Locals refer to him as ‘The Good Man’, we knew him as Mohses. His real name is still a mystery to everyone he encounters. Mohses is simply what a few people wrote in his ‘guestbook’.. Every time, written differently. Our first night at Chaung Tha Beach, we found a nice spot at a bar overlooking the Bay of Bengal. We watched as the beach turned brilliant gold as the sun set in the distance.
Mohses sat down on the table beside us and started getting our attention. He stood out from everyone at the bar, wearing an American cowboy hat and carrying a friendly grin on his face. He started motioning to us about the sunset and how beautiful it was. The sunset on the other side of the beach though, he motioned was much better. We exchanged motions for a few minutes all without words, as there was clearly a language barrier between us. We had a good laugh with him, until we started to realise he never even said a word to the locals or bar staff. It eventually dawned on us, he was deaf and later on found he was also mute. It hit me quickly, especially as we were laughing at his crude hand signals interpreting the goings on of the beach in front of us.
The Burmese are very good at English everywhere we had been. But what struck me about Mohses was his conversation was clearer without words than anyone I had spoken to in most of South East Asia. Maybe it was due to the fact as a British person, we generally use a lot of body language and motions without realising it when talking. This is something I learnt wasn’t so widely done in other parts of the world, China being the most different. Mohses made conversation without words seem so easy!
Mohses ‘spoke’ about the fish around Chaung Tha and the clarity of the water. He motioned the clearness was incredible and you could see very far out near the reefs. He was into spearfishing and talked us into meeting him in the morning to go see the reefs with him.
Yes, I’m not naive, of course Mohses wasn’t going to do this for free. It’s how he makes a living with his disability. From what we gathered, the Burmese aren’t the greatest customers to Mohses. Westerners are intrigued by his ability to communicate with the use of practical sign language. He offered to take us out with him for the day, costing just 35,000 ($35 or £26) in total, for the 2 of us.
Every sign in my body kept saying ‘this is a scam’, how much will he fleece us out of it at the end? Is he going to steal our possessions whilst snorkelling? Will he cut us up into pieces and eat us? Well OK, not to that extreme.. But the rule book says to pass these things up, or risk getting screwed over. But our experiences of Myanmar so far told me trust him and just go for it. We agreed to meet him the next morning at 9am.
We get to the beach bar a little later than 9am. Looking around there doesn’t seem to be any sign of Mohses. I think of the night before after agreeing to do this. He wanted some money up front, which screamed scam at the time. I started thinking, thank god we didn’t give him anything! After a few minutes, we notice his trademark cowboy hat, he waves us over.
We get on motorbikes, and he takes us to the local market to buy some essentials for the days fishing. His friend takes Cristabel, as I ride with Mohses. His friend is a familiar face, we have met him when we arrived in Chaung Tha and he offered to help us with anything from hotels to money exchange. There are so many people doing the same, we kind of ignored him at the time. Although he is a genuinely friendly person and keen to make a small living from the limited number of tourists that come here. He spoke good English and explained to us about Mohses. What we learnt was that Mohses is almost totally deaf and mute since birth.
He has a wife with 3 kids and a 4th on its way. He was a really nice & friendly guy which has given him the nickname ‘The Good Man’.. that’s except the times he drinks. His friend told us of a time recently when he got too drunk and started fighting. It turns out Mohses is a black belt in Taekwondo and isn’t scared of taking on 3 other guys when he’s had a few too many brews. Now I’m very scared!
We get to the pier where we wait for the long-tail boat to take us out to the reefs. Mohses is good at getting things out of people, which we quickly find out. Not that he is a scam artist, but he’s done well for himself with a disability which for others in these parts of the world would leave them poor and unemployable. I respect the man, as he convinces me to buy him a packet of his favourite cigarettes ‘London Brand’ and a lighter. The boat arrives as we wade across and hop aboard.
The first thing we need is some snorkels & masks. We can rent them from a beach shop for just 2,000 Kyat ($2) each for the day. Mohses has bought his youngest son with us and although speaks a little English, looks worse for wear. We buy him some crisps to hopefully cheer him up.
