Things about Myanmar

Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
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Trip End Feb 06, 2013


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, Yangon Region,
Friday, December 14, 2012

While traveling in Myanmar there are a lot of things that we noticed because they are different from what we are used to in other Asian countries (as far as we know). Things we haven't seen before. So we made a list of these remarkable things lest we forget.

Unique in the world: cars drive on the right side, contrary to other countries like Thailand, but they have their steering wheels on the right too. Most of them anyway, there are a few exceptions. This cannot make traffic any safer, or so we believe. We haven't seen many road accidents to be honest but that may have to do with the relatively light traffic (still).
The reason fot this peculiarity, meaning the right left thing, is that the government decided overnight to go from leftside driving to rightside driving. They wanted to create more distance from the former colonial power, the UK. Most cars here, especially taxis, are 20, 25 or 30 years old from before the change. But a lot of newer cars also have the steering wheel on the right. Confusing!

Not unique, but very present in the street view: betel nuts. A lot of people, mostly men but women too, have a distinctive orange smile (with blackened teeth) from chewing betel nuts. Everywhere along the street you see the small stands preparing the nuts wrapped in betel leaf, adding ground limestone to make it chewable and to enhance the effects: feeling less hungry and a little uplifted. Chewing betel nuts involves a lot of spitting, which the Burmese do with a lot of gusto and accompanying sound, colouring the streets red and brown (see picture). Taxi drivers regularly take the liberty of a short detour for their daily dose, wrapped in newspaper, explaining that this is traditional Burmese 'food' and they have been chewing it for thousands of years. It is very good for your teeth, one of them told me (but not very esthetic, this orange and black dental work).
In the bus back from The Golden Rock we discovered that they provide plastic bags for spitting which are then left behind in the bus, filled with dark red spit. Yuk!

Also very visible is the sandalwood pulp used as sun screen and make-up. You can buy the small tree trunks or branches everywhere, often near temples. People make it themselves by grinding it on a stone. It is really remarkable how almost everyone covers their face with it, which is hardly noticable if done well, but on top of that they use the stuff to make themselves beautiful. Meaning they put a thick creamy white layer over parts of the face (or all of it), in stripes, circles, etc. Small children are often being drawn upon by their mothers. Very funny!
What you don't see so much here (yet) are the girls and ladies who use whitening creams, probably because they use sandelwood instead (which looks much healthier and probably is). In drugstores you see all the whitening products (we always have to be very careful when buying) including deodorant (whiter armpits?) and it looks like white skin is also considered more beautiful here, but you rarely see the somewhat strange bleeched skin that is visible everywhere in Bangkok and on all female tv and movie personalities.

Myanmar people are very correct towards tourists. They stick to agreements, no scams, on time, always friendly and helpful, give extra service like taxi drivers pointing out nice viewpoints. Of course, you need to negotiate over price and if you don't, they won't say no to the money (be honest, who does?). We always felt at ease and safe.

Inevitable: loud music in the street, especially in Yangon. Just someone with a radio or cd player and a speaker, or so it seems, randomly put in the street.

Also very noisy: loud prayers sent from the pagodas day and night.

Chinese car brands. Most cars are either Toyota, Nissan or a Chinese brand which are almost all unknown to us. You think you see a VW or a Mercedes, but it turns out to be Chinese. The trucks with the open tractor motors stand out most (if only because of the thick black smoke they belch)

Toiletpaper on the table. Instead of napkins you find a roll of toiletpaper in a special dispenser on restaurant tables. We are not sure there is a difference between the toiletpaper and the napkin paper. We don't see or feel it nor do we see a difference being made in shops.

Something we enjoyed very much was people greeting, calling out to us, waving, especially children. We keep waving and saying mingalaba or hello, mostly both, all day. Sometimes they even touch you, just to see how that feels. We had a great time and to be honest we look for interaction with the people. It turns out not everyone has the same experience with this. Must be us :-)

Also very nice is that we received a lot of positive reactions to the longyis we are wearing. Especially Frank gets a lot of thumbs up and OKs (he wears it most of the time). People calling 'myanmar style!' Or 'Myanmar beauty,'. They really appreciate the respect that you show for their culture by wearing their type of clothes.

The power supply is not very stable in Myanmar yet. This means regular unexpected power cuts, where you stand in total darkness on the street or where ever. Almost all restaurants and hotels have generators which start their loud humming immediately and in many cases you find flashlights on the table or in hallways.

As in most Asean countries, living in Myanmar happens mostly on the streets. Making phone calls in the street is as normal in Asia as in Western countries, or even more so. Most people own a nice mobile/smartphone here. Not so in Myanmar (until recently a SIM card cost 1000 US$, as much as a good small car. Now it is down to 20, still a fortune for most). Not everyone has a standard landline phone in their house. So, they have found an original solution: put a landline phone on a table in the street, put a sign above it, a chair in front of it and a price on making calls. In Yangon you see a phone 'booth' like that on every corner and people making calls as if they are sitting in their own home.

We couldn't help but noticing brand visibility in the street (professional deformity). The 2 most visible brands in Myanmar are Grand Royal, whiskey and Myanmar beer. Every shop, every small restaurant has some kind of advertising of either or both, usually on the outside of the building. On top of that Myanmar sponsors..... road signs (see photo)

We saw this before in other countries but not for cars: petrol selling by hand. Although there are big gas stations, many people seem to prefer to buy their fuel at the roadside. For motorcycles this is standard procedure and it makes for beautiful pictures as you can see.

Very convenient and interesting is that all hotels, even the most shabby ones, offer complementary toothbrushes. Maybe to brush away the betelnut juice?
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