Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Burma (Myanmar) - Rangoon Reminiscing Part 2: Wandering Vendors, a Reclining Buddha and the Burmese 'Gentlemen's Club' Concept

(Continued from Part I) A cacophony of what seemed to be high-pitched shouting, yelling and some screaming out in apparent pain had jolted me out of what had seemed to have been a fairly sound sleep just a bit after 3 AM Rangoon time. It had taken me a second to realize that I was actually hearing a stray dog ('zei kway') fight involving at least two combatants and a number of spectators chiming in or cheering them on. We had stayed at an apartment of a family member that was located within a short walking distance of the family home during our first trip to Rangoon. During our strolls back and fourth to the house had seen a fair number of stray dogs lazily hanging out in the open lot in front of the apartment building, and though they always appeared to be quite mellow, something had sparked the early-morning conflict. There would be one other early-morning stray dog fight during our stay, which was thankfully very short-lived.

Wandering Food Vendor Selling 'Pae Byor' (Sprouted Yellow Peas)

Despite the 3 AM stray dog fight having interrupted my sleep, my jet lag had me awake and up around 7 AM. The window had been open and the morning air had a pleasant coolness to it, and as I stretched and prepared to get out of bed to start the day, I began to hear a melodic male voice echoing from somewhere outside calling out, "Pae byor...Pae byor…", with the first syllable approximating a D# note that was held sustained, and the second syllable approximating a quick G# note that ended with a slight rising intonation. Recognizing 'pae byor' (yellow peas) as a popular breakfast food in Burma served with rice or atop a thin naan-type round bread, I figured a wandering food vendor must be in the neighborhood and quickly threw on a pasoe (Burmese men's sarong) and T-shirt and grabbed my camera and headed downstairs. As I exited the apartment building, I saw him walking along the paved road off to the left, with his morning food offerings contained within two whicker baskets set atop wooden framed risers fitted with long, elliptically-shaped rattan rings at the corners of the stool-like wooden risers that enabled the vendor to carry the two wicker baskets on the ends of a wooden yoke across his shoulder. This technique enables the vendor to easily lower into a slight squat and comfortably dead-lift what could be a rather heavy load without throwing his or her back out. A sedan was stopped in the street near the corner of the apartment building that we were staying in. The driver, a Burmese woman with thanaka-streaked cheeks holding a light purple webbed plastic carry bag, had exited the vehicle and stood on the side of the road near the sedan's rear bumper and awaited the arrival of the approaching pae byor vendor. As he came abreast of his customer, he dismounted his shoulder-yoked burden as the woman placed her order, which he prompted went about filling as I snapped a few pictures.

In preparing pae byor, the yellow peas are first soaked in water to which baking soda has been added (to act as a tenderizer) overnight and then laid out in a single layer on a flat tray atop a damp towel, then covered with another damp towel and placed in a warm, dark place for two or more days until the yellow peas sprout roots, which imparts a sweetness to the flavor when they are later cooked by simmering/steaming in water. Once cooked, the pae byor may be eaten atop a thin, folded rice flour pancake or crepe garnished with chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of salt and black sesame oil. Alternately, it can be served within a similarly-folded, crispy crepe-like 'yeh hmote' (literally, 'water snack'), which technique-wise bares slight resemblance to the thicker Vietnamese 'banh xeo' crispy crepe. Whereas the banh xeo uses a batter of rice flour, tapioca starch, coconut milk and turmeric and is filled with sliced onions, bean sprouts, pork and shrimp, and eaten wrapped in lettuce and garnished with cilantro, aromatic Vietnamese mint and a sweet and spicy 'nuoc mam' fish sauce, the Burmese yeh hmote uses a batter made only of rice flour and water, which yields a very thin, lace-like and exceedingly crispy crepe that is filled only with cooked pae byor yellow peas, minced ginger and thinly-sliced onions, and is served wrapped in lettuce and dipped in a sweet and savory dipping sauce. Another preparation technique is to add slightly under-cooked pae byor into a pot with a mixture of minced garlic, ginger and yellow onion that is reduced/simmered until caramelized in oil, to which turmeric and paprika is then added (a technique used as a basis for all Burmese 'see byun hin' curry dishes). This can be eaten as-is with rice or made into yellow pea fried rice ('pae byor neh htamin kyaw'), with turmeric powder used to give the fired rice a nice yellow color.

A Wandering Food Vendor Selling 'Mohingar' (Fish Noodle Soup)
The next wandering vendor that passed by was a woman selling 'mohinga', a fish chowder dish served over thin, round rice noodles that can be considered the Nation Dish of Burma, with the ingredients of the dish carried within a wicker basket balanced atop her head with the aid of a turban-like wrap of cloth between the basket and the top of her head. Mohinga is a very popular dish in Burma that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a snack, and is often commonly served at weddings, funerals, Buddhist 'soon kway' house blessings commemorating a new home, a new birth, a birthday or the passing of a loved one, and monastery/temple festivals. 