Back on the boat and we race out past a small Island towards the reefs. I’m a little nervous, as I don’t like being in deep water. For some reason I have a fear of sharks (even though i’ve never even seen one). With Mohses, I feel safe enough to not worry about it all. On the way out, Mohses comments on the tour groups we pass on the big boats. Some which charge tourists to do similar activities for upwards of $60+ each. Mohses likes mocking people it turns out and finds the whole tourist industry a joke. At least there is another sane mind in this part of the world. Mohses son was looking even more worst for ware by now. It turns out he suffered from sea sickness. A complete contrast of his Dad’s job!
We get to our spot and throw the anchor out. Mohses is first into the water, followed by me and then Cristabel. He is out far away from the boat within a matter of moments. I’m already feeling like I needed more exercise and less of a hangover to attempt this.
We swim out to Mohses and keep a hand on the float that keeps us visible from the boat. After getting some breath, I dive down to follow Mohses underwater. The water is incredibly clear and a perfect day to be out here with crystal blue skies above and sun shining light on the reef and marine life. If you have ever watched one of those underwater documentaries, with the black and white tropical shoals of fish and perfect coral formations, that’s what I saw in every corner of my eye. Wow this was incredible!
We weren’t here just for the snorkelling though, Mohses was armed with a spear and started submerging armed with the weapon. This wasn’t an automatic spear either. It was simply a wooden stick with spear armed with an elastic band. Mohses could stay under the water for at least a minute at a time, which was needed when navigating all the rock crevices and if we had any chance of catching lunch! My snorkel broke at some point, so gave up and just used the mask on its own. Although without the lung capacity of Mohses, I was gasping for air after just 10 seconds below.
All this swimming really did tire me out and we found our way back to the boat several times, just to collapse and catch a breath. Every so often, you would hear a shreik from Mohses, when he was signalling to the longtail boat driver to come closer or signalling to me to get back in the water and help him. I did help him eventually, carrying a half dead fish back to the boat.. Almost killing myself in the process with one hand out of the water and one trying to swim. And I used to be a district swimmer!??
Mohses did well and hauled a couple of medium sized fish in. We gave up with the snorkelling at times and sat on the boat fishing for smaller catch. We didn’t personally catch anything though.. If anything we just were feeding the fish!
After a few hours, we headed back to the shore with our haul of fish. We went into a nearby restaurant at the small port and Mohses disappeared for a few minutes with the bag of fish. We ordered a few dishes from the menu and a few rounds of drinks. Mohses and his son like Thai Redbull, offering them the inferior Shark brand would never go down well we slowly learnt. The food eventually came out, with the fish cooked in 3 different ways (Broiled, Fried and Grilled over charcoal). It was all really nice, with the other food we ordered it was an obscene amount to eat… But we managed!
After lunch, Mohses drove us back to the beach bar. We all sat and ordered some drinks to relax and enjoy the sunset yet again, coming down over the bay. The bar only had Shark brand energy drink.. Mohses pulls a face, we order Coca-cola instead. Mohses started doing his usual mocking of people, mostly fat westerners which made us giggle. Myanmar beer goes down so well at the end of a hot day. They serve it perfectly chilled. What a great day. We sort out the money owed and say our goodbyes, not before writing an entry in his guest notepad / diary. I wish him the best for the future and sadly part ways.
The day we had with Mohses and his son is always going to be memorable, having a conversation all day with a man that doesn’t say a word. It makes you realise how you don’t need words to talk to someone when there is a language barrier. Well except in China perhaps! He’s trying to get his son into computers so they can work on a business in the future. I think it will work out well for him, especially with Myanmar becoming more popular.. More foreign tourists will slowly trickle down this way eventually. Helping him sustain a decent living.
I guess there is a lesson to this story. And that is if a man in a cowboy hat ever approaches you with a friendly smile, remember.. Don’t be afraid to say Hi. He might just give you a memorable day.
Original story with more photos here: http://escapingthedesk.com/the-deaf-man-of-chaung-tha-beach/
Website of Darryl Hall: http://escapingthedesk.com/
Spearfishing with the Deaf Man of Chaung Tha Beach,