Birgitte Weeke might just have the most genuine smile I have ever seen despite the fact that I’m late due to Yangon’s morning traffic.
She’s sipping coffee as she sits by the window in a modern café with cakes and quiches on display.
“52 this Christmas. Or 53. You would have to ask my son,” Birgitte laughs when I ask her about her age.
“I live one day at at time. If you live that way you won’t get stressed,” the Dane explains.
Back to Asia
Having worked for Carlsberg for 20 years, Birgitte admits that she misses working for the Danish brewing company.
It was a job that provided her with plenty of opportunities to satisfy her wish of exploring the world.
About 15 years ago, after badgering her boss for a posting, Birgitte was sent to Sri Lanka and then Cambodia, before she returned to Denmark.
The adventure-seeking marketing director from Lyngby in Northern Sealand got restless after a few years back in Carlsberg’s home country, however. She requested another posting and at a dinner party her boss told her, that she was going back to Asia.
“I had joked about going to Myanmar so when Carlsberg decided to build a brewery there, my boss told me to pack my bags,” Birgitte recalls.
That was in 2013.
From horse carriages to pollution
Years before, when she lived in Cambodia, Birgitte had visited Myanmar with a friend, so she was excited to go back.
“I was impressed by how beautiful the country was. Everybody was so sweet.”
But it was also a very different country she had visited as a tourist to what it is today.
“The development has been both good and bad. It hasn’t been good for the pollution. I’ve had to buy an air purifier. I just hope that they keep the green areas,” Birgitte says but adds, that people are just as welcoming and sweet as she remembered from her first visit.
The tourist-darling of Bagan, the famous area of innumerable stupas, temples and pagodas could only be visited by foot or horse carriages in the beginning of the century. Today, most people opt for electrical scooters.
“People were nervous to talk to us as tourists. They were scared that we were journalists as they could get in trouble for talking to the press.”
But Birgitte and her friend still had a few forbidden experiences such as when they drove close by the house of Aung San Suu Kyi in a taxi. At the time, the now State Counsellor was under house arrest, and the driver told the two tourists to hide their cameras so they wouldn’t get caught.
On another occasion Birgitte and her friend visited a temple where a monk was happy to talk to them and satisfy their curiosity.
“Pretend that I’m giving you a tour,” he had told the two friends while answering their questions. Again, in order to not attract unwanted attention.
“Now, women will be pinching and pulling me in a loving way to show me stuff,” Birgitte says.
Birgitte’s then husband and two sons have been moving with her to most of her postings from the beginning.
Today, her sons are young adults, and the oldest has moved back to Denmark for his studies. The other one still lives in Yangon with his mother.
Birgitte’s sons have gone to international schools but most of the students are locals, so they both speak the language.
“I would like to know the language too, but I can’t learn all languages,” Birgitte says.
So, she found a solution for a brief period when she recently went to a temple for an entire week. She was learning how to meditate.
“Speaking wasn’t allowed,” the talkative Birgitte says.
Ice lollies and beer
Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar. Birgitte has lived a bit all over Asia.
After working for Carlsberg she was hired by Co-Ro in Malaysia. She admits that she hadn’t heard about Co-Ro before and that few people have. But if you’re from Scandinavia, chances are that you’ve cut your lips sucking on Co-Ro’s Sun Lollies, a triangular ice lolly, on warm summer days.
Now, she’s back in Myanmar and unemployed until she figures out what to do of herself. Likely, she will move back to Denmark in the near future.
“Denmark feels like home. To me, the sun is always shining there,” she says, even though it is not the country itself that’s calling her name.
“I never miss places, only people.”