Mohinga (literally, 'snack soup') is made with catfish, traditionally with a whole catfish first separately simmered for about 15 minutes in water with lemongrass and turmeric (some bay leaves may also be added) so that the flesh can be removed from the bone. In a separate pot, minced garlic and ginger is sautéed in oil until limp, and then paprika and turmeric powder is added and briefly stirred to infuse the garlic and ginger with color and flavor before the partially-cooked catfish flesh, ground black pepper and a couple of lemongrass stalks are added along with the water used to simmer the whole catfish. The soup is then thickened with either roasted yellow pea powder or roasted rice powder, flavored/salted with a bit of fish sauce ('nga p'ya yeh') and, later in the cooking, small peeled shallots and slices of fresh banana stalks are added so that the shallots are soft and sweet, but the banana stalk slices retain a bit of crunchiness. The last ingredient added to the soup is sliced hard-boiled eggs, which become infused with the flavor of the other ingredients. The soup is ladled over a bowl of the thin, round rice noodles and garnished to taste with cilantro, chili powder, lime juice, fish sauce and fried garlic oil. The traditional side dishes and garnishes accompanying mohinga are 'bo-thee kyaw' (battered and twice-fried opo gourd fritters), kyet-thun kyaw (battered and twice-fried onion fritters made with sliced yellow onions) and 'pae kyaw' (thinly-battered yellow and green pea fritters).

Generally, Burmese cuisine tends to reflect the local regional influences of the countries that border it: India (and a small border with Bangladesh) to the West and Northwest, China to the North, Laos to the Northeast across the Mekong River, and Thailand to the East. There are also influence of the ethnic minorities in their recognized Burmese States (Shan, Karen, Chin, Kachin, Mon, Rakhine) and also the myriad hill-tribes originating from Yunnan province, China that inhabit Northeast Burma such as the Lisu, Akha, Hmong, etc. The Burmese curries in the central part of the country are more reflective of the Indian style, and lack the sweetness of the Thai curries. As there is a large population of ethnic Chinese-Burmese in the country, China has inspired popular Burmese cuisine in the form of dishes such as fried rice and noodles, egg rolls, filled popiah crepes, and moon cakes, with the Burmese also adopting samosas, parathas, fried chapati and biryani rice dishes and rose water-laced falooda dessert from India. The Burmese make use of 'ngapi', a strong paste made or fermented fish or shrimp with salt and chili in their cuisine, similar to other countries in Southeast Asia, and also fermented green tea leaf (similar to Yunnan province, China) which is used to make 'laphet thoke', or tea leaf salad, which mixes the fermented green tea leaves with an assortment of small fried peas and beans, peanuts, sesame seeds, ground dried shrimp, shredded cabbage, thin slices of tomatoes, fried garlic oil, lime juice and fish sauce. A spicy version of laphet thoke, known as 'chin-hsut' ('sour-spicy'), adds chili into the oily, fermented tea leaves.

A Wandering Broom and Feather Duster Vendor
Perhaps the most photogenic wandering vendor I encountered that morning was a moustached man selling Asian-style whisk brooms ('tha'bya see'), feather dusters ('kyet hmyae') and the like from two wicker baskets suspended from a yoke balanced on his shoulder. His chant was delivered in a more low, monotone voice. "Kyet hmyae deh, tha'bya see deh… Kyet hmyae deh, tha'bya see deh…" I was told by my wife that the kyet hmyae (literally, 'chicken hair') feather duster, particularly the rattan cane handle, was the preferred means for metering out discipline to naughty children when she was a kid.

During our 2006 visit to Rangoon/Yangon (by which time I had switched from 35mm film camera to a compact Casio digital camera), we stayed at the Sakura Residence hotel on Inya Road, hence I had missed out on a chance to capture the now-familiar morning chants of the neighborhood wandering vendors in the vicinity of the family home. During an afternoon visit with family, I was lucky enough to catch a couple of the vendor chants as they melodically shouted out their offerings of the day, donut-like fried split snacks (called 'moh leht-kout kyaw' - literally 'fried snack bracelets') and 'nga-pae kyaw' (fried fish cake), and 'daine chin' (yogurt), respectively, on video as seen above.

