When something exclusively western happens Yangon that antithetical to traditional Burmese culture, it draws some attention. An example is the annual Oktoberfest put on by the German Consulate and BMW. The sponsors make it authentic with chefs brought in from Munich to cook bratwursts and make sauerkraut, and a Munich band flown in so all can chicken dance. Burmese women, however, lack that Bavarian Braun to carrying several one-liter steins of lager, but they gave it their best. String puppets are more the tradition here.
Today I experienced another one of theses paradoxes. I strolled into a local shopping at a mart to pick up necessities. It was not a local street market but a grocery store located inside a moderately sized mall. Nice one, too. The Groceries section is centered in a mall with some fairly high end jewelers and clothiers and even sports one of the two Pizza Hut restaurants located here. A long shopping meant some time negotiating all the isles and landing appropriate items. Adding to this is the shopping gene I have. The one I share with most other men that effects the frontal lobe and forces us to aimlessly roam down the isle. A burden we accept and live with.
I frolicked down the isles I wondering why I was so cheerful. I was shopping after all, hunting for food in the 21st century. Then it dawned on me.I was looking at Christmas decorations decorations hanging from the ceiling and serenaded by Burl Ives from the loudspeaker dangling above. Rudolph always conjures up visions of Yukon Cornelius, that mean Santa, toothless abominable and Norelco electric-shaver sledding during commercial. I was caroled the whole shopping trip.
But here they are not Christian and seem to only have a cursory understanding of its tenets. Sure there a few are, but even my students inform me that nobody they know really celebrates Christmas and none of them have even seen snow except in a picture.There are some churches around in downtown Yangon but the dominant philosophy and belief. Locals instead favor Chinese new year better because they get so much cash. Most everyone in the store is likely a Theravada Buddhist. No secret Santa. I wondered if they know who Darius Rucker is and what a winter wonderland looks like? Or the melody of jingle bells that follows the lyrics of which they don’t understand. And how about the Grinch? He is odd in America so figure out that song here. I did have some ideas from the music, though. I say combine some Burmese traditional foods with western holiday grog and creating a dish that scream Myanmar.
There is more, too. I could have purchased a small fake tree for 3,500 ky, which is about $4, but I would have had to lug it home and figure out decorations and lights. Maybe next year. I did run into another westerner and we stared at each other in an unusual way. Usually an acknowledgement nod or smile is all, but this was different. He was from the Netherlands and asked why American Christmas music was being played when obviously no one inside the store cared. I had no response other than to offer a sign of confusion and think that Donald Trump would be pleased to see he was winning this battle in “The War on Christmas” here in South East Asia. So can Yangon get some mall-Santa reinforcements?
The full-moon-holiday has been in full swing outside the apartment with chanting monks and responding Buddhists filling the night air. It is quite loud and likely would violate many sound ordinances in the states. But hear it is just what they do here.