How to squeeze the culture of a country, that spans from the Himalayan mountains all the way down to the Andaman Sea with an estimated population of about 50 million people and 67 tribal groups and probably as many different forms of religious practice, in one page? A country, developing from the Great Kings of Bagan, the King of Mandalay, over colonial times as part of British India to independence … and to the present socialist regime.
'Scratching the surface' is the phrase of the day! Asking the obvious questions is the task!
What will catch your eye at first is the traditional face marking, worn by male and female, young or old alike. A kind of loamy smear applied to cheeks and forehead rather carelessly. Apparently it protects the skin from the intense sunshine, but then why not apply evenly? Just ask!
Next is the typical attire: the longyi, a piece of cloth, sewed together to a hose and tied around the waste. The only difference for male and female is in design of the fabric and the knot. My Burmese friends presented to me a beautiful longyi, but the hard I tried to learn to tie the knot, I kept losing the whole attire, just embarrassing!
Easier to wear are the slip-on sandals, and very useful too, when visiting any religious site, since shoes and socks have to be taken off, when entering any religious site.
Most enjoyable for me was attending a genuine Burmese Dinner. Learning, how to use only your right hand to eat, was fun!
When I saw all the different dishes laid out on the table just for four people, I couldn't believe it! What looked like a full dinner, turned out to be only the opening part.
Try to skip western food and western habits just for one evening! Relay on your guide and enjoy a genuine Burmese Dinner!
One last cultural aspect to be mentioned: 'Bamahsan Chin' or Burmese-ness is a standard of behaviour with many rules rooted in Buddhist religion. One of those many rules, that you might observe in daily life, is the quiet, subtle and indirect behaviour of Burmese people.
What a change and relief from Western 'Culture', which quite often comes along direct, loud and obvious!