomfortable zone of discussing Things I Can’t Eat.

I was already nervous about asking about the coconut milk (silly, I know), but I was even more nervous when I realized that the waiter (whose face had been hidden by the shadows of the candlelight) was cute. At first, I thought he was from Australia because of his accent, and I felt momentarily stupid for stating my questions slowly and simply to account for the very likely possibility that he didn’t understand English very well. My mom noticed his accent right away and asked where he was from, to which he replied jokingly “I don’t know”. Which of course made us laugh. He told us he’d picked up English from visiting foreigners (a pretty damn impressive feat).

The rest of the night, I kept trying to catch the Cute Waiter-Boy’s eye. I saw him watching me once, and reflexively I looked away quickly. Later that night, around 3AM, I woke up in the hotel room and turned this moment over and over in my mind. I thought about this boy and how I’d looked away from him when he’d looked at me.  I thought about how I hadn’t smiled at him and how I should’ve. Laying there, staring up at the ceiling, I had this vision of the boy at the restaurant feeling and looking dejected because I hadn’t smiled at him. The thought nagged at me. I couldn’t let it go. And hours later, after I was officially wide awake, I thought it was weird how I was so caught up in this tiny gesture, this look that had failed to express my  interest. I tried to let it go. But I couldn’t. I spent the rest of the night going over it and over it.

I resolved that the next day to catch his eye and smile so he’d know that I liked him.

After that first night, I insisted that we go back to The Moon for every single meal for the rest of our time in Bagan. Even on the second day of our visit when I knew there was another Moon Vegetarian Restaurant in Old Bagan close to a temple we were visiting, I quietly kept the information to myself and suggested (pretty smoothly, I think) that we get a tuk-tuk to go back to New Bagan so we could get lunch (at The Moon in New Bagan). No regrets, but I’m sure it looked a bit funny to some people. I didn’t care. I was on a mission.

As we were wandering around New Bagan during our third day in Myanmar, I talked with my mom about the Cute Waiter Boy. She said that I was too focused on looks, which is something we’d been talking about for a while (long story). I glumly agreed, but compromised on the whole thing by saying that I was gonna keep cuing this boy for my own entertainment, if nothing else. He was cute and he seemed nice. So why not?

At lunch, the Cute Waiter Boy was at first nowhere to be seen. I was disappointed. But when we got our food, he emerged out of nowhere to snatch our fruit plate from another waiter to deliver it directly into my hands. It was a chivalrous gesture that required some courage. He said something (which I can’t remember now) that was complimentary and utterly flattering. It was a brave move to make in front of my parents no less.  So I shot him a coy look and accepted the fruit plate with a smile.

I had made up for my Lack of a Look from the day before. Things were back on track.

My mom (again) encouraged me on the next step. I was so nervous, I don’t know if I would’ve done a lot of this of my own accord, so I’m very glad she encouraged me. Before we left to go back to our hotel after lunch, she suggested I get the Cute Waiter Boy’s contact information so that we could stay in touch. Her thought was that if I mentioned to the boy that we liked Bagan and planned to return, it wouldn’t be weird to ask for contact info.

So I walked back to the bathroom with my mom (I didn’t really need to go, it was an excuse to look for an opportunity to approach), and on the way I spotted the Cute Waiter Boy play-wrestling with one of the other waiter boys. I braced myself, took a deep breath, and walked up to him as the other waiter boy walked away.

“Hey, uh, I was wondering, what’s your name?”

(That was my lame start, I continued with an even lamer “I really like Bagan, can I get your email?”)

Anyway, I learned that his name was Naing Naing (pronounced Nine-Nine), and then he gave me his email. My hands were shaking noticeably as I handed him my phone to get his email address (seriously, I almost dropped the phone entirely).

At the hotel, I sat with my computer on my lap for at least half an hour staring at a short message I had typed up to Naing Naing. Should I send it? I looked over at my mom for support on sending an email so soon. She said it wasn’t weird, and to go for it. So I sent the email, which was basically an attempt to get connected on Facebook. Within the hour Naing Naing had sent me a friend request (which I, of course, promptly accepted).

We went back to The Moon (again) for dinner. At the end of dinner, my parents decided that they’d go to the bathroom and leave me at the table alone to pay the bill and to see if Naing Naing would take the bait and approach me. For the record, they did actually have to use the bathroom… which is interesting it worked out that way, but anyways.

