Today was a really hard day as a vegan.
It started in the morning when I got a strawberry juice from a local restaurant. I tried my best to communicate that I wanted no milk or sugar, but the waiter didn’t understand English.
The juice arrived. It was made with condensed milk. I felt bad that they had gone through the trouble of making it, and it was just going to go to waste, so I had a sip of it. It was overly sweet– I don’t know how anyone could have drank the entire glass.
After that failure, we went to Yes! Cafe for coffee.
My coffee came with milk. I decided to just drink it anyway since it was a tiny amount of milk.
Then we went to Grandma Cafe for lunch. I got kimchi bibimguksu (cold noodles with kimchi). I’m pretty sure the kimchi wasn’t vegan since it usually has some fish, but I only remembered that after I ordered it.
At 2 pm we got in a van to Bagan. We stopped every 10-20 minutes: to let passengers on and off, to pick up cargo, to get gas, to talk to friends, to change a tire, to buy a new tire, to take pee breaks, and to take food breaks.
At one point a new guy came on and sat next to Hannah and I. During one of our many stops, he walked into a local shop and came back with a gift for us: condensed milk fudge. It was obviously not vegan, but I ate a piece anyway as to not be rude.
For dinner, I had vegetable kimbap (Korean sushi) that I had bought from Grandma Cafe earlier to take on the road with me. The kimbap had little pieces of egg in it, which I removed with my chopsticks. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I probably would not have done that if I was in New York. I first would have made sure there were no eggs before I bought it, and if I knew there were, I probably would not have bought it and just gotten something else.
We eventually got to Bagan around 11 pm and got in a (very overpriced) cab to our hostel.
I don’t even know if I’m even vegan anymore. Myanmar has made me SUPER relaxed because of the language barrier. Even if you say no milk, no eggs, no fish, whatever, the waiters will nod and act like they know what you are saying when they really don’t. And then, there’s no point sending it back and asking for a new meal because they won’t understand that either.
My approach now is to just try my best and accept whatever happens. I know that I could be better– I could have not drank the coffee with milk, not eaten the likely non-vegan kimchi, or refused the gift from our bus friend, but I’ve realized that it means more to me to not be wasteful or rude than to be 100% strict vegan. At least while traveling in a country with very limited English skills.
I think it has been really eye-opening and meaningful for me to go through this. I was living in a bit of a bubble before, where it was super easy for me to draw lines and say to myself, “I eat this, not that.” I could easily exclude things or add things in, but it’s not so easy to do that in a country where very few people are vegan or know what veganism is. It also makes it doubly hard when we can’t communicate with each other.
I’ve learned to take my mistakes lightly– shake it off, maybe laugh about it a little, and move on. Maintaining a 100% vegan diet isn’t the most pressing thing in the world. There are bigger problems, and it’s important to let go of my ego and recognize that.