I’ve been in the city of Yangon, Myanmar for a week at this point and it’s been quite an amazing experience already – and not just because there are dogs everywhere you look.
Yangon is more modern a city than I expected – there are SIM card dealers on many corners, all-you-can-eat (aka “free flow”) sushi joints, and locals playing Pokemon Go in Maha Bandoola Park (there appears to be something of value near the Independence Monument). But even with the trends and technology you’d see in any big city, there is much Burmese tradition as well. Both men and women are commonly seen in their traditional skirts of longyi and with thanaka (a yellow makeup made of tree bark that serves to protect from the sun) on their cheeks. Locals come together in tea houses and sidewalk cafes, sitting in small chairs that we might see more in elementary schools, for traditional meals of noodles and rice.
Speaking of the food, I knew I’d be in for a treat, but it’s seriously unbelievable how amazing everything is. Just this afternoon for lunch I had a tea leaf salad that was so delicious and unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before. I couldn’t identify a single taste in the dish that felt familiar to me, even when I tried each ingredient separately. I’ve had incredible chicken curry, glass noodle soup, clay pot rice, wheat noodles with pork, shan noodles, watercress salad, eggplant salad, and some tasty sweets.The Buddhist temples I’ve seen are unreal. From the famous Shwedagon Pagoda with more gold than you’ve ever seen before, to the Chauk Hyat Gyi Pagoda with a giant reclining Buddha whose eyeball is almost my height, to the Maha Wizaya Pagoda with a hollow stupa that resembles an enchanted forest – there is something for everyone.
Astrology is huge here as well. Different than the zodiac system I am used to, the Burmese chart your life by what day of the week you were born on. I was born on a Tuesday, so that means my planet is Mars and my animal is a lion. According to a gentleman I met at Botataung Pagoda, my Burmese name should be Su Su Lin.
The man at the pagoda who gave me my astrology information (as well as that of my entire family) was not the only person who has been wildly friendly to me. Many people wave and say “hello!” when they see my blonde hair and my backpack. I do not look local and they are curious as to where I am from. More than a few have said “If you need anything, you let me know,” even after just a minute of speaking.
My friends at Sundara have also been absolutely wonderful – taking me out to eat, showing me how to make soap, and helping me plan my trip outside of Yangon. In a few days I’ll be traveling outside of the city to a few areas in the north – Mandalay, Bagan, and Inle Lake. I’m so excited to see even more of this beautiful country and its beautiful people.
Erin Faherty is interning with Sundara Myanmar this summer. She is also the author of the blog 10 Miles Behind Me. For more updates on her travels around the world and future work with Sundara, please be sure to visit her blog or her official Facebook page. To get in touch with her, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.