This week has been filled with celebrations and ceremonies, with the whole region partying for one reason or another.
The first of these events was Myanmar’s national Union Day. This is to celebrate the uniting of all of the country’s people and states which happened in the year before independence. Our local park hosted a ceremony where the Mon state premier was speaking and children from all of the local high school marching bands put on a show. This happened very early in the morning so we were able to attend, go out for breakfast and still be home before classes started.
Our second celebration for the week was the wedding reception of one of Thane’s former pupils. It was interesting to be able to see how the mix of modern and traditional Mon styles mixed here. This was very different in comparison to any other wedding reception I’ve ever been to, for a start there was no alcohol! It seemed more like a formal drop in to greet the couple, add a present to the mountain and have a few fancy snacks. A lot more civilised than any wedding I’ve been to.
It is also the time of year where many university students are having their graduation ceremonies. In Myanmar this is a momentous occasion and the girls especially go all out on their appearance, the families hire professional photographers and there seems to be photo shoots everywhere. They really seem to enjoy this and see it as a huge moment in their lives. I can only describe the current fashion trend as somewhere between Disney Princess, Ballroom Dancer and Indian Wedding guest. There is a lot of sparkle that’s for sure! We even got asked to be in some people’s photos as we were sitting around one of the sites which was proving a popular backdrop.
The biggest celebration this week though had to be the 67th Annual Mon National Day. This was somewhat like Australia day, only with more actual tradition involved. Similarities included the flying of flags on every vehicle imaginable, the increase in alcohol consumption, and the playing of loud music. The night before the actual day we were taken out to a village called Kamar Whet where a huge stage had been constructed with seating for a few thousand in front. The atmosphere was just like a music festival, lots of people were drinking and partying, and all the boys had created a huge line along the side of the road sitting on their scooters. They sang together in groups as they admired all the local girls arriving in their finest outfits. Every now and again a truck overloaded with speakers would trundle past with the usual ear splitting techno beats. Back at the main stage we enjoyed traditional music and dancing, one performance actually resembled Morris Dancing which was strange. Between each song you could hear fireworks all around and before you knew it the band would begin again with one man playing what appeared to be a stringed golden crocodile. I want one.
We spent Mon National Day driving about to a few more of the area’s temples as there were still some we’d yet to see. One of these was atop a hillock and unfortunately our little Chinese built truck wasn’t quite capable, but with a bit of a push we finally made it. One thing I’ve learnt that Myanmar people know well is that Chinese vehicles are rubbish. Whether it’s the man at the bus station proudly advertising that his company doesn’t use Chinese buses, or the taxi man cursing his broken down Chinese truck, they are nationally abhorred.
Our favourite temple of the day was the Kawhnat Pagoda complex with its intricate wooden carved murals and incredible 19th century decoration. As we walked the complex we had a soundtrack of hard techno which was coming from some energetic Mon children at the entrance. As they continued their celebrations I had to stop and film as they were having an amazing time!
Our only negative experience this week was from our first encounter with a false monk. A very old man dressed in monk’s robes but not acting as one should. We’d heard of their existence along the tourist trail but not in Mawlamyine. We suspected he was not as he seemed when he hovered over some inappropriately dressed western girls for a long time up at the viewpoint behind our house. But once he followed us down an empty backstreet, made us take photos with him then demanded money we knew there was an issue. Whilst he spoke no English his intentions were clear and he even tried to grab at my phone and watch. As I gave him a firm NO in Myanmar he backed off for a moment, but then quickly pursued us along the road. As soon as we hit a busy road he thankfully walked away. Stupidly he has given us his picture to share!