A Keyhole into Burma – What is McDonald’s?

“Please, may I ask you a question?” Kusala preceded every question with this solicitation of permission, like he hadn’t already been putting me through the question-answer ringer for 15 minutes.

“Yes Kusala. And you don’t have to ask me if you can ask me a question every time. I give you everlasting permission to ask me questions until we get back to my bike, OK?”

“I thank you. What is ‘McDonald’s'”?

I hesitated for a moment, staring at the sky as the young monk patiently waited for my reply. We were walking across U Bein’s Bridge, a 1.2 kilometer wooden bridge that connects Amarapura to Kyauktawgyi Paya, 11 kilometers outside of Mandalay. How do you explain a world famous franchise restaurant that sells questionable food, which may or may not be physically addictive, hawked by a clown with gender identity issues? It’s a tricky concept to illustrate, even when you have the full catalogue of the English language at your disposal, never mind when you’re limited to a few hundred, one and two syllable words.

The guy certainly had a lust for knowledge. We’d already covered a range of topics, including detailed questions about English grammar and comparisons between life in the U.S. and Burma. Just when I was thinking I’d like to take my leave and ride my half-busted rental bike back into Mandalay before Buddha’s return to Earth, he’d unloaded with his coup de grâce.


I offered my best, watered-down explanation, which wasn’t very good, while privately imagining what a precious thing a little ignorance-is-bliss can be. Think of it, a world without McDonald’s – or even the concept of fast food. How much is the visa to that place?

I stifled what probably would have been a very culturally insensitive joke, inquiring if Kusala might have a sister I could marry for citizenship, begged forgiveness for my lousy explanation and made a running mount of my bike before Kusala could ask me about Martha Stewart.

Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, contributed three stories to the upcoming anthology “To Myanmar (Burma) With Love: A Connoisseur’s Guide” published by Things Asian Press. His personal blog, Killing Batteries, and his staggeringly vast travelogue could fill a lifetime of unauthorized work breaks, if one were so inclined.