Friday, August 23, 2013

Meanwhile in Yangon...

One March afternoon, I left my fellow travelers with their endless shopping and wandered out of the Bogyoke Market and retraced my steps to the Anglican Church I saw on the way to the market. The gates were locked so I stood under a tree in my longyi and started sketching when I heard a voice say something in Burmese. A street food vendor gestured to a low stool and pushed it towards me with his foot and repeated the Burmese words - so I sat down and I continued sketching while he watched over my shoulder.

After 15  minutes or so, I finished my sketch and showed it to him - he looked at it appraisingly for several moments and nodded his approval. I took a photo of us and showed that to him as well; he offered his hand, I took it and thanked him.

As I stood up and walked back to the market, my longyi began to fail (fall). In between trying to put my sketchbook and pen into my bag and not to draw attention to myself, someone noticed my predicament. A man called out from in between some parked cars, this time in English - "I think you need help, I can help". I stood my ground, unwillingly and unable to move - my longyi had slipped further southwards and I wasn't about to let some stranger man-handle me.  
The man did not share my prejudices about wardrobe adjustment. So I stood there - sketch book in one hand my satchel in the other while he showed me the correct Burmese way of tying a man's longyi, with running commentary in English. "See? - it is tight now, it will not fall down again" and to prove it, he hooked two fingers into the waistline and tugged.
"See?" he repeated. "Yes" I agreed.

So, this is the story of how a stranger taught me to tie the Burmese men's longyi on the middle of Yangon pavement. It reminded me to keep a open mind when traveling overseas - not every local wants to sell you something, sometimes they just want to show us their way of life (if we let them)

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