How are you doing, Yangon?
The locals would say Neh kaun la which means 'Are you well?'
To which you reply Neh kaun ba deh. 😇
Right now Im sitting in my dark apartment while the faint light streaming from my living room window casts shadows on my half empty plate. I am confident the lights will be back soon. I thoroughly enjoyed my plate of long-grained rice found in the streets of Yangon, and my new-found favorite...their local arugula. These fresh baby rockets aren't the only inexpensive delights in this city.
Yangon has a lot to offer... and a lot of things that might make you want to run back to the airport, hop on a plane and swear off of. But before you rebook your return ticket, here are several things about Yangon that have kept delight on my plate and has kept me wanting for more:
Over the holidays I recently discovered why artisan restaurants offer hefty piles of this delicious leaves for nothing. Although you won't find these famous greens in their street markets, groceries all over Yangon that carry international products sell medium sized containers of fresh and organic arugula or baby rockets for less than USD$1. This makes me want to eat it with everything. So I've been gorging on these for weeks now with every delightful bite. If you love fresh flowers, you'd be happy to know too that you can get red, yellow, pink, white and all sorts of roses and flowers for also a 1USD a dozen.
This you can find in their local wet market. In the neighborhood where I am at, there are several Hindus, Muslims, Christians living within their very Buddhist society. Down town is quite a conglomerate of culture and thankfully, the food gets pretty interesting especially in their streets. I have a favorite vegetable seller who lets me know which is the best and if they're fresh. Kind local sellers have even warned me if the produce they sold would no longer be good the next day. Their cheese looks like white tofu patties that are seared on the top. Initially I thought they were made of soy or mushrooms. So you won't miss it, local name, at least in the street market, is deinhkel.
3) Fresh Cow's Milk.
3) Fresh Cow's Milk.
I can buy fresh cow's milk in the streets of down town Yangon even past 10pm and get very good quality cow's cheese amidst the vegetables they sell 'til midnight. You will need to boil the milk first though. Drinking the milk straight after purchase is not recommendable. You have been warned. Most of Myanmar people's diet is plant-based mainly because of their Buddhist belief (In reincarnation you might end up eating a cousin or a not-so-good neighbor who's passed away.) You can also purchase a tub of fresh and unsweetened yoghurt at groceries for 2USD.
Other than good cheap food, another reason to linger in Yangon are for their lush parks. Within the city they have multiple gorgeous greens and manicured lawns full of flowers, some by the lake and mostly with children's playgrounds. These parks are well maintained and are not just tourist attractions but also a fun place where locals do their early morning exercises or late afternoon sprawls. Highly recommended are: People's Park (with dazzling lights and water show at night), Kendwagyi Park by the lake and the park that wraps around Inya Lake. Be armed with a camera. It's the perfect place to unwind but be ready to quickly click those sharp lenses.
Land of treasures. Many establishments named "Yadanar" can be seen all over the city. It is the Myanmar word for treasure. Mining is one of their primary sources of income and precious and semi-precious stones can be bought at the famous Scotts market or now more commonly known as Bogyoke market. One must be careful though because my mom had to return a handful of lapiz lazuli bracelets after discovering they were fake and simply died blue. (It marked her skin blue after sweating under the harsh Yangon sun.) I found an article on line that was quite handy in deciphering real and fake lapiz lazuli. I'm pretty sure these aren't the only fake gems in the market, but just like in any tourist infested shops anywhere where cheap products are sold and merchants are prolific, it would be handy to know how to tell a real jade stone from green plastic.
Many beautiful paintings can be bought off the streets, but again, be careful. Silkscreened copies of masterpieces even from well-meaning local artists might be sold to you. Myanmar is lenient with duplication and selling of paintings, and although they truly are beautiful masterpieces, they are also truly fake. Myanmar's rich artistic heritage is shining. Like the city, the music scene is also a conglomerate of genres, tribal, Hindi or karaoke. They love western music as much as they love Bollywood pop songs. During their Water Festival, Thingyan, much dancing can be seen in the streets. Both young and old, and people from every imaginable Myanmar tribe celebrate by blasting the city with their songs, throwing water on everything moving while gyrating.
7) The People.
They love foreigners. Most locals are eager to show you around or make you try their often spicy delicacies. Countless tribes and indigenous groups make up Myanmar. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is home to not just the Burmese but the Chin, Shan, Kachin, Kayah, Rakhine, Ayerwaddy, and a thousand more people groups. From iron clad long-necked women, to intricately tatooed faces of old ladies, Myanmar people have tribes within tribes distinct even in traditions and dialects. Amongst themselves, they shock each other with the differences within their own culture. A culture shocked foreigner isn't shocking to say the least. I still experience culture shock after many months of living within their former capital. Myanmar people, especially the ladies, tend to have a shy and unexpressive facade, but they're very kind. Both men and women are friendly yet also sensitive. Nevertheless they are forgiving to the high-spirited travelers. It would still be wise to learn more about their culture beforehand rather than offending them at first encounter.
Like any city, living in Yangon has given me moments of ups and downs. Since moving here in 2016, the power outage has decreased dramatically. Genuine thanks to the current leader of the land, Daw Aung San Su Kyi, a true lady indeed. I wouldn't say I purely enjoy the developing commerce of the land whenever I get caught in down town traffic. Just the start of 2017 they've implemented stricter traffic laws: Seat belts. Some taxi driver friends of mine weren't so happy spending some jail time and being fined Ky 30, 000 to welcome them into this new year after they were caught on cctv. Ahh progress.
So if you've been living in Yangon, Neh kaun la? I'd like to hear your own delightful reasons to linger in this city. Make this list longer and add pictures too.
It has been fun. Cheizu tinbarte, Yangon.