a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Tailor made skirts in Myanmar

Last weekend I finally did something I’ve been wanting to do since we started living in Southeast Asia: I found a tailor and hired her to make me some clothes. Stephen had seen a place near Yankin Center where many tailors were working. On Saturday we went in and asked one woman at a time if she spoke English. When one answered, “Nearly English…” we started to talk with her.

“Myanmar clothes?” she asked.

I had my favorite skirt with me so I pulled it out of my bag and showed it to her.

“Skirt!” she said. She said yes she could make it and so I asked her about fabric.

“You buy.”

So I asked, “Where?”

“Near. Yankin Center. Second floor. Auntie Mary.”

My skirt has a lining and she said she would buy that part. “How much?” I asked. And she said she would charge me 5000 Kyats to sew one skirt. That’s US$4.23. She introduced herself, “Oh Ma”. I told her my name. And then Stephen and I walked to Yankin Center so I could find some fabric for my new skirts.

We went to what I thought was the second floor but I didn’t find Aunty Mary, (I actually didn’t quite understand what she said so I was looking for something that sounded close to “Anny Maddy”. I finally stopped into a shop that sold traditional Myanmar clothing and precut yardage of cotton fabric. As I was contemplating a couple of colors, a young Burmese man said to me in clear English, “That fabric would look very nice on you. I’m just saying.” I turned to him surprised he was speaking to me and asked, “Do you work here?” Thinking that was the most likely reason he was offering his opinion. “No,” he said, “I’m just a customer.” He was right though, the fabric he was referring to was a dark teal fabric which IS a good color for me.

I bought the teal fabric and a maroon colored fabric. And I took these back to Oh Ma.

When we dropped off the fabric, Oh Ma looked at her calendar and said she could have them finished by July 2. Can you imagine? I mean, two tailor made skirts done in 4 days for $8 dollars??? Wow. I was so super excited as we left.

And then as we were walking back to Yankin Center again, Stephen noticed the sign for Aunty Mary on the outside of the building. Turns out we went up one floor too many (the Burmese label floors differently than Americans do). Aunty Mary is a fabric shop and I hadn’t stepped in two feet before I was in love with what I saw. Stephen encouraged me to pick out more fabric and have Oh Ma make more skirts. I picked out two beautiful new fabrics.

Today I went back to pick up my skirts. They were done and Oh Ma showed each one to me.

The two made out of traditional Myanmar fabric Oh Ma called, “Kachin, Myanmar Kachin.” Wow I love all four. These new skirts are part of my new wardrobe for my job at MIS.

When I was working with preschoolers in Cambodia, I found that this type of full skirt was the most functional for all the moving we did together. We sat on the floor, then we stood up and jumped, hopped, twirled…and sat back on the floor again. Most Myanmar women wear long skirts, “Kachin” as Oh Ma said. They are more straight than these and would restrict my ability to lead my young students in dance and other movement. But, because they are long, I feel like I am still being culturally sensitive.

So how cool is that? Custom skirts made by a Myanmar woman tailor. On Saturday as Stephen and I walked home from our rendezvous with the tailor, it started to rain. Monsoon rains are heavy. We were getting soaked. From from under his umbrella Stephen looked at me and said, “Are you having fun?” And I smiled and replied, “Yes!”

He smiled back, “Me too!”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A capital city less than 10 years old

In the middle of June, Stephen attended a meeting to address NCDs (non communicable diseases) called by the World Health Organization (WHO). The meeting was held in Nay Pyi Taw, the new capital city of Myanmar. Just 10 years ago, Yangon was the capital of Myanmar and what is now Nay Pyi Taw, was rural farm land. On November 5, 2005, the government declared Nay Pyi Taw the new official capital of the country and on the 6th began moving ministries into the new city they had just built from scratch. According to Wikipedia, the government cited overcrowding and lack of space for expanding government offices as the reason for the move. Nay Pyi Taw is about a 5 hour drive north of Yangon toward the middle of the country. Because school has not yet started and I am not yet working, I took this opportunity to go with Stephen to see what the new capital city was like.

"Nay Pyi Taw" can be translated “royal capital” “seat of the king” “abode of kings” or literally “royal city of the sun” in Burmese. And it is quite a contrast to Yangon, with its mostly narrow and very busy streets. The streets of Nay Pyi Taw are brand new, having as many as ten lanes, and are elaborately landscaped with beautiful trees and flowering bushes. There are street lights and miles of sidewalks that line these newly built and nearly empty roads. As we drove into town, it seemed like the whole city was hotels; many looked quite grand but several appeared to still be under construction. Of course there are other things: restaurants, shopping centers, housing...but they are spaced far apart. Not jammed together the way things are in Yangon.

It took nearly the whole day to travel from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw, but we did have some time in the evening before dinner once we arrive to do a little sight seeing. One of Stephen’s staff, a medical doctor working for the project, took us on a tour of the Uppatasanti Pagoda. It is the Peace Pagoda. The Burmese word “Uppatasanti” can be translated as “protection from calamity”. We were instructed by the doctor to take off our shoes and leave them in the car. We walked barefoot to, from and all around the pagoda.

It is quite an impressive Buddhist house of prayer. In the photo above you can get just an idea of what the inside was like. In the photo below, if you look closely,  you can see the tiny shapes of Stephen, the doctor and our driver leaving the entrance.

The mountains off in the distance make this a most beautiful and serene city.

After the pagoda tour, the doctor found an interesting restaurant for us to dine at that evening. It was buffet style Myanmar food. But instead of our getting up to get the food, waiters brought everything to our table.

And they replaced dishes even before they were empty. My soup had just gotten to the right temperature when a waiter whisked it away and replaced it with a full steaming bowl of a type of corn and sweet potato soup. As you see from the photo there were many different choices of meat and vegetables. The doctor could translate some of the items but not all. As usual, Stephen and I sampled some completely unknown dishes. One of the salads was especially good. The whole meal for all three of us was less than $12.

The following day Stephen and the doctor spent all day in meetings.

Afterwards Stephen felt pretty jazzed about the work he’s doing. NCDs (non communicable diseases) are a significant problem for the country and now is the time for action. If Stephen’s project is successful it could have positive impact on the health of a large number of people in this country. The known needs coupled with the potential of the project give Stephen hope, but also a weight of responsibility to deliver.

For our second evening in Nay Pyi Taw, the doctor bought tickets for us all to go through the Nay Pyi Taw Fountain Garden. I certainly wasn’t expecting what we discovered. It was like Disneyland! But with an entrance fee of only 700 Kyats ($0.61).

While we waited for it to get dark (when the musical water show would start) we walked around the gardens. Such fun water features.

As we were walking, a group of mostly women came up to us and wanted to have their picture taken with me. When it happened the previous night the doctor said, “You’re like a movie star.”

Evidently my white skin and light colored hair are “exotic” to these Burmese.

Although no rides, there were some waterslides and pools. A few people were swimming.

I didn’t smell any chlorine though so even though it looked inviting, Stephen and I would not be quick to jump in. We've done that before and the of risk getting sick is too high. But all the water features were certainly lovely to look at.

As we drove out of town the following day we passed the roundabout with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) flags. The 25th annual ASEAN summit was held in Nay Pyi Taw in November of 2014. The many hotels we saw were build for hosting big events such as the summit.

Beautiful with its wide open spaces and fresh air, Nay Pyi Taw is an interesting new capital city.