Jenn’s Post. The quote is courtesy of Tim and is from Austin Powers!
We are back in Yangon after a nearly two week sightseeing tour of the country. We saved one of the most impressive sites for our last day, a stop at the ShwedagonPaya, one of the most stunning monuments to religion in Asia! It is the most important sacred Buddhist spot in Myanmar and is a pilgrimage site for people over the country. Visible from most parts of the city, it’s a solid gold tower rises 322 feet above the base. It’s said to be over 2,500 years old (rebuilt to its current height and configuration in 1768 following an earthquake). Impressive!
We had a very good two weeks in the country, and have collected our “Thoughts and Observations about Myanmar” list of miscellanea:
1. Burma was named by several international publications as the country to visit in 2013 and people are coming! Everyone we talk to say business is way up, starting last year, and just keeps getting busier. Most of the Western tourists that we have seen are European, primarily French and Germans. Come while you can as I can only imagine how quickly the some of the country’s authenticity will be lost with the influx of foreigners.
2. Myanmar is one of the most devout Buddhist countries in the world and everywhere you look there are pagodas, temples and religious sites.
3. The Myanmar people are incredibly friendly. Always smiling, gentle, easygoing, inquisitive and wanting to help.
4. Some people are surprised to see our children with their blond hair and blue eyes. Some ladies have touched their skin and hair with looks of astonishment!
5. Every man in Myanmar is expected to live for some of his life as a monk, even if it’s just for a week or a month. A few devote their lives to the Monastery.
6. Monks eat breakfast and an early lunch that ends at 12pm. They are only permitted drinks in the afternoon and evening. All their food and supplies are donated and it’s common to see monks with an alms bowl working the crowd.
7. Monks are not allowed to touch women or sit next to a woman.
8. People here refer to our big kids as “babies”, as in “would the baby like a drink?” or “here are the baby’s trousers”.
9. There are dirty but healthy looking street dogs everyone, but many aren’t truly strays. Many are free-roaming pooches that live and sleep in front of a particular house and they are fed leftovers from the family, shop or restaurant. They do not go inside the buildings and are generally not given a name.
10. There are virtually no Western brands with widespread distribution here except Coke, Pepsi and Sprite. Those soft drinks are easy to find and Coke Light (diet) is sometimes available. In the very Western supermarkets that we’ve seen, only in Yangon, there are other foreign brands, such as Colgate, Lays, Knorr, etc. but is this not the norm. Rather, we’ve seen more Chinese influence, especially in Yangon.
11. The main local soft drink is called Star Cola. It’s sold in glass bottles for less than $0.50 and I think it’s better than Coke (regular, not diet)!
12. Instead of napkins on the table, we usually get a roll of toilet paper in plastic holder (it is usually branded “Myanmar Beer”).
13. This is a cash-only economy. Be prepared to come here with a stack of crisp, new hundred dollar bills. They want bills in pristine condition, although we hear that this requirement is gradually easing up. We have seen some brand new ATMs, a first as of 2011 or 2012, which claim to accept Visa or Cirrus cards. We have not seen any shops, hotels or restaurants who take credit cards yet.
14. Myanmar has a unique driving situation. Right-handed drive cars being driven on the right side of the road. This makes turning a hazard!
15. To get someone’s attention here, it is common to make a kissing sound!
16. This is betel nut country and often people smile with their red-stained teeth.
17. Eating out is very inexpensive. At the street stalls, you can pick up a tasty snack, such as fried dough or something that resembles a samosa, for just a dime or quarter. At local restaurants, our bill comes to $5-10 for our family of four and those with an international menu usually only about $20 for the meal, including drinks of fresh fruit juice and main courses for four of us.
18. Other than Burmese food, the main offerings we’ve enjoyed are Italian (including homemade pastas and pizzas) and Chinese. Very little outside those options, which has led to some intense cravings for different flavors, especially in the more rural areas.
19. Both men and women usually dress in local clothing, the skirt-like longyi, which is a long and often colorful piece of material that it tied around the waist. Men tie theirs in the front and women tie theirs on the side.
20. Women and children often wear a beige paste, thanakha, on their faces as a mark of beauty and for protection of the sun and insect.It is made from a local tree (sandalwood, we think).