I am frugal, and sometimes can be incredibly cheap. In Myanmar, twice I embarrassed myself so much that I vowed to stop being so cheap when it really doesn’t matter.

First time, we ran into a novices-to-be party in downtown Sagaing. It’s a lavish ceremony for boys who are becoming novices and girls who are getting their ears pierced for the first time. They were all in horses and carriages, in bright pink and yellow clothing with lots of flowers and colorful accessories. They even hired clowns to entertain the crowd and we had a good time watching. I saw some bills stuck to the clowns chest and was told that’s money from the spectator, so I decided to take out some change to give them. I got a 200 kyat note (about $.02), and it was only when the money was being given that our driver/local guide saw and said that that amount of money is only appropriate for beggars, that clowns are proud of their job and they’d find it humiliating. I don’t get embarrassed easily, but at that moment, I just wanted to rewind the whole thing, or to go hide from the driver for a few hours till he forgot the whole incident.

Second time, we were leaving from our rundown guest house to the airport. Nancy had some heavy luggage and she was sick so I asked the 2 boy helpers to help us carry it downstairs. They are 14 at most, and speak English so we don’t talk much. But the few days there, we always found one another amusing. They taught me the numbers in Burmese, we watched a Muslim funeral procession late at night together. I decided to give them some money for helping us, and took out the change in my wallet, 4000 kyats, or 40 cents. I had more money, which I most likely wouldn’t even use at the airport. I could have easily given them a few dollars and it would have made no difference in my life. But it was only when the taxi drove off that these thoughts occurred to me, how incredibly cheap I was, for no good reason. I wanted to slap myself. I almost wanted to give money to the taxi driver to drop off at the guesthouse later, but I didn’t.

So lesson for 2014: be generous when people deserve it. Have to add in the condition because after all I live in Vietnam and if I’m not vigilant, I’d end up getting scammed day in and day out.

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