While in Myanmar in February, and on the trip home, I kept jotting things in the Notes app in my phone. I wanted to be sure and remember to mention them in my blog. I have waited so long that several of the notes don’t mean much to me anymore. What a loss.
But most of the photos I collected into a special folder, and the notes in my phone still remind me of thoughts that never made it into a blog post. Here are my notes, in the order I found them in my phone, which is the order they popped into my head:
- shower in toilet. Yes, this was a first for me, but I am told by friends it’s not that unusual. In Myanmar, at a hostel and at one of our hotels, the shower and toilet were the same room. I can’t imagine why. Real estate, you are thinking, and that would make sense, except that the places where this happened were not short on space and the rooms themselves were quite large. In our hotel toilet/shower, the space was as huge as a bedroom, and yet there is the shower head, mounted directly over the toilet, when it could have at least been installed on the other side of the room. There are the distinct disadvantages, such as soaking the toilet paper, filling the wastepaper basket, and dousing the toilet and sink every day so that water spots and soap scum need to be scrubbed off each day. What are the advantages?
- box thing on house. My guess is that it is a place for a shrine since many many homes had them, they were often decorated, and always in the exact same place on a house. My anthropologist mind tells me there is a ritual/spiritual/cultural reason to place the box in the same place on every home. The box is always on the right front corner of the house as you are facing the house, no matter what cardinal direction the house faces. I tried so many times to describe this to people so I could ask what it was for, but I failed to get anyone to understand. On my last day in Myanmar I remembered to get a photo, so at least YOU know what I’m talking about.
- power out. I’ll have to consider this one for awhile. No idea.
- chair conversation at restaurant. I remember the restaurant in Mandalay. But I simply cannot remember the context or the content.
- 1729 steps. I think this was not a story, but simply to remember how many steps there were from the street to the top of Mandalay Hill.
- Rohingya. I did already mention our conversation about the Rohingya with our trekking guide Hein. In a situation that reminds me of Palestinians, the Rohingya have lived in what is now western Myanmar for centuries, but are denied citizenship by the government. Recently, they have been slaughtered and their villages burned, for …apparently for …existing? Hearing about the brutality inflicted against this group of indigenous people by their own government, I expected the Myanmar military to be a constant presence, like police in Egypt. But for the most part, Margaret and I never saw military or police, and the whole country felt absolutely laid back and good-natured. I could never reconcile in my mind the idea that the criminal authorities responsible for mind-blowing violence are relatives of the loving, open, friendly people we met.
- honking. Erm, not sure what I wanted to say about this.
- recycling. Again, I don’t recall what was on my mind.
- crepe. For some reason, across the country the primary material chosen for napkins to use while eating is crepe paper. In the US we use it for decoration (think multi-coloured streamers at parties and dances). In Myanmar it was always a grey-blue colour and the rolls were placed at tables for you to tear off a piece and sop up grease from your sticky fingers and mouth. Except…yeah…it’s the worst possible material. Crepe falls apart instantly, and gets stuck to you rather than assists with cleaning. Honestly. Where did this idea come from and why is it so universally accepted?
- longyi is the sarong. I’d been calling the wrap worn by men and women a sarong, because I couldn’t remember the name of it. I finally looked it up. A longyi is a hoop of fabric that is long enough to go from your waist to your toes. To wear it, you step inside the hoop, pull it up, and fold and tuck the fabric in. The tension holds it in place. Nearly everyone wears them in Myanmar. They are versatile. I saw a street person relieve herself in public for example, by loosening the tucked fabric, simultaneously squatting and pulling the fabric up around her shoulders, and doing her business behind the screen. When finished, she stood again, dropping the fabric back to her waist, and securing it once more. On Inle Lake, I saw a woman bathing out on the dock in front of the house using the same method of privacy. The longyi was up around her shoulders and she scooped water up inside the fabric and washed. No one passing by in a boat saw any skin but that on her face and feet.
- mingalaba. It turns out this greeting is relatively new (1960s), and introduced intentionally to replace the traditional English greeting by schoolchildren to their teacher each morning. Everyone happily calls Mingalaba! I guess it translates to “blessings upon you,” or “auspiciousness to you.” It can be used to say hello, or goodbye, but we only noticed it being used to say hello. Maybe because they knew we were tourists and would get confused. Ha!
- sewers under sidewalks. This one does make sense to me in terms of real estate. Waste water in cities is channeled away in narrow canals beside streets. Large, flat bricks with holes in them are placed over the sewage canals in order to use the space as a sidewalk and also to ventilate the sewage. It’s an efficient use of space and somehow both pedestrian-friendly and distinctly not. Yangon was not the only place I’ve seen this system, but it was certainly the stinkiest city I’ve ever been in.
- breast feeding. Possibly a remnant of a more isolated, often rural environment only recently opening up to the misplaced scorn of outsiders, women comfortably breast-fed their babies in public spaces. I am a huge fan of this, after having been a mother and became personally aware of how many challenges there are for parents with babies in public spaces where others believe that all the realities of babies (crying, diapers, feeding) must be hidden. So glad to see the open smiling faces of mothers proudly feeding their babies as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Hint: it is.)
- bus food stops. Arggh! So, so, so very annoying. Every single – I mean EVERY single bus ride we took in Myanmar included a mandatory stop at a roadside eatery. This means mandatory bus evacuation. Even if the bus is late. Even in the friggin middle of the night when you just took a sleeping pill to try and sleep on the bus despite the discomfort and the noise, yes, even then you have to drag yourself up out of slumber, put on your shoes, and stumble out into brilliantly-lit fluorescent highway stop with noise, people, and smells to which you are not accustomed. Your extreme squinting from the light is not intentional and only a reflex but since it matches your mood you allow the grimace to remain. Then you sit on a curb and shiver and grumble for half an hour to 40 minutes until the bus driver reopens the bus and lets you get back on.
- Buddha’s hair. All the pagodas and stupas have relics. A couple of times the relic was believed to be a hair, or multiple hairs from the head of the Buddha. It made me laugh at first because I always imagine the Buddha as bald. Once drawn to my attention, I realized all the Buddhas in Myanmar have hair. I guess the young Buddha was gifting his hairs out as sacred relics, and then eventually made himself bald. But …since it’s the Buddha… both the generosity to the point of baldness and the acceptance of an altered image seem to fit.
That’s all my notes, and the random photos that I also kept for some reason. I am hoping that some of the forgotten things will come back to me now that I’m thinking about them again. If so, I’ll come back here and edit.