Think of a country that has been frozen; a time capsule that transports you back to a magical land that history has forgotten. Myanmar is rushing into the 21st century, seemingly skipping a few hundred years in the process.
My advice to you – get here as soon as you can. I was super lucky to spend a few days in Yangon just as COVID-19 started her global destruction and whilst everyone is unable to travel, I want to share with you her 5 beautiful cultural shocks that took me by surprise: They don’t believe in credit or banks.
Gold and USD are the preferred currencies. Savings are held at home and precious jewels are often hidden in bamboo stilts of their homes. Why?
Because the intelligent live understated lives without trying to draw attention from the watchful eyes of its strict military dictatorship. Social security are words that don’t exist in their vocabulary and whilst their homes are basic by western standards, I did not see many homeless.
Yes, 32% of Burmese live below the national poverty line but with access to natural resources, they are still able to carve out a life for themselves.
Kindness and honesty.
Monks are everywhere. Indeed, every boy must become a monk, at least for a short while, some forever. One region, Bagan, has 4,416 temples. It’s like Angkor Wat on steroids. The Burmese are deeply rooted in their Buddhist faith and their gentle nature will touch you. Locals who couldn’t speak English would try to give us directions and help us onto crowded buses. The street vendors and taxis only charge local prices, their opportunistic instinct still intact and uncorrupted. We paid $10AUD for a 30-minute taxi ride. I don’t think Uber or Didi can compete.
Daily power outages.
There are 2 things Myanmar is short on; electricity and confidence in the government. Most major buildings in Yangon have their own power generator which is guarded 24 hours by a security guard but this is reserved mainly for the privileged and city dwellers. My first encounter was at the international airport when an ATM short-circuited as it was processing my transaction, then within 10 seconds as if nothing had happened – it spat my card out again.
I promise to never be grumpy when paying my Synergy bill again. It’s absolutely normal to be sitting in a restaurant when the lights go out mid-meal, leaving the tourists amused while the locals just get out their smartphones, switch the torch on and keep on slurping.
Have you ever tried to etch out what you’re eating in the dark?
Walking into a bank branch is like walking onto the set of a 1950s matinee movie; the tellers are using ledger books and you can hear typewriters tapping away in the back with mailroom attendants delivering paperwork to desks. It’s extremely nostalgic and most of Yangon evokes the same surreal feeling.
It is hard to believe that only a century ago, Yangon was once South East Asia’s most prosperous city and the world’s biggest rice exporter, where Chinese merchants settled and British Indian influenced carved a golden era. Sadly post World War II, with failed economic and social policies, the grand curtains fell upon the country, silencing it with poverty and inequality.
The Burmese have used thanaka to protect and beautify the skin for over 2,000 years. It’s a brown paste they make from powdering wood from the thanaka tree. Upon first look, I thought they forgot to blend their foundation, then I realised that beauty lay in the eye of the beholder, and in Myanmar, this is their standard of aesthetic. Women, men, children and the elderly all use thanaka like Australian’s use sunscreen. Unfortunately due to Australia’s strict quarantine regulations, I was unable to sneak any back.
Gia is an award-winning entrepreneur, marketing strategist and dog lover. Graduating with a degree in Marketing and the Media, Gia spent ten years working in the finance and insurance sector where she excelled in sales, data analysis and financial modelling.