During our 13 days survey trip in Myanmar, from the heart of Yangon through the newest capital of Myanmar, Naypyidaw, we spotted something quite similar in everywhere we went. Every Burmese wears sandals, men and women, young and old. Burmese people have been wearing sandals since a century ago and the popularity is never fade away.
Sandals play significant roles in every part of Burmese’s life, even in official ceremonies. People who aren’t familiar with its tradition may think this kind of shoes is quite inappropriate. But Burmese people include their sandals as a part of long heritage traditional dress.
Sandals in Myanmar are called Hnyat Phanat which are made from several materials such as cotton, silk and rattan. But authentic traditional Burmese sandals are made of expensive velvet only.
From what I‘ve observed, men like to wear darker colors while women adore vivid and brighter colors with flashy glitter and diamond ornaments.
Myanmar’s sandals are incredibly comfortable, cheap and suitable to every aspects of Burmese’s life. People can take them off easily before visiting temples and making merit.
It seems like no Burmese want to spend their time for tiring shoes.
To seek astonishing wild animal in Myanmar, we need an expert who can tell us where to find them.
Our quest led us to Zoological Garden in Yangon. We had some information about the rarest and the most recent discovered monkey specie that only be visible in Myanmar deep jungle, Snub-nosed monkey.
The local researcher who found and reported the monkey was working in Yangon.
Our team decided to discover each sections in exhibition of Zoological Garden. Until we’ve reached the Houses Exhibition of Taxidermy, the curator working here took us to the special section in Taxidermy room.
We found a senior officer who mastered in taxidermy, the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals (especially vertebrates) for display. U Baw Than, the taxidermist uncle.
“If you miss those animal after they died,
come to see them here”
he said in front of stuffed Orangutan. He talked in soothe voice seemed like he loves what he did.
Where did he learn this remarkable skill and why he keeps stuffing those animal.?
“It all started from my master..” The uncle was recalling his memory.
“In 1964 at the little church in Tanggyi, the padre of the church saw his unfortunate pet died and really wanted to keep its body for educational purpose. So he sent the church’s artist, who are later my master, to study taxidermy technique in India to come back and continue his intention here.”
U Baw Than told his back story with proud. While listening we could sense his love and dedication. The officer who stayed with us had also heard this story for the first time too.
“When my master came back, he started practicing taxidermy from little creature to the big one. Until there’s no more room for these stuffed animal, the padre had to look for the bigger place for them. All these stuffed animal were moved to Yangon. Then I received a call from the master to help in the zoo. Back then I didn’t understand why we have to do this. Right now I know why the master always told me not to toss this skill away.”
Now there are only 5 taxidermists in Myanmar. Three base in Zoological Garden Yangon, while two base in Zoological Garden Naypyidaw. The worrying voice of Uncle U Baw Than hinted us something unpleasant. The taxidermy exhibition doesn’t get enough financial support from the authority. This kind of work is not paid well and now skillful taxidermists are trying to move to another field of job. What he keep doing for many years seems to be out of sight from the public and be unable to avoid the closing down.
In Yangon, an ordinary day can be extraordinary, especially on Yangon’s streets. Every street corners are filled with public transportation and personal cars, like moving piece puzzles fitted tightly in narrow roads that share the same identical look with Bangkok’s streets.
To maintain Yangon’s road safety, motorcycles are not allowed in the streets, except police and military officers.
Every centimeters on Yangon’s streets is an opportunity for business. Those venders knocked our car’s window to sale their stuffs, chilled fruits, maps, national flags and “How to invest in Myanmar 2017” handbook.
But what captured our eyes the most was a street merchant who sold “dried unhusked rice plants”. Our guide told us he sold unhusked rice for feeding wild birds, pigeons, crows and sparrows. Be caution, when you traverse around Yangon’s street, don’t forget to keep your eyes up and avoid contacting those birds. They perch on electric wires and don’t hesitate to drop nasty things on your shirt.
Feeding birds with crumped breads isn’t popular among local. They prefer to buy dried unhusked rice plants from street venders instead which is more convenient to do so. Some local hang unhusked rice on street poles, fences, house’s wall and tree to feed birds. This act of mercy is pretty and eye candy.
Unfortunately, I didn’t participate the feast because I couldn’t call any unhusked rice vender on the street. They shuffled through the street so fast without pause.
We had an appointment with specific group of people to discuss about “Khon Yodaya” a Myanmar traditional masked play at Phyapon province. The guide told us to leave early because from Yangon it may take about four hours to ride there. Just heard the news made us exhausted.
But the shivering cold morning in Myanmar wasn’t bad after all. It made our trip from Yangon to Phyapon more appealing (If we excluded those experiences from rough and life threatening roads).
We found little shops along with the dirt road. The guide told us “There are many fresh palm juice for sell” So, as Thais who loves to taste some good food along the trip. We didn’t hesitate to stop and intake some sugar compounds to our veins, boosting up our kicks.
Not so far though, we saw advertising billboards or some kind of political campaign banners but the most astonishing one was standout from the rest, a local advertising banner with comically look “Friendship Fresh Palm Juice” (Baw Tar Gyi Tan Yae Sain). It was represented a group of people sitting around and drinking palm juices but the exotic part was the background, 4 or 5 climbers are gathering palm, emphasized freshness of the product.
I thought “Why Burmese people take palm juice so seriously? Even they build print ads stands in front of their stalls”. To clear any doubt that left in me, I decided to walk inside the shed behind the shop and saw a vast range of rubber wood plantation. There were sets of tables and chairs for accommodate those local drinkers. Our lady guide took us to talk with the store owner. He called us to taste his best receipt that it was good or not. I volunteered.
I sipped a cup of palm juice and hoping it was sweet and mellow as I experienced in Thailand. Everyone in the store were eyes fixing on me. “Holy hell! Can I spit it out now” but my left brain took control and inspired me to say “its taste really good, not too much sweet. I kinda like it (I was crying deep inside)” after I had finished the sentence our guide was rushing to ask how much bottles I want to buy. “Just a one very little tiny bottle may I ask” I replied.
At least, I understood why local were having drinks palm juice’s habit so seriously.
Fresh palm juice made from palm tree with similar process in Thailand. But Myanmar style doesn’t remove palm husks entirely just simply slash husks, waiting for sugar snap and gum oozing through those cuts.
Local Myanmar people usually don’t drink palm juice in the morning. They wait for the juice to concentrate enough in natural chemical process by leaving them in jars or large containers. Its scent and taste are similar to Thai local moonshine. With high level of alcohol from natural fermentation technique, it has been popular to those heavy local drinkers who need some enjoyments after long day work in the evening. I took a carefully sip from the bottle that I brought as unavoidable custom and left the bottle without being touched almost the entire trip.
Here the evening came, we were waiting for a ferry to cross the river in Yangon. Suddenly, I wanted to taste the palm juice again. Because it may in a good concentrated condition, perhaps its taste was quite alright now in the evening. I reluctantly picked up the bottle and opened the lid.
“Bang!” the bottle exploded with tremendous force inside. Palm juice was pouring out with compressed gas, ruined our car. Lesson learned, don’t keep palm juices in car no matter what conditions.
If you have a chance to visit local shop in Myanmar. Try it as your own sake. I dare you to.