Rarely have I been so moved, so touched and moved by a country. When writing this I am at the Yangon International Airport. Thinking of the past 22 days I spent here and considering how much I enjoyed my stay, I am a bit puzzled that I didn’t write more. But I guess the fact that I’m leaving with 2300 photos speaks for itself.
If I had to use one word to describe the country and it citizens would be Personality.
Like a child leaving home to explore the world. Dazzled by what the world has to offer. Sometimes succeeding, sometimes stumbling, tripping, but continuing to learn and trying to find its way. Most of the time being very innocent and acting like it, but at time being foolish and naughty.
People try to make ends meet in a very traditional way no matter if in the capital city or in the rural areas. The local food is presented at the local food stalls. Like the restaurant popping up in the morning to disappear at lunchtime. Or the coffee shop at the corner to vanish when the sun lights up the place and it is too hot to sit there. One street can transform from food market in the morning to a hardware store in the afternoon.
Hard work. Constantly hard work. The carrying, the pushing, the heat. No wonder most people are soooo gooood looking. Gyms are not needed. Ripped muscled bodies are seen everywhere.
The Longyi is the national garment worn by both men and women. And most do wear them. Young, old, for work, at home, everyday, for special occasions, when digging, driving the bus. Always. In my opinion that is the most sexy garment I have seen on any man. And women for that matter. This is one of the few occasions when less is not more. I wore one most of my time in Myanmar and I loved it. You’re always properly dressed and the locals appreciate it a lot. An easy way to engage yourself with the locals. A man well groomed wearing longyi and a white shirt is a very handsome man.
I have to add that the longyi has many purposes. To cover the lower part of the body but lots of men also use it as a towel. Workers wash after their shift wherever water is available. Therefor the longyi comes very handy. It also makes men to sit down when peeing. You can imagine for yourselves how that might work. I actually like that instead of all the splashing that occurs when men stand up peeing.
The male national shoe is velvet flip flops. Most men wear them. Some ware an upgraded version with bling-bling. A bit unusual but in these days of gender equality I totally love it. Brings an edge to it.
The food is the best I ever had. And again, breakfast, lunch or dinner at the local place on the pavement has served me the most delicious and cheapest food. Once more and easy way to engage with the locals.
Everywhere you go you find free water. The traditional way is to keep the water in brown ceramic jugs. They keep the water surprisingly cool. And very tasty. On every jug there is plate to cover the opening and on that there is always a mug. Everyone drinks from the same mug. And so did I. No, I didn’t get sick. I haven’t been once in four month now. Fingers crossed.
The betel chewing is extensive. Especially in the rural areas and is common amongst both men and women. The dental quality therefor is very poor. I didn’t try it but a co-traveler did and she said it wasn’t that bad. When shewing betel one is not supposed to swallow the saliva. That apparently can make you sick. Therefor there is a lot of spitting involved. Everywhere. On the streets, in litter boxes, in plastic bags, in bottles. Everywhere imaginable. But before the spitting the saliva is kept as long as possible in the mouth. So when they speak they keep their mouth in an upward position. Like having a big potato in your mouth while trying to talk.
Most transportation fares are fixed for foreigners. That also means paying a fee when going to pagodas, the local ferry and so on. The good thing is that one knows how much it costs and that no one is ripped off. Accommodations are more expensive then other countries in the area but you can find cheap ones too if you spend time looking. The first place I stayed in Yangon was, dirty, rats walked across the floor and the management did everything possible to get some extra money out of our wallets. The second one was quite the opposite. Clean, well organised, a lot of practical solutions I appreciated being a long term traveler, they helped out with directions to find local transportations instead of saying that taxi is the only way and so on.
Yes, rats. They are very present. So are dogs, cats, hens, pigs, buffaloes and any other anima you can imagine. Yangon is a big city in tiny clothes. The country is changing but the past is very present.
The people of Myanmar are amazing. Most of them are still very untouched by the tourism. They are friendly, extremely helpful, great sense of humour,, curious. Friendliness, always. Except for in traffic. Then none of their nice characters are to be found. It’s about life or death. Especially for pedestrians. That is when they show their harsh side. It is very present in this society but is overruled by the kindness. And their smiles are contagious. They smile a lot.
Myanmar is a very beautiful country. And so are its inhabitants. I would love to spend more time here. To get to know it more. To continue my love story with its people. To come and visit my nuns. To pay my respect.
I don’t have wifi so I wont be able to post any photos here. But please visit my Instagram account (hjelmroth) or my Facebook account to see some of the photos I have posted.
If you ever have the chance to visit Myanmar, please be gentle with this country. It deserves our respect.