During our second visit to Rangoon, we were staying at the Winner Inn Hotel on Than Lwin Road at the intersection of Inya Road. The hotel was located in a residential area, and just around the corner across Inya Road was Myei Ni Goan market, a rather rustic neighborhood general store selling freshly-dispatched and butchered meat, poultry, fish and seafood, produce, assorted grocery and dry goods, household goods and such, in addition to a number of cooked food and snack vendor stalls. For a person driving along Inya Road, it could be easy to miss in passing, as the storefront of the market, which lies beyond a deep, concrete-reinforced gutter-cum-drainage channel about 4 feet wide and about 5 or 6 feet deep from the top to the surface of the blackish leaf and refuse-strewn water, presents itself as a line of thatched fences and shanty-like structures with a combination of corrugated tin and multicolored tarp roofing, with a few inclined, makeshift-looking wooden bridges spanning the somewhat intimidating (for someone afraid of heights) open gutter to allow patrons entry to the market from the sidewalk. A short walk south of the Myei Ni Goan market is a roadside fruit market that can be access directly from the sidewalk, with a portion of the fruit market spanning the open gutter via a wide wooden platform. The Myei Ni Goan market was intriguing for me, and during subsequent stays at both the Winner Inn Hotel (which, apparently, bought the thin, slightly sour from mild fermentation, rice noodles for the mohingar fish soup that their restaurant served from the market) and the Sakura Residence Hotel located a very short walk up Inya Road, I would end up making several visits to the Myei Ni Goan market at various time in the earlier part of the morning (which is the best time to check out the general markets and wet markets in Southeast Asia from a 'local color' standpoint given the heightened activity) to take photos and later some video clips.

Pedal-cab Drivers Waiting for Fares in Front of Myei Ni Goan Market

The Deep Open Gutter in Front of Myei Ni Goan Market

Inside the Myei Ni Goan Market Grounds

A Pedal-Cab Inside the Market Compound

Old-School Balances Used for Weighing Merchandise

During my first trip across Inya Road from Winner Inn Hotel (which can get a bit tricky, given that approaching car traffic is coming around converging curves on both Inya Road and Than Lwin Road, and that a line-of-sight jaywalk from the corner is also near the crest of a small hill that Inya Road ascends), I walked passed a small group of pedal-cab drivers waiting for fares in front of the market. Upon seeing me, one of the waiting drivers began to chuckle, and after saying something to his friends in Burmese that I couldn't understand, they joined him in a light-heart chorus of chuckling. The first guy then pointed to the paseo (men's sarong) that I was wearing, particularly to the knot that I had tied with the gathered waistband, which looked decidedly odd with regards to form and skewed off to the side location relative to the traditional Burmese style. "Ha-ha-ha!!!", he continued in broken English as he laughed. "Ah-mei-dee-kan su-tile! "Ah-mei-dee-kan su-tile! ('American Style! American style!')" He then proceeded to demonstrate for me with his paseo how it should be properly tied as I exchanged a bit of friendly small talk in Burmese much to their surprise. My second attempt at tying a proper Burmese men's paseo knot was not quite up to snuff, with the pedal-cab drivers chuckling at the less than stellar result. The first guy then stepped behind me and reached around me for a hands-on demonstration using my paseo to show me how to properly tie the knot so that I could visualize the steps POV, pausing at the end of each step and emphasizing in Burmese each time he paused to confirm that I understood the mechanics of each step. "Dee low loah, naw?" ("Do it this way, okay?") "Nout be doa, dee low loah, naw?" ("Then next, do it like this. Got it?") As we walked through the paseo-tying steps, local passers-by slowed and gave us quizzical looks, followed by amused smiles and comments exchanged among one another. With my instructor finally satisfied with my attempt, he asked how I came to speak Burmese, and was please to hear that I have a Burmese wife, and that this was my second trip to Burma. I thanked him for the quick lesson and made my way across the somewhat shaky, nearly vertigo-inducing makeshift bridge (for me at least, having a terrible fear of heights) that spanned the deep gutter and entered the market for the first of what would be several visits.

Stepping into Myei Ni Goan market that first time called to mind the decidedly rural-feeling general market of Pagan (now called 'Old Bagan', it is considered Burma's version of Cambodia's 'Angkor Archaeological Zone' for its myriad old temple ruins that can be seen stretching out onto the arid plains for miles), which I was able to visit as part of a totally unplanned surprise excursion up-country during my first visit to Burma, given the similar intriguing combinations of sights, sounds and smells. The floor space of the market, portions of which were shaded overhead with a patchwork of multicolored tarps or sections of corrugated tin, was an alternating mix of concrete paving, brick cobblestones set into dirt, sections of wooden planks spanning shallow troughs in the dirt that collected runoff from the fish section and buckets of water tossed across the paved flooring during the end of the business day cleanup (making it a semi-wet market), and bare dirt flooring. The vendors and their wares were setup along rows of elevated wooden pedestals, with the vendors sitting cross-legged behind their spread of offerings laid out atop plastic sheeting. In the butcher section, where meat (mainly pork) and poultry were cut and laid out for sale, the vendors worked from adjoining waist-high concrete pedestal-type island with steel plate counter tops, though the poultry area counter top appeared to be aluminum or stainless steel with raised edges, with sectioned log-type butcher blocks taking up some of the counter space. Interior lighting during the earlier morning hours was provided by a series of bare hanging light bulbs, some of which hung in close proximity to hanging racks of raw pork ribs and other larger hanging pieces of sectioned (formerly) livestock. 

