Burma

I took more pictures of people in Burma (Myanmar) more than anywhere else during our trip around the world. This is due to the following reasons:

I’ve learned that looking back at my pictures, those with people on it tend to be some of my favorites. I have horrible memories and sometimes looking at a picture, taken less than 1 year ago, I’d be drawing a blank: “Where’s this?” – but I remember more about a place and its people when the act of taking a picture involves an interaction with a person. Somebody. Anybody. Even if the interaction is as simple as asking them for permission to take their picture.

Because of that I’ve resolved to take more pictures of people during the later part of our trip in South East Asia.

And lastly, because of the people of Burma are just so friendly and photogenic. Like many people (or so I assume), I have to conquer my fear of asking people for their photographs. But I found that many Burmese seem to be a lot more receptive to being asked.

Or it could be that I’ve grown a thicker skin.

A child monk and his buddy – Inle Lake

These two friends were chasing each other in a market place when they ran into me. As a punishment, I made them pose long enough for me to snap this picture before letting them continue their horsing around. This picture was taken slightly after.

“Uh, there’s something all over your face” – Nyaungshwe

There are two distinguishing feature of Burmese people. The first is the longyi – a piece of cloth sewn into a tube, and worn like a sarong by both men and women alike.

The second is “thanaka” – a yellow traditional Burmese makeup made out of tree barks people put on their faces (and/or arms) regardless of age or sex. It’s often applied in a circular pattern on the cheeks. Other than cosmetic purpose, thanaka is supposed to also provide protection from the sun and help with blemishes. All around useful stuff.
A lady selling spices in Nyaung Shwe market

Lacquer, lacquer on the wall – Bagan

The village of Mingalar near Bagan is known for their home-based industry of lacquerware. They made really beautiful pieces of lacquerware using bamboo and/or horse tail hair. A well-made piece of lacquerware can take up to 2 weeks to create and up to 7 layers of lacquer. The patterns are all handmade, carved by tiny, pointy carving knifes freehand – stencil-free.

This guy right here is stripping bamboos into smaller strips which were then used to create bowls. A coffee cup runs about $10 (the opening price was $15). This is why I’ve been recommending those who are visiting Burma to bring more money than they think they would need (Burma is an ATM-free country). Burma is filled with good quality souvenirs, but they sure are pricey.

Lacquerware maker near Bagan, Burma

Monk frenzy

Every morning between 6-7 am, the monks would make their rounds around Nyaungshwe to collect alms from the villagers. These monks would walk barefooted on the cold ground on very cold mornings when the sun was barely able to penetrate through the morning mist – no wonder they walk so fast? Villagers would scoop out cooked rice or boiled lentil into their alm bowls.

I like to go in the morning to my favorite Internet cafe (International Pancake House) and it happens to be on the monks’ morning route. One day, a disturbing scene greeted me: a group of tourist sticking their cameras on these monks’ faces. Mobbing them, basically. One of them was actually on a rickshaw, following these monks around so he could keep snapping pictures without actually bothering to move his legs.
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Bored market lady – Nyaungshwe

The local market in Nyaungshwe – the city where most people visit Inle Lake from – isn’t particularly the most colorful. As a matter of fact, when the big traveling market doesn’t happen to be in Nyaungshwe, it’s technically deserted with a few people selling just the essentials with more tourists than locals. This lady seems to hope I’d buy something after taking a picture of her – I would but I wouldn’t have known what to do with a piece of dried fish.
A lady at a market in Nyaung Shwe

Weird, staring kid

This kid spoke no English whatsoever but was intensely interested in what I was doing. I wish I could say I was doing something remotely interesting but I was mostly just standing there enjoying the golden hour bathing the rice paddies around me.

On my bike ride back to Nyaungshwe, I passed by a monastery down a dirt path and I decided to take a look. This kid came out from behind a pig sty and stared, and stared, and stared… until finally I pointed at my camera and at him in that universal gesture of “Can I take your picture?” And he smiled.
Kid near a monastery near Nyaung Shwe

Yellow Burmese Tofu

The tofu in Burma is made of chickpea flour as opposed to your old-soya beans. This gives it a creamier taste to the tofu. It also gives it a yellowish tone. The texture and the color reminds me of creme brulee. Taste – not so much. Still, I found it delicious and ate it whenever given the chance.

It can be found in a very common dish called “To hpu nway” – combining the fried Burmese tofu with mushy chickpea flour into a delicious, albeit slightly devoid of form, meal. Or simply fried. Oh-so-good!!

Lady selling Burmese tofu in Inle Lake market

Chatty Burmese Monks

During our random bike rides around Nyaungshwe we’d pass by these big, beautiful buildings that often turn out to be a meditation center. There are often only a couple of monks living in these buildings. Oh boy, these monks sure love to chat. We got invited to a couple of these meditation centers simply by passing by.

My brother with the Burmese monks
During this mini-project to capture as many pictures of people as possible, I realised that I really missed my DSLR. I love my point-and-shoot, but portrait taking has higlighted its limitations: mainly its shutter lag and its zoom capability (the blurry background whatchamacalit).

But I still hope these pictures capture the essence of Burma and its people that I’d like to share with you all. What makes them unique and what makes them memorable. Burma is changing so rapidly I’m glad I came to visit when the people are still as interested in us – the foreigners – as we are in them.

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20 Responses to “The People of Burma in Pictures”

  1. Franca

    Wow! Those are amazing photos. It's difficult to choose but I think my favorite is the 'A child monk and his buddy'.

    Reply
  2. Christina

    Wow, these are great pictures. I love, love, love the small monk photo. They're both adorable!

    Reply
  3. Uma

    Great pictures. I feel inspired to go out there right now and start taking pictures of people!

    Reply
  4. Eloise- Am I Nearly

    Fantastic photos and a great insight into Burmese life. As a vegan and lover of tofu I found the bit about yellow Burmese tofu really interesting. I've never heard of it, but want to go to Burma just to try it!

    Reply
    • Debbie L

      I find it very difficult to ask people for their pictures as well, but photos like this make me want to try harder next time.

    • jill

      You should. I keep telling myself that the worst thing they can say is "No" (and then giggle at you, the strange foreigner, for a bit).

  5. cynthia

    These pics are FABILOUS! The boy monk and his friend? Precious! Your pics are always great, but tt's always fun to see the locals as well as the sights. Keep living the good life!

    Reply
  6. Christy @ Technosync

    I also really have a hard time take photos of people – probably only 10% of my photos have an actual person in them. I just feel so awkward and shy, and I'm worried about having locals feel exploited by having tourists constantly snap their pictures. I need to be more assertive about asking!

    Reply
  7. Audrey

    Love these people photos! Like you, we found the people in Burma not only some of the kindest around, but also were really happy to have their photos taken.

    Reply
  8. Maggie

    Mingalabaaaa!!! :D I love the Burmese word for hello! It's so fun to say. I found the Burmese to be among the kindest in the world. I think you captured their essence wonderfully. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  9. Christine

    My best friend is from Burma. And he always tells me that one day we will travel back together to his homeland so he can show me around. I love the beauty you have captured w/in that country among its people. The first one is pinned. ;)

    Reply

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