Long trousers make you sweat? Shorts show too much leg?
Who wears the trousers here in Burma? The answer is: no one, they are one step ahead in gender equality.
Men are usually clad in shirts and dark, finely chequered longyis (“gy” pronounce like “j” in Jesus), a type of sarong folded over in front to be held in place. At first sight they may have a confusing resemblance to skirts to you but give yourself two days and you will consider them the most masculine looking garment ever. No pockets, but so tight around the waist, men stick their wallets, cell phones, umbrellas in the waist band. Very practical. When they have to wade through high water or play sports they pass the back part of the cloth through the crotch and fix it in front. It then looks like an Indian dhoti and leaves the legs free to move. Women’s longyis are usually brighter in colour and with gold and silver thread (except the ones you wear in the monastery, they are brown).
Cool, isn’t it?
Longyis pulled up, youngsters play chinlone with a ball woven from rattan (0n the foto very small, yellow, on the left). No goals, no foul play. You only have to move beautifully like when you dance.
Curiosity: toilet stop on a long busride: men got off and squatted (impossible in trousers), women stayed on the bus, held back and pretended not to look. No photos of that one.
Forgot to bring your sun cream? Don’ t worry, you can buy thanakha everywhere. That’s a powder made from tree root and bark, mixed with water. Women and children put it on their cheeks, nose, front, occasionally also men, to protect the skin from sunrays, to stay as clear skinned as possible and to decorate their faces. Youngsters use it to cover the notorious pimple. Take my word: as bizarre as the sometimes artfully and sometimes plainly pasted faces might seem to you at first, after a week or so, all you want is paint your face white. I did it and, awesome!, in the humidity and heat my face stayed dry and didn’t get burnt. Of course, next day I had to get back to working on my suntan, otherwise who would believe I’d had a marvellous holiday?
Girl in Bagan with artfully painted leaves on her face. Very shy she bravely poses for photos to earn some money.
Baby’s skin gets extra protection
Forgot to bring your toothpaste?
After a while it becomes normal to talk to a white painted face with blood red lips and dark stained teeth from betel chewing. Advice, just pretend not to be aware of the one or two lines of red spittle drooling down the chin, ignore the cheek pouch on one side of the face, get used to your vis-à-vis’ difficulty to talk to you with his lower jaw moved forward to keep the red liquid from running out of his mouth.
Apart from being an invigorating stimulant and a hunger suppressant betel is supposed to help against bad breath(?!). And, don’t worry if you step on red blotches in the streets, it’s not blood-tinged sputum from someone really ill, it’s just betel spittle. Still prefer chewing gum against occasional halitosis? Consider that the red (betel) saliva on the ground gets washed away by the monsoon rains, chewing gum sticks and sticks and sticks. In nice environments like museums and royal palaces you find signs that kindly ask people not to spit on the floor (with or without betel). People are so used to throat clearing and spitting “snark – chrrtsh – spit – splash” … I cringe… scared I might get hit, inadvertently ….
One last thought on betel: Everybody’s got his own vice to keep him going: think of smokers, beer drinkers, coffee drinkers, they all leave unpleasant traces (ugh!).
Betel chewing daddy with kid. You know it from the cheek pouch. I didn’t take any more drastic pictures of the habit.
Had I stayed a bit longer, I would have bought myself a collection of nice ladies’ longyis, I would have painted my face white every day (even though when I did it, I looked like a ghost, white doesn’t go well with big noses!) and I would have tried betel for sure. If you brush your teeth afterwards, it doesn’t stain.