There are two major annoyances connected to money 1) When you change money you get so much Kyat (pronounced ‘chat’), that you almost need a bag to carry it around in. Above you can see the number of bills we received when we changed 150 Euros. 2) Nobody wants to accept old, worn, crumpled, faded, dirty, written on or otherwise imperfect US $ bills. On several occasions claimed that a $20 bill we had just handed to a cashier was the last one
as they inspected it closely for imperfections, held a conference with their colleagues and finally called their boss to ask if it was OK to accept it. It was hard to understand why foreign currency needed to be perfect; the Kyat change we received was so unbelievably dirty that it made our stomachs churn to think of waiters handing us bread with the same hands that had just been gripping wads of filthy money. Many Kyat bills also appeared to have been ripped up and taped back together like this:
Third Reich Vogue
On our first day in Yangon we were surprised to see a young Burmese man wearing a black T-shirt sporting a large swastika on the front and the Reichsadler (Eagle of the Third Reich). It was such an arresting sight that we debated whether we should chase after the teenager enquire if he knew what he was wearing, but decided that we might make him relish the attention which his T-shirt had brought him.
A few days later we found ourselves waiting in a teashop for a bus to Mandalay, oddly there seemed to be a lot of people riding motorbikes sporting ‘Wehrmacht’ soldier’s helmets. One of the motorbike riders stopped at the teashop for a drink and we were able to sneak the above photo with our zoom lens. We were shocked to discover that this was not simply an uncanny resemblance, but that the Swastika and Reichsadler had been carefully stuck on to the side of the helmet as if they were a brand name.
Fairy Lights and the Disney-effect
Fairy lights seem to flash in the most unlikely places in Myanmar. They are used most often as decorations on the exterior of hotels and restaurants, but can even be found as ‘halos’ in the holiest site in Myanmar, Shwedagon. Given the frequent power cuts it seems odd that people invest so much money in these lights. In our experience, the more lights a hotel was illuminated with at night, the shabbier it was in the cold light of day.
TV and Music Videos
TV is everywhere in Myanmar: in teashops, restaurants and on buses. Even though we couldn’t understand a word, a few unfortunate seating designations caused us to be subjected to it for several hours. Programmes usually featured tragic love stories in which women cried in despair or poor slapstick, which invariably got the whole bus or teashop laughing hysterically. Alternatively, slushy music videos were played ad nauseam, featuring karokevideo-style soft focus and implausible plots, accompanied by well known western melodies that had been blatantly ‘localised’ (pirated).
We are sure that the viewers had no idea that these songs had a prior existence in English. On a serious note, it was peculiar to see that all videos showed pale skinned actors wearing Western clothes and sunglasses (not a lungi in sight!), living in palatial homes and driving luxury vehicles. The images were so far removed from reality that it could not even be called aspirational TV; the programmes were like something from another planet. Perhaps TV provides an escape, or maybe it is one more tool used by the state (which tightly controls all broadcasting); the new ‘opium of the people’.
For more information about Myanmar celebrities check: http://www.myanmarcelebrity.com/