Myanmar: Mawlamyine Cultural Bits N Pieces

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Buddha image

So far there have been many little bits and pieces that I’ve wanted to share but haven’t really found a place for in a post. So here is a brain dump of the wonderful, the different and the decidedly odd.

* When teaching a lesson I realised that nobody in the room had a bank account and many had never heard of credit cards. The words VISA and MasterCard meant nothing.

* I seem to be the only person in town wearing sunglasses. When i left them on a restaurant table, a kid chased me out of a restaurant to give them back, despite the fact that these must have looked like a real treasure.

* There are dogs everywhere. It seems that there is only one breed of dog in town. There is a litter of puppies living outside our fence. So cute but too dirty to play with.

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Cute little puppies outside our home in Mawlamyine

* There are monks everywhere! And most are more curious about us than we are them.

* We’ve now seen two people carrying large goats on scooters. The goats seemed remarkably placid.

* Fake Angry Birds merchandise is everywhere.

* Myanmar is loud!! Nobody raises their voice but there is always someone chanting over a PA, singing unashamedly or blaring music. On one night someone nearby was playing drums until 3am. Every morning at around 5:30 religions meet as we get a mix of Buddhist chanting and the local mosque’s call to prayer echoing around our house.

* People wear pyjamas everywhere in the evenings and on the weekend. They don’t see them as sleeping clothes, just another fashion option. They appeal to the Myanmar sense of style as they are light, patterned and matching.

* A couple of the girls here were horrified to find out that we would just eat a sandwich for lunch in London. They have decided never to go there now.

* The water situation is a bit different. You pay for someone to come and fill a tank on the roof, which then pipes into the house. We had thought that the town was plumbed as it seemed to be. Our western ways quickly emptied the tank. Oops. We’ll be conserving more going forward.

* To pay your electricity bill you wait to hear the electricity bill payment man go past. You won’t miss him. He has a giant megaphone attached to his bike and isn’t afraid to use it.

* I’ve heard about the legendary hospitality of Myanmar people but I wasn’t prepared for just how hospitable they are. I don’t think I’ve been hungry since I was first here as there seems to be a constant parade of food before us. We’ve even had our dinner sneakily paid for by a friend of Thane’s who saw us at the restaurant.

Thane has organised trips for us, given me longyi (their traditional skirt), escorted us to places tourists have never been, insisted on my using her sun umbrella until we meet her husband and collect the one he has bought for me, has not allowed us to even carry a dish to the kitchen… all while running a bakery, managing a rental house, looking after her adopted girls from the border towns, running a very busy language school and spending every spare moment answering our multitude of questions. I don’t know where she finds the energy!!

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Traditional Myanmar food

* Apparently it’s bad luck to go fishing around the time of a full moon. Also you are not supposed to keep any large fish if you catch them as it is too is bad luck, which may explain all the little ones we’ve been eating.

* Buddhists are obsessed with the number nine. Apparently in the 80’s the country’s leader replaced all Myanmar currency notes divisible by ten with notes divisible by nine. So they had nines instead of tens, forty fives instead of fifties.

* Only recently has bottled water been sold in this area. It was not considered that you would need to by water as everyone here shares. Everywhere you go there is at least one tank of filtered water with a cup over the tap. Anyone who is thirsty can drink from this.

* If you order spirits at a bar or restaurant they mark the level on there bottle and then just leave it on your table for you to pour your own until you’re done. I’m not sure how charging works but I assume it’s not an exact science.

* All restaurant tables have a bar at exactly knee height which prevents you from sitting under them. No idea why but it has resulted in a few food in lap situations.

* We were served beer the other day by a child that must have been under 12 years old. Guessing there’s no responsible service of alcohol law.

* Everyone respects personal space. Nobody touches you, including children. This goes as far as not shaking hands when you meet someone. In fact, they rarely even tell you their name.

* Thane has given me some thanakha. It’s a kind of Myanmar face treatment, sunscreen and makeup worn by many women and children, and also some men. It’s basically a bit of tree trunk which you rub on a stone to get a kind of yellow paste which you rub on your face. It is believed that when you put thanakha on your face, a spirit will protect it. Several students in our class wear it daily, but they all find it very amusing that I am wearing it.

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Wearing thanakha, traditional Myanmar make-up

* Those that speak a little English are very keen to speak with us. The two questions everyone asks is ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘Where are you going?’

* There are two taps in our house. One says ‘river’ and the other says ‘ice’. Both seem very accurate.

* If you have more than one shop you simply call each successive one the exact same thing but put a number in brackets after it. For example there is a fishing supplies store called “Fish Two”, and three doors down is “Fish Two (2)”. We have become regulars at “Beer Garden (2)”.

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A typically overloaded car carrying students on a field trip

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

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