When I visit a country and look for readings, I avoid books by foreign writers. It’s a little silly because great writers aren’t bound by their nationality, but for some reason I still feel like I’d get more of an insiders’ view by reading national authors. In Burma, unfortunately not many books by Burmese are available in English translations, except for those by Aung San Suu Kyi. And because of another silly thinking, I avoid those too. So I ended up with these 3: Burmese Days by George Orwell, Burmese folktales, and the Burmans by Shway Yoe (Sir J.G. Scott).

I started with Burmese Days. Orwell’s very first novel is not nearly as well known and well read as Animal Farm or 1984, but you don’t need to flip far to catch his insight and his odd wittiness. Right on the first page, this is his description of the local official U Po Kyin: “He was a man of fifty, so fat that for years he had not risen from his chair without help, and yet shapely and even beautiful in his grossness; for the Burmese do not sag and bulge like white men, but grow fat symmetrically, like fruits swelling.”

At the political level, the story deals with imperialism and the natives-colonists relationship. At the human nature level, it deals with the essence of our existence, the loneliness we face as we turn inward and the consuming desire for companionship and connection that can gnaw you to death. And this is what touches me the most. I cried for Flory, unattractive, weathered, jaded, stuck between his understanding of his own flaws and his desire to be loved regardless, stuck between the British world that looks down on the natives and his appreciation of the Burmese culture and people. He needs that one person: a girl who sees his birthmark and does not away, a girl who is British and can go to the local market and enjoy a show among the dark faces. Someone to rescue him from the humiliating British club’s circle jerk, to share his time in the jungle, his books, his thoughts, his feelings, his existence.