On my last evening in Bagan, Myanmar, there was a sunset to remember!What made the evening even more special was that I decided to give my copy of The Country That Shook as a present. (I’ve been carrying the sample book with me since we collected it in August in Shenzhen, China.)
Ei Ei and her family have made my time in Bagan even more incredible than expected. I met them on my second morning, when Pete was feeling a bit under the weather so I went out for sunrise by myself. I was aiming for Buledi, a temple I’d read was good for sunrise views, but I turned off the road too early and ended up at Temple 1174. Ei Ei’s father is the key holder to this temple and her family live in a small shack just outside. Her five siblings range in age from one and a half to twenty.
It wasn’t like most of the other temples where you get hounded to buy something from the people who live and work around it, they just smiled and welcomed me in. After the sun had come up that first time Ei Ei and her sister climbed up to the top with me and talked for ages in the early morning warmth.
Ei Ei is only eleven but she’s already left school and earns a bit of money by selling souvenirs at the temples. Eventually she’d like to be a tour guide and perhaps even design her own clothes to sell around Bagan, but these kind of things require money to start. Her English is amazing and she’s pretty confident too.
We went back to their beautiful 11th century temple at least six times. Her mum put traditional thanaka make-up on me, then they helped me buy my own. They’ve given me locally crafted presents, invited us to eat green tea salad with them, a traditional Myanmar dish, and explained loads to me about their lives in Bagan in their incredible English. All this amazing hospitality when they live in a small shack with no running water and a bit of electricity really blew me away.I wanted to show them how grateful I was and realised that The Country That Shook was the most personal gift I could give right now. I think it feels even more apt because this is an area that often suffers from earthquakes; their last big one in 1975 did a huge amount of damage.
As soon as we got it out of the bag Ei Ei was like ‘What is that? Can I see?’ And when I explained that it was for her, her face lit up and she started flicking through it. Immediately she asked for a pen and started writing on one of the pages in Burmese, it turned out she was writing our names and the date so she’d remember whenever she looked.
I don’t think I ever expected to be so touched to see someone doodling on my hard work!
For the next 15 minutes we flicked through it in torchlight, held by Ei Ei’s little sister, stopping to write notes and for us to practice writing our names in Burmese too. Her mum and big sister came over too, laughing and chatting with us.
It was such a special moment and I felt so glad to have made the decision to give away the book and to see it bring even a few minutes of happiness.