Blog post #3 on my Myanmar expedition!
I would love to share 5 things that I found very interesting in Yangon.
- Buzzy Mornings:
I was living in Yaw Min Ghi area, an expat-friendly area. The street was full of restaurants and cafes- ranging from from local tea shops to Japanese sushi places. But mornings were a party of their own. I would walk up to a point to get a taxi for work and this walk was the best part of my day. Both sides of the street were lined with pop-up carts- selling different kind of local breakfast items- hot pancakes, eggs, and other fried things. There were also carts of fruits, vegetables and fresh flowers. I was greeted with smiles and chitter-chatter. The people were in full swing for the morning and their energy was infectious.
Another feature of Yangon mornings was the Buddhist monks’ alms round. Every morning the monks leave their monastery and walk barefooted with the alms bowl to accept food donation. People prepare the food and wait outside their houses. As the monks arrive, they offer the food. The Buddha’s teachings suggest that giving and receiving alms creates a spiritual connection between the monks and the common people. So my mornings were calm yet energetic and truly uplifting!
2. Crossing the road:
When you are from India, how much worse can crossing a road be? Well, it can. In Yangon, the roads are underdeveloped and there is no concept of a pedestrian traffic signal. So your best bet is just to cross the road, as you please. I have seen people walk into full-on traffic, show their hand and cross the road like a boss. The big difference here is that vehicles actually stop when you do that. You can’t carry that off in India- you will get hit for sure.
So given my knowledge of traffic in India and my infamous accident in Hong Kong, I was petrified to cross the road in Yangon. I have waited for 10 minutes for cars to thin down so I could find the right time to cross. Eventually, I lost my patience, and tried the local way. It worked!
3. Being confused for a local:
Indians account for around 2% of Myanmar’s population at present. Most ancestors emigrated to Burma during the British rule and played an important role in Burma’s history as civil servants, engineers, soldiers and traders. History suggests ethnic Indians had a somewhat turbulent time in Burma, but I am not going to delve into that for now.
I observed that the ethnic Indians see themselves belonging to Myanmar as they have lived there for over 5 generations. Yangon and Mandalay have the majority of the Indian population. So when I was in Yangon, I was often confused for a local. People would just start speaking to me in Myanmar, without any doubts. In fact, at a famous tourist attraction, Kandwagyi lake, I almost got the lower entrance fee for locals instead of paying the charge for foreigners. It’s just that I didn’t understand what they were saying, that they realised I am not local. Haha! I finally learnt how to say “I don’t speak Myanmar language” in Myanmar language.
But I did embrace everything local I could. I thoroughly enjoyed the food, which in my opinion, is a blend of Oriental and Indian cuisine with a unique Burmese flavour. I also enjoyed wearing the Longyi, which really suited me and confirmed my local look! Also, I made many local friends, who had origins from Nepal, India and China. They showed me around their city with a lot of pride and care. A big shoutout to Jessica, Tinzar, Medha, Yu Yu and Geeta for being so lovely!
4. Teaching Bollywood dance:
The private equity fund I was interning at has made 9 investments in Myanmar, one of which is a gym. It was conveniently located on the second floor of the office building, so I decided to join it. The attractive thing for me was the various dance classes- Zumba and Body jam- and the flexibility of attending any class at any time. The instructors were superb and infused amazing energy! I absolutely loved the dance classes. I attended the gym regularly for two months- which is something for me- since I find gym boring as a concept.
It was my mother who suggested that I could try taking my own classes. She is always the one with the ideas, inspiring me and everyone around her. I suggested Bollywood classes and we did a trial class. It was so well-received! The locals absolutely loved it- reactions I received were “it felt like we were in a Bollywood movie” and “we have seen the dances on TV but didn’t think we could do it“. It was a wonderful feeling to share my love for dance! The first song I put in my routine was recommended by a good friend, Musheer and was very apt- Mere piya gaye Rangoon- a classic Bollywood song about a lover going off to Rangoon and calling on the phone from there.
I found a fan in Rommie- a fifth generation Indian- who thoroughly enjoyed my class. I also met Medha – Myanmar-Nepali- a fabulous dancer herself! And my dear friend Joana attended my classes as well. Surprisingly, some men also attended the class and had a delightful time! It was joy, hip rolls, energy, smiles and 1 hour of intense workout! Link to a sneak peak of the class: https://www.facebook.com/kritika.kumar7/videos/10157705395685008/?l=1039638281381106422
5. Representing a reputed company:
I thrive on being an active member of the community I live and work in. Thus, it was my endeavour to understand the investment community in Yangon and also increase my knowledge of what people were doing in Yangon. It was a great feeling to represent my company, which has built its reputation since it started three years ago. Having made 9 investments in startups and small-scale local businesses, it has achieved a respectable position in the community. The co-founders – having extensive experience in private equity across Asia- are committed to provide their expertise to nurture local talent and businesses. I could see the impact – creation of jobs, investment in human capital and increasing knowledge of how to run a successful business.
The future is bright and beckons the right people! Lots to do and more to achieve.