Pico Iyer on decades of letters to a man he met, once, in Myanmar

Pico Iyer in Guernica:

Travel is, deep down, an exercise in trust, and sometimes I think it was you who became my life’s most enduring teacher. I had every reason to be wary when, in 1985, I clambered out of the overnight train and stepped out into the October sunshine of Mandalay, blinking amidst the dust and bustle of the “City of Kings.” I wasn’t reassured as you sprang out of the rickety bicycle trishaw in which you’d been sleeping, as you did every night, and I don’t think the signs along the sides of your vehicle — b.sc. (maths) and my life — put my mind very much to rest.

To me it seemed like a bold leap of faith — a shot in the dark — to allow a rough-bearded man in a cap to pedal me away from the broad main boulevards and into the broken backstreets, and then to lead me into the little hut where you shared a tiny room with a tired compatriot. Yes, you gave me a piece of jade as we rode and disarmed me with the essays you’d written and now handed me on how to enjoy your town. But I’d grown up on stories of what happens when you’re in a foreign place and recklessly neglect a mother’s advice to never accept gifts from strangers.

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