Myanmar: Cultural Bits N Pieces 2

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Shoes off for class

I wrote this blog in Mawlamyine but hadn’t found time to post it until now. It’s another blog of bits and pieces that just don’t fit anywhere else.

* Maybe it’s just that we keep visiting religious sites, but it feels like we are almost never wearing shoes. Because our house and school are one and same, most days we don’t put shoes on till 4pm. Awesome!! In fact, I can count on one hand the amount of closed shoes we have seen since we arrived.

* There are British and American flags everywhere. They are on clothing, seat covers, notebooks, scooters. There’s sometimes a combination of the two even or a union jack with ‘New York’ written on it. I think these come from China and that the wearers don’t know what they are. So odd to see the British flag everywhere in a country that fought so hard to end colonialism.

* There is no such thing as a speed limit here. With cars, trucks, bikes and all manner of indescribable vehicles going at as many different speeds, crossing the road can be quite a challenge. Often, once we have timed a gap, someone slows down to stare at us and we lose our chance to cross. Either that or we realise someone is driving on the wrong side of the road… in the dark… with no lights on…

* Revolutionary leader Aung San seems to be revered almost in the same way the Thai people revere their king. His portrait is often on the wall in many homes and shops, he’s on shirts, stickers, cars and motorbikes. The best example we saw of this was at a market in Mandalay where a man was selling posters. The three posters at the centre of his display were of The Lord Buddha, Jesus and Aung San.

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General Aung San scooter light sticker

* We quite often hear chanting coming from our neighbours houses. We had thought they must be very devout Buddhists. As it turns out, they are studying. Reading a text book out loud in monotone at lightning speed is a very popular method of studying.

* There really is red spit everywhere. It comes from people chewing betel leaves with tobacco and spitting it on the streets. Some restaurants have a spit bucket at each table. Disturbingly, these leaf bundles contain lime! Not the fruit, but the powder you would use to mark out a football field.

* The electricity is quite a challenge. There’s no voltage control so each house has to have a regulator. We have to adjust ours frequently to prevent it shutting everything off. If we turn something off or on we need to adjust the regulator. If someone in the street turns something off or on we have to adjust too. The power is often totally off during periods of high demand – 8 – 9am, 5 – 7pm and very hot days. That being said, the electricity bill for last month was equivalent £1.20!!

* Myanmar changed what side of the road they drive on when British rule ended. But now some cars are left hand drive, some right. There are buses in Yangon with doors on wrong side so they have big holes cut in them. Being in a right hand drive car, driving on the right side of the road and having to swing right out into the middle to see if they can overtake is a little unnerving!!

* We are still highly amused by monks and technology. To combine something so ancient with something so modern just strikes a chord. Our latest amusement was a monk at the beach wearing a bluetooth headset, and one taking a sunset selfie with his iPad.

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Even the street signs in Myanmar wear the traditional longyi

* The tray of a ute passes for a car. Sometimes people sit cross legged on the floor, sometimes on bench seats along the sides. Too many people? No problem. Just add a row or two of plastic stools in the middle.

* We’re slowly trying to work out Myanmar names. Everyone seems to have between 3 and 5 names and to us it seems there is no rhyme or reason. Asking around we’ve ascertained that there are no surnames or family names, names often come from the day of the week you were born and whilst some names are gender specific, some are not. I may be wrong, but i think that for these they differentiate with prefixes –  Ma (Girl under 30), Mg (Boy under 30), U (Man over 30), Daw (Woman over 30).

* One of our students won 200 kyat in a pack of sunflower seeds. Not a token to redeem 200 kyat, but an actual note.

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Our student very excited to have won 200 kyat

* Nobody uses seat belts, hand brakes or hazard lights. If you have a modern car that warns you when a seat belt is not on, you just get a bit of metal to jam in there to shut off that pesky alarm.

* Everybody drives with their high beams on at all times at night. How anyone can see anything is completely beyond us. I’m not sure if people understand them or just figure that if everyone does it they might as well too. Sitting in the front of a car at night is a blinding experience.

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A man dances with a bottle of whiskey on his head during a Shan spiritual God festival

Posted from Mawlamyine, Mon, Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

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