A Day in Mandalay
Mandalay, Myanmar – June 2, 2018
We started the morning off by cramming four people into the back of a cab and rushing off to the jade market. Our driver was high on life as he hooted and honked through traffic. Pure happiness in one of the simplest forms of life, squealing, “I love Mandalay!!”
Staggering tall over the crowd, we were definitely the only ones of our kind. A local woman asked us to cover our shoulders with shawls as we perused the market was packed with skirted men screaming bargains at each other in Burmese, pointing lasers through the green stones, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and spitting red all over the ground around our feet. Food, pool tables and crystals… what more could you possibly need?
Chinese buyers sipped green tea out of glass teapots and peeled mandarin oranges as they shooed away young salesman flaunting their precious stones out of rolled tissue paper pockets. Without speaking the language, you have absolutely no idea of what’s going on, and you feel quite out of place with everyone staring at you as if they’ve never seen someone like you in their life. A gazelle, a unicorn? But I somehow love feeling out of place.
On to another market that was full of colorful fabrics and horribly worded/wrongly-spelled shirts that said things like, “Nice Puissy,” “Good boys go to Heaven,” “Dat ass,” “I love New York,” (don’t ask me why New York when we’re in Myanmar).
My team headed back to the hostel, but I stayed to witness the market madness. I love getting lost in the colors and culture of markets, where people are buying, trading, working, eating, sleeping, snuggling and changing babies on the ground under piles of packaged merchandise. Life is so raw in markets, their entire lives take place under one roof.
This place was a child’s dreamland with kitschy clothing, mini-prom dresses, bedazzled everything, every hair and makeup accessory imaginable, funny creature-like backpacks, fake Disney and shops where 12’ teddy bears were suspended from the rafters to the floor.
Needing a haircut, I stopped in a little shop where the women were absolutely stoked to see me. I felt like a little doll as they fought to fix me: one lady washed my hair, one blow-dried, and one did the chopping. In fact, I mean CHOPPING, as her scissors may have been the dullest cutting utensils known to man. Quite possibly, you’d get away with taking these bad boys on a plane as my hair actually BENT around the blades each time she clicked the handles together.
Regretting the decision to see random barber the moment I sat down in the chair, I clenched my teeth and bit my lip as she crookedly “cut” my hair. I had to point out that my hair was a solid inch longer on one side than it was on the other. Oh well, it’s just hair they say! It’ll grow back! Plus, the haircut included the BEST hair-washing session I’ve ever experienced with a deep conditioning segment and a full facial, neck, and shoulder massage!
Walking home, a boy had parked his bike in the middle of the road and was yelling while choking his pink-teddy-bear-holding girlfriend on the side of the road. I yelled at him (maybe not the smartest idea, who knows what he’s capable of, but I’m also a firm believer in “if you see something, say something!”). I stood over them as she sat crying in the ditch. I asked her if I needed to call the police and she said, “I’m okay, thank you,” and then asked me to go. Rounding the corner, I asked another man to call the police and he said “There are no police here!”
At lunch, I pointed out the most appetizing combination in terms of my western standards, and I received a bowl of rice covered in chicken curry, chickpeas, and stringy sautéed greens that that man beside me kept saying “Oh, oh, oh!” As he grabbed pieces of accidental grass stalks out of my meal. My table was instantly packed with locals as I heard them say, “Oh! Foreigner!” As they dragged their friends over to sit with me.
You only live once.
Live like a local, and once is enough.
Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato