Do you remember the first time someone tickled you? I don’t (although I do remember myself crawling and, despite the ever-widening chasm of time, the memory of that child still knows how to skip it and keep crawling up my memory).
Anyway, tickling had to have been one of the most important discoveries of our lives: to explore how to laugh through our senses. From that moment, those who were around you must have noticed it too and they continued turning the handle of the same nonsense for hours, without you getting tired, until one day, actually, you got tired and dude, if you want to see how I laugh, evolve to more sophisticated circus acts, please!
For me, traveling means getting culturally tickled and keep smiling. Or, at least, it means to get amazed. As a child, who continues to see the dolls rotating hanging from his crib’s mobile (even if they are pieces of the world’s most ordinary felt), you walk down the street and something catches your attention so much that you stay there, returning to be that “you” you used to be in that distant decade, when all around you still surprised you (in my case, my flashback is to the 80s, when a Viewmaster amused me … oh well, the truth is that it still amuses me).
If children grow with each passing day discovering the world, when you travel you do the same again, with each passing day you spend with your backpack.
Thus, it becomes common for me to watch (and even to photograph) for minutes trivialities such as mailboxes, toilets or brooms. That doesn’t mean that the classic postcard attractions don’t shock me (the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, Machu Picchu), but those are adult’s treasures. The child’s ones are even more shocking because they seem anonymous and suddenly, they pull you by the backpack and you realize they are there, as a chameleon, like those third dimension pictures, on which you see many colors until, suddenly, a figure appears.
And although I’m a mess discovering those third dimension pictures, interestingly I have no problems with getting surprised by those everyday details that lurk in every corner of a city and tickle me to get me smile. Don’t blame me: did you ever get an ultimate toy on your birthday and ended up playing with the box, which seemed much more interesting?
Here, then, is my list of those little details that tickled me in Myanmar. If you expect me to talk about the temples of Bagan, Inle Lake or Shwedagon Paya, for today, at least, you will have to google. Because today I come to tell you about those everyday life details that make out of a country a real world to discover.
An ATM in the middle of a temple: yes, the Shwedagon Paya is very impressive (a giant stupa, comfortably seated on a hill in Yangon, with all the cosmic wisdom that gives to have reached the top of the mountain), but what struck me the most was finding this:
Correct: an ATM in the middle of a sacred place. I don’t know if its usefulness is because the Buddhas of this place only accept gifts in cash and they don’t take credit cards, but in any case, there are also exchange offices if you don’t carry some colorful and devalued kyats in your pocket. For me, this is equal to find an ATM at the Seventh Station of the Cross in a church, but it seems that in Buddhist legend, Buddha (who was very zen, very self-controlled, very phlegmatic … anyway, Buddha!) never bellowed angrily: “Merchants! What are you doing with the temple? ”
The thanaka: highly popular, regardless of sex or age, Burmese love to muddy their faces with what I cataloged as chalk and that, actually, receives the Japanese-like name of thanaka. To combat sweat (because it gives a refreshing feeling), to protect from the sun or as a simple facial ornamentation, it is made from trees that grow in abundance in the central part of Myanmar and it is the latest fashion (and it seems that the latest fashion is 2000 years old here because the Burmese, especially women, have been using it on their faces for more than two millennia).
The longyi: like an Asian Scotland, in Myanmar all guys walk around wearing what, for ignorant Westerners like me, seems to be some kind of skirt, like those ones you wear at the beach, although it is not exactly a beach look what these Burmese gentlemen pursue. Its official name is longyi and, even more popular than I remember it in India and in Sri Lanka, here is the fashion’s pinnacle: 95% of guys wears it, making pants a mall’s curiosity behind shop windows that could almost be mistaken for a museum. It is even part of school uniforms:
As I hear from a group of Spanish guys (who were forced to buy some longys to enter the Shwedagon Paya and who appear in all their Burma’s pictures wearing such a famous clothing) walking wearing a skirt is quite comfortable, since it allows air to circulate more easily. So who knows, maybe we’ll see soon the longyi conquering Western closets.
