She stands at the front of the charter bus, gripping the seat as it bumps down an uneven dirt road. She scans her audience, a dreary-eyed tour group exhausted from their early morning flight. She, too, is tired. But she just beams widely, picks up her microphone, and cheerily says, “My name is Hsu Mon Oo, but you can call me ‘Bunny.’”
Bunny is a Burmese tour guide in Myanmar, and works for the company Destination Asia. She’s only 25 years old, and has held this job for five years, but it was not her first.
She’s fluent in Korean and English, and holds a degree in International Relations. After she graduated university, she found a job translating Korean movies and putting in Burmese subtitles. She worked with 40 other women, and the job was, for all intents and purposes, “safe”.
But Bunny struggled to see a future in that line of work, and quit the job after a year and a half. She had always wanted to be a tour guide, she said, and decided to pursue it.
Being a female tour guide in Myanmar, however, is far from the norm. The country is still deeply rooted in traditional gender roles, and she was warned that such an occupation might affect her future prospects.
“When I told my manager I was going to become a tour guide, she said ‘Just think about what your future husband would tell you if he figured out you were a tour guide’,” she said. “Most of the people in this country are very conservative, and they think that a tour guide job is not for a woman.”
Because tour guides often must associate with both men and women, you may be looked down upon as a woman for having mingled with so many men, she said.
But Bunny proved them wrong. She has been with her boyfriend, Daniel, for over 6 years. They intend on getting married.
“He is my first boyfriend,” she said. “And he will be my last.”
Daniel is entirely supportive of her being a tour guide, she said. His parents, however, are much more conservative, and disapprove of her occupation and of her independence.
“My future mother- in-law, she doesn’t like me,” Bunny said. “She doesn’t like that I am working independently.”
In Burmese culture, it is widely believed that “women belong in the kitchen” and should quit their job after getting married. Men are supposed to be the breadwinners for the family.
Because of this, Bunny is hesitant to marry Daniel anytime soon. She fought too hard to make a life as a tour guide and has much more she wants to accomplish before getting married, she said.
“I am not ready yet to go to the kitchen, or to quit my job to raise babies,” she said.