If someone asks me one word that excites me at any particular time of the day, I would say “ASEAN.” It was back in December 2013 that I was selected as a delegate of an exchange program called “JENESYS 2.0 Japan-ASEAN-Oceania Student & Youth Exchange.” I met a lot of young and enthusiastic students from the ASEAN region and had one of the best times of my life. Since then, I decided to visit every member state to meet my old friends and completed my journey last February. It is a wonderful achievement to me indeed.
ASEAN to me is a second home; a family that I feel belonged to. We share so many similar culture and norms despite the apparent diversities in appearance and languages we use. For instance, different versions of Ramayana epic can be observed in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and Philippines. Because of this, I can easily blend in with the locals whenever I travel across the region.
ASEAN is a paradise of food. I have a list of all-time favourites from around the region: Mohinga (Myanmar), Pad Thai (Thailand), Nasi Lemak (Malaysia), Ambuyat (Brunei) and Chicken rice (Singapore). It is also a realm of leisure and adventure. I have tried waterboarding in Indonesia, swimming with the whale sharks in Philippines and visiting the sand dunes in Vietnam. It is also a spiritual region where I can learn different ways of life; Pilgrim in Laos and Cambodia has soothed my worries about life. Most important of all, people of ASEAN are lovely. During my trip, I met a lady in Philippines who helped me find an address when I was lost in the middle of nowhere at night; I was offered a free room to stay in Indonesia; and a bus conductor in Brunei patiently explained me about the route in body language.
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of ASEAN and this signifies our unity and commitment in bringing development to the region in terms of economic collaboration, cultural immersion and people-to-people connectedness. However, the region has so many rooms for improvement especially in the field of tackling regional issues like humanitarian crisis, sustainable economic development, religious harmony and climate change. We are proud of being ASEAN and in return, we need to do our individual best, through understanding and kindness, to make ASEAN proud of us.
By Thein Min Swe, ASEAN Correspondent from Myanmar