The Buddha bath: I have been to several Buddhist countries, but only in Myanmar (or at least, as long as I can remember) I noticed how much they love to wash Buddhas. That’s right: in addition to the flowers, and the rice and low fat cookies offerings, as part of a ritual they love to pour water on the Buddhas. Therefore, many Burmese Buddhas seem to enjoy an eternal spa (I assume the nirvana must have one, at least) and become the neatest ones I can remember. They shine of cleanliness and spiritual enlightenment.
The theater at dawn: I don’t know if this is something general in Myanmar, because I only saw it once, but that time I almost fell of the bike in front of such an unprecedented scene. Five in the morning. Total darkness. And in the town square 100 people sitting and watching a play! And on top of it with the loudest speakers ever, just in case they wanted to induce all those who were enjoying a restful sleep to the twilight show. Maaaaan! I would have stayed to see if, in fact, the play was good enough to be watched at that hour, but I was on my way to climb a stupa for sunrise and, in any case, with my love for sleeping it is clear that my morning activities will hardly include, at some point, some early morning theater. My theory is that this is an alternative to television for insomniacs: instead of turning on the TV, these people go to the town square and there they have live entertainment at any time. Myanmar: cultural anywhere. Anytime.
Cigars: or cheroots, as those ones skilled in the art would say. They are light, despite its imposing and green appearance.
The stupa/roundabout: in Costa Rica, at least, it is impossible to even imagine a church in the middle of a roundabout, instead of having a fountain or a monument to social guarantees. But in Myanmar that is absolutely possible: incoherently, amid all the insane Yangon’s traffic, you may find a stupa (nothing more and nothing less than a place of meditation) in the middle of a roundabout. Moreover, the roundabout is the stupa itself. Such are the wonders of Asian urbanization.
Honesty: I say this because, coming from a country where a woman can steal a TV with just stick it between her legs in less than 13 seconds (yes, people, the infamous video went around the world), it is uncommon for me to see how they make offerings here and leave them in a helpless transparent box. It must be part of some Buddhist self-control exercise, which everyone here seems to overcome without mishaps, because the money never leaves the underworld until someone, with sufficient authority, removes it from its sacred urn.
Also, at least in Bagan, I witnessed another self-control exercise in even more voluminous proportions: this kind of pot, which is accessed by a staircase (after queuing, because everyone here is so eager to participate…) to simply drop some money in.
That’s what makes me feel safe when traveling through Asia. Sometimes, people ask me if I am afraid of being robbed… No way! Here, they behave really well: if Buddhism says “Thou shalt not steal” it means “DO NOT STEAL” (that happens also in Catholicism, but we confess every Sunday and everything is cool). I haven’t confessed in yeeeeears, but in any case, I am telling you: I won’t advice you to leave me alone with that pot…
Women prohibit: Continuing with the honesty theme, it is common to see that women are not allow to be near certain altars… Wait, wait, wait… WHAT?
Right. I have found sex discrimination in all countries in varying degrees, but at least at the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda (where they worship some stones which they even like to dress sometimes), they don’t let us in because, according to a guide’s explanation, us, women: a) are superficial, b) we love money and c) we can steal the famous stones or at least the gold that covers them…. WTF? But hey, they’re right: I’ve already told you to not leave me alone with that pot…
Mini temples: And speaking of temples, here in Buddhist Southeast Asia they have them everywhere, especially in miniature, almost pocket-sized, perhaps to avoid urban chaos and costly constructions, so everyone can have a place to get spiritualized in case of an emergency. Here is an example of a temple right in the middle of the lake, which seems to be exclusively for birds.