One of the other waiters working at the restaurant took the money for the bill (I later discovered this other waiter boy was one of Naing Naing’s good friends). I sat there at the table thinking my big opportunity had passed, the bill had been delivered, the ship had sailed. Any hope or possibility of anything happening with the Cute Waiter Boy had disappeared. But then as I was sitting there, staring sadly at the purple and blue cloth napkin, I heard footsteps from behind me. I turned around just in time to see Naing Naing stumble over a chair as he walked up to our table.

We talked until my parents came back to the table, and then we went and sat on a bench right outside the restaurant to talk for the next two hours about… all the important stuff. Religion, marriage, children, lifestyle. Other stuff. By the end of the night, my only thought was that I’d never find anyone like Naing Naing ever again. It gave me hope and it made me sad at the same time. He gave me a ride back to my hotel on his scooter (a very sweet and, again, brave thing to do, given that the police sometimes stop locals who give foreigners rides on their motorcycles or scooters). When I climbed off the scooter in front of the hotel and looked back at Naing Naing to thank him for driving me home, I noticed a sad, wistful look cross his face that described exactly the way I felt.

I went back upstairs to the hotel room, and he went back to The Moon.

I laid in bed that night fully awake, tossing and turning. I couldn’t contain my excitement, but I tried to contain it anyway. Every time the thought entered my mind that I probably would never see Naing Naing  again after we left Myanmar, I pushed it away. That couldn’t be true. But that was how it was, right? We were leaving right after lunch the next day. What other choice was there?

The next morning though, my mom again encouraged me to “go for it” and walk over to The Moon restaurant by myself to see if Naing Naing would be able to hang out and talk for a while before we left. (Thank you Mom) She mentioned that I could ask him about coming to Mexico, and see what his response was. I thought that the idea seemed pretty wild, but I decided to go with it. It couldn’t hurt to mention the possibility. Worst case scenario, Naing Naing would completely reject the idea I’d sit there and read my book or we’d flirt and then I’d eat lunch and leave. It couldn’t hurt to be brave and go for it. Who knows?

So I walked over to The Moon. I got lost on the way actually, but I found it eventually. Staring at the pink flowers that adorned the front of the restaurant, I again took a deep breath and prepared myself. What if he thought I was weird or clingy for coming back to see him? Would he still like me this morning? The thought struck me suddenly that the pink flowers were like the pink flowers in Guanajuato that cover the old stone edifices all around town. I walked through the entryway and situated myself at a table in the sun.

Finally, someone to be weird and silly with… even amidst the chaos, trials, and turbulations of being stuck in Singapore while we wait to get married.

I brought my Kindle, fully expecting I’d end up sitting there alone sipping a juice, reading my book. But after about 1 minute of reading on my Kindle, Naing Naing appeared at the table and sat down with me. I got a papaya juice, and I sat there and drank my papaya juice while doing a very brief overview of my idea where he could come live with me in Mexico so we could get to know each other. Now, I’m simplifying here, but basically… well, he said yes.

And so here we are in Singapore 3 weeks later, waiting to set a date to get married.

I can hardly believe any of this happened… but I’m so incredibly happy, there’s no other way I could’ve set this whole thing up. What I mean is, how could this have happened? I don’t know. As complex and uncomfortable and stressful this State of Exile is to me and Naing Naing (and to my parents) as we navigate the turbulent waters of government bullshit to get Naing Naing a visa to come to Mexico, I haven’t been this happy in a long time. I feel like I can figure anything out as long as Naing Naing and I can be together. We’re a team, and a pretty damn good one at that. We haven’t been together long, but we’ve had to work with some intense stuff over these three weeks, and we’ve both endured it admirably. I’m extremely proud to be getting married to this man.

It’s exactly what I would’ve wanted, and it’s perfect in its own special, unique way.

Related Posts:

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On Leaving Lydian Behind in Burma

Dear Lydian: The Politics of Love–A Short Tutorial on Visas and Immigration

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Working Toward Yes: Crossing the Most Important Borders

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Bagan, Myanmar: The Inner and Outer Realities of Place

Lydian and Naing Naing: In Myanmar

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