On our last night in Kalaw, Myanmar, our group and I were headed to the Nepali/Indian restaurant in town. It had good reviews on TripAdvisor, and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. After arriving at the location we noticed the place was dark and closed for the night. Lucky for us, our local guide had already arranged for an alternate dinner. After speaking with the owner he learned that the restaurant was closed due to the owner hosting a family/community get together in remembrance of her parents’ passing. She graciously invited us to attend, and we made our way from the restaurant to a local temple.
Arriving at the location we were quickly shuffled through loads of people, we being the only foreigners, to a dining area. Our table and bellies were quickly filled with the most delicious food. It was so rich, spicy, and vegetarian. My perfect trio. After dinner, we clumsily paid our respects to her parents and traditions and then found ourselves the center of attention. Even though there was a language barrier, we were greeted with smiles, laughter, and a warm welcome. They seemed genuinely happy to have us there. Since children have no barriers we were photographed, hugged, and surrounded by all of the lovely local kids.
After the entire gathering was served dinner, we were invited to stay for what we understood to be a "light ceremony." I decided to stick around, and I’m so glad that I did. The place quickly filled with lighted urns, smoke, chanting, music and dancing. The whole building was vibrating from the unified voices and movements of the people around me. I marveled at the women dancing and the families taking part in the festivities. This feeling of excitement and joy spread to every inch of the building and to every person inside.
It was one of the most wonderful experiences to be suddenly thrust into this community event with no expectations, and to be surprised by the outpouring of hospitality from the locals. I feel privileged to have taken part in this beautiful celebration, and it was probably the single most memorable night during my time in Asia. I walked home that night feeling exhilarated with the chanting still in my head, and I am humble and grateful for the special moments and people I encounter during my travels.