The neckless Buddhas: Apparently, during the XIII century was not fashionable to have a neck and that is why, especially in Bagan, it is common to see Buddhas with their heads attached directly to their shoulders. Very contrary to the Padong women who, despite being as Burmese as these Buddhas, load themselves with up to 8 kilos of rings to separate their clavicles as far as possible from their heads. These are, therefore, the aesthetic debates that cervical undergo around here.
The Buddhas cage: at least in some temples of Bagan they might not have had bad experiences with offerings theft, but apparently they did have with Buddhas theft. I assume that’s why they have them in a cage, even if to me it seems physically impossible to run away carrying a Buddha (these guys are not precisely pocket sized, especially the reclining ones who, since they already have attained nirvana, won’t move due to any universal energy). Or perhaps there must be some meaning in the figure of the caged Buddha, who hasn’t being released yet from his desire bonds and live in the cage of his dissatisfaction … Or, perhaps, it is a prison for Buddhas who didn’t behave that good in the nirvana and were sent back to the underworld.
The monks’ processions: mystic and spiritual in all its glory as my miserable and Western soul would ever understand is this country (where you can even get a meditation visa).
Hence, there is a huge number of monks. Every morning you can see them ringing a bell around the neighborhoods, some of them asking for money (which, so far, it is something I have not seen in any other Asian country, where this type of mendicant monk is not the most publicized). Apparently, many join the monasteries because it is a sure way to have food, but not because they really feel the “calling”, unless it is the one of their own empty stomachs. In any case, they are everywhere, sometimes walking in endless processions, which are arranged in order of size and age, from the oldest monk to the youngest and smallest one, who is usually just a child.
The toilet in Inle Lake: I have peed in every single place where the need has urged me… But never ever in a toilet like this: precariously built on stilts anchored on Lake Inle, it is nothing else than a hole towards the lake itself (towards where else, when Inle is the legitimate Asian Venice; in fact, Venice should be called “the European Inle”). Yes, the same lake, where two feet away, people take their daily shower. But hey, water purifies everything…
Lotus scarves: Oh, how nice! A scarf made of lotus stems!, I exclaim, humbly taking out my wallet to buy one; my weakness for scarves is very well known… $400????????
US DOLLARS? I ask, with my austere backpacker heart infarcted, to the girl who works at the store. Yes: $400. Each fiber with which these scarves are woven is a fiber of a lotus stem, approximately 3,000 for each scarf, which entails a lot of work… and lots of money. The same applies to many other products in the store (which obviously I economically abandon with empty hands).
Street markets: the streets of Yangon are street markets. There are only a few sidewalks that escape the free trade of objects that, in most of the cases, are old crap: rusty screws (it seems that I was staying in the street/hardware store), wireless telephones that weight only 800 light grams and cassettes! (That’s right: only place I’ve seen in the XXI century that still sell them, beyond vintage stores). After Thailand, when I went to Myanmar I assumed I would have gone back 20 years in time … and it seems I did.
And speaking of the streets of Yangon…
The omniscient brown: only in the far and wild wild West and in Myanmar the custom of chewing tobacco must be so powerfully extended. That’s right: just a few seconds after arriving in Myanmar (hopefully, even at the same time you get your stamp in your passport), you will notice how this brown habit colors Burmese smiles with a homogeneous brown and the floor, harmoniously, shares the same pigmentation.
And finally, this guy’s incomprehensible sweater, anachronistic and inconsistent:
Or if it was not that clear:
Did this post tickle you? Then, please share it on your social networks or like it (you have no idea how much you can help me with that). And below, there are more ways to push the horse to continue rocking. Pura vida! 😉PLEASE NOTE: English is not my mother tongue! These ones are rough translations from
the original Spanish version Sobre el caballito.Sorry about the mistakes! 😉
Do you like the rocking horse? Then, down here you have 3 ways to support it to keep rocking. I'll thank you forever for 1 (or even better for the 3 of them):
1. Follow the rocking horse on or on
2. If you feel extra-super-nice today and you have at least an extra dollar this month:
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3. Or maybe you would like as well to...
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