Thursday, February 6, 2014

I heart Rangoon

Today was the first day during this entire trip where I felt like having a beard helped me fit in. Facial hair is scarce in Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, and for that matter much of Myanmar.  However, in one beautiful neighborhood of Yangon, I found my people.  Desi reunion!

Do you know how good it feels to speak the local language?  So far, speaking has been the most frustrating part of Myanmar.  I am pretty good at languages but Burmese is totally giving me a run for my money, with the combination of tones and stress and unvoiced final consonants.  So today, walking along Mahabandoola Road west of Sule Pagoda, in an area the guidebooks called Little India, I decided I would say, "Hindi?" to people before trying to speak Burmese.  After three tries, no luck; everyone stuck with Burmese.  Then, at one clothing stand, the shopkeeper I asked shook his head and said "Urdu."  I almost could not believe it.  I had not been asking people if they spoke Urdu because I figured Pakistan is so far away, across India.  But duh!  Myanmar is close to Bangladesh, and Bangladesh was once called East Pakistan, and thus the Urdu trail spreads farther East than I had realized.  I finally noticed the people here were wearing beards and white caps and kurtas mixed with Burmese longyi.  So I asked the man about his merchandise, and he beamed when he heard my Urdu.  He told me his name was Mohammed Yunus.  He was born in Yangon, though he called it Rangoon, and his whole family lives here.  He said the neighborhood is mostly Muslim, though there are Hindus as well.  It was magic.  This is probably the closest to a homecoming I will get on the trip. 

We sat outside the restaurant next to Mohammad Yunus' stall and ate paratha, idli, and chickpeas while sipping masala chair and lassi.  I almost did not care that I hadn't gotten my Indian visa.  Maybe Rangoon does it better anyway. 

On that note, to anyone at all interested in Indian food, you must check out Burmese cuisine.  Their version of curry feels so fresh.  Small plates, sauces, sliced veggies, stewed meats and every shop's special hinjo soup - we have eaten it for days and no two places' taste the same. 


  1. I can't imagine, what a cool feeling to connect with someone in a common language. Your blog is awesome, Hammad!