Sunday, 8 June 2014

Hello again, Asia (exploring Yangon)

Bangkok airport feels exactly like any other international airport (duty free shops, overpriced cafes selling international food, luxury retailers like Cartier). All very boring and doesn't really feel Asian.

I didn't get the Asian feeling until I was in the taxi in Yangon, heading out to my hotel: tonnes of people on the streets (normally walking down the edge – or even centre – of the street rather than using the sidewalks, even when the sidewalks aren't blocked with vendors and parked cars), vendors selling noodles and snacks, and customers sitting on tiny plastic stools eating and hanging with their friends or family. After three years away from this part of the world, it feels very familiar (and nice to be back!).

view of Yangon's Sule Paya
Mmmm... shiny! Sule Paya, in the centre of downtown Yangon (Rangoon)

Random thoughts from my first days in Yangon (when jet-lagged):

Most of the men (and some women) still wear longyis. Some men (especially middle aged or older) wear them with short sleeved buttoned/collared shirts (like men's workplace /business shirts) but some of the younger men wear them with tshirts. I've only seen a few man bags, though, and the longyis don't look like they have pockets. I was a bit confused as to where they keep their wallets and keys, before I realised that most men seem to just tuck them into the waistband of their longyi.

These are some of the worst sidewalks (pavements) I've ever seen. Some of them are missing the cement slabs that cover the drainage ditches (watch where you step, or you could fall two feet into a stinking sewer). Others have huge holes and massively broken up surfaces. It must be impossible to be in a wheelchair here. You don't see any strollers either (mums just carry their kids everywhere). 

Lots of gnarly trees growing on many streets. It's a greener city than I expected.

A million satellite dishes on every roof and front of building.

Typical Rangoon street
Rainy morning in Yangon (Rangoon), near Theingyi Plaza

Lots of water available to drink – there are little brown ceramic or white plastic jugs of water on the roadside with a communal cup (yuck!) for people to grab a quick drink.

Billboards advertising toothpaste – there's one I've seen repeatedly around town where the woman looks VERY happy to be brushing her teeth.

Monks smoking cigarettes while waiting for a bus, or taking pictures on their cell phones. That was something I wasn't expecting.

Plenty of vendors on the street during the day – seasonal fruit, cooked bugs occasionally, samosa and fried things of various descriptions, meat things on sticks. You'll never have to go hungry in the day-time. At night it's a different story: the vendors go home, the restaurants close by 9:00, and the streets are mostly empty after that. If you want to eat late, you'll probably have to head to one of the known late spots, like 19th street. 

English seems to be trendy, as lots of it gets used but often a little inappropriately:
  • a car dealership called Polish Doctor
  • a fat child wearing a t-shirt saying Diabetic Diet Treatments
  • a fast food place called Creamy Child Donuts and Mr Fat Chicken

There aren't that many tourists about: you see very few us the streets – just one or two - so in some areas we're still a bit of a novelty. Small children wave or say hello or ask for high-fives. It's nice, y'know?

women selling fruit in Yangon's morning market
Selling fruit in the rain - the morning market near Theingyi Plaza

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