Saturday, July 11, 2015

Reminiscent of BARS

The following was adapted from what I have written for Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies 15th Anniversary Magazine.

When I first came to teach at BARS, I was just out of college and a young man full of energy thinking to change the world. I arrived in Myanmar on Dec 11, 2002. On that same day in the afternoon, I went to see the famous Dean of BARS, Saya Paw Lu.

I still remember the first day I went to the office of Saya Paw Lu. I was wearing a pair of short pants made out of Karen longyi sheet because it was so hot outside. I just switched from 0 degrees Fahrenheit in Indiana to 90 degrees in Yangon in a day. I went into the office and introduced myself to Saya Paw Lu. I will never forget the look on Saya's face seeing me in shorts. I guess I didn't look like a teacher, wearing shorts.

I became re-accustomed to the climate and culture in Myanmar and enjoyed the following two years at the Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT). I became friends with many BARS students, especially from the first batch just because some of them were about the same age as me. I enjoyed working with all the MIT staff. I spent a lot of time working with Thra Alan Po and Thra Klo Htoo at the library, setting up computer networks and fixing computers. I also enjoyed the linguistic diversity at MIT and it probably gave birth to my interest in linguistics (I went on to get a Masters in Linguistics after I left BARS and am now working as a computational linguist at Indiana University.) I learned a bit of Karen while working at MIT even though I couldn't say that I mastered it or any other languages.

In addition to learning about languages, I went to various parts of Myanmar on mission trips because MIT and BARS students were from all over the country. For example, volunteering to teach English and Maths in Nam Sam Yang, Kachin State, near the Chinese border, gave me an opportunity to travel to parts of the country where I had never been before. I treasured those trips, giving me an opportunity to understand the locals and share their lives.

One of my most treasured moments at MIT include teacher-honoring ceremonies. We enjoyed performances by both students and teachers. BARS students were multi-talented in many areas: music, dance and public speaking, just to name a few. So were our teachers. Everybody loved the performance by Saya Bob, Tony and OJ at one of the teacher-honoring ceremonies. They made up a funny song about their teaching experience and interaction with BARS students to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine."

Teacher Bob, Tony and OJ singing a song at the teacher honoring ceremony
Nevertheless, working at BARS wasn't without challenges. As a full time faculty of MIT, I was paid around 20,000 Kyats a month (equivalent of $20 at the time). I learned to live on a tiny salary while living in Yangon. I was able to make ends meet thanks to my uncles and aunts who live about 20 minutes walk from MIT, providing me room and board.

Since buses were so crowded in the evenings during rush hours, I would occasionally walk home and have a good conversation with MIT colleagues and BARS students, who accompanied me. We talked about theology, life, and various other topics. I always told people (if they asked) that I was here seeking for myself treasures in heaven, quoting Matthew 6:20.

Of course, after collecting tons of treasures in heaven, I had to leave for more studies and work experience.

I will always remember my time at BARS and the Myanmar Institute of Theology. It's the first place I ever worked full time as an adult. It taught me that changing the world was no easy task. Even though there were lots of challenges, I enjoyed working as a BARS teacher. I will always cherish that memory and hope to return and teach again in the future.
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