The market was generally laid out along a North to South, with the meat, poultry and fish in the northwestern part of the market grounds (with the grading of the paved and dirt flooring creating an earthen runoff drainage trough behind the north-most row of fish vendors that looked and smelled vaguely medieval the first time I encountered it), with most of the produce vendors along the northwest, southeast and some of the eastern portion of the market, dry goods, housewares, health products and hardware concentrated in the southern part, and fresh cooked food vendors in the eastern part of the market flanking the open/non-canopied portion of the market, in which a couple of pedal-cabs and bicycles were parked. These small neighborhood markets are the kinds of 'off the well-worn tourist track' locations in a new country where one can really get the sense of the everyday flow of life of the locals, how they interact with one another away from the tourist attraction zones with its attendant tourist crowds and flurry of tourist-associated activity (including the often-intrusive wandering postcard and souvenir vendors), what they eat based on what's on display and what they buy from the vendors, and the unique sights, sounds and smells experienced that will become embedded in one's memory and perhaps later recalled when a similar image, sound or scent is randomly encountered thousands of miles from the visited destination to evoke it years or decades later.

During my initial solo visit to the Myei Ni Goan market, I did not see any other Western tourist around, which made my presence a bit of a novelty to the vendors and the locals there to do their morning shopping. As is usually the case, the local kids that accompanied their parents or elder family members to the market (either as shoppers or vendors) were the most intrigued and open in displaying their curiosity, and were particularly surprised when I spoke a bit of Burmese to them. I strolled the various aisles of the market to survey what was for sale or what the assort food vendors were cooking and snapping some photos, with the vendors generally greeting me with a warm smile and being open to my taking a picture of them and their offerings for sale. After my walk-through, I headed back to join my wife, daughter and two traveling companions, who by now would be open and likely ready to head down to the hotel's restaurant for breakfast. As we ate, I recounted my visit to the market, and after we finished our meal (unfortunately, the Winner Inn did not brew fresh, black coffee, and I would have to make do with the ever-popular 'Three-In-One' instant coffee mix packets and tolerate the added non-dairy creamer and sugar), we walk back over to the market as a group to basically retrace my earlier steps. While there, our daughter and one of our traveling companions would try a rice flour crepe with pae byor (sprouted yellow peas) and a sprinkle of finely-chopped cilantro from one of the food vendors, with the steamed yellow peas being much smaller than what you would normally buy here in The States, and apparently much more flavorful and sweeter. Our traveling companions for this second (for me) trip to Burma were no strangers to markets like this, having traveled to Vietnam, China, South America and Africa before, but also seemed to enjoy and appreciate this early glimpse of Burmese culture and local color ahead of our coming day trip excursions to the rural environs on the outskirts of Rangoon, and later extended excursions to Pagan and Inle Lake in Upper Burma.

Meat Vendors at the Myei Ni Goan Market on Inya Road Across from Winner Inn Hotel

A Food Vendor Making Rice Flour Crepes with Pae Byor (Sprouted Yellow Peas)

The Daughter of One of the Market Vendors Follows Mom to Work
The six-story Sakura Residence Hotel, which we stayed in during our subsequent third visit to Rangoon, was a step up from the Winner Inn in that it is a much newer building, the upper South-facing floors afford a nice view of the majestic Shwedagon Pagoda in the distance, has a nice swimming pool and serves both strong, black, Maymyo-grown Burmese Arabica coffee freshly-brewed several times a day, and Western-style, hickory-smoked bacon. The Myei Ni Goan market is just a slightly longer walk from the Sakura than it is from Winner Inn, with a short walk in the opposite direction apparently leading - at the time - past a General's or VIP's house given the soldiers with M16-A2's standing guard outside the compound's gate. (Later during that same hotel stay, I would walk much further North in the direction of Inya Lake, and after turning right on University Avenue, would soon be stopped and made to turn back the way I came with a very firm, "No!!! Out of bounds area!!!" by a police officer standing in front of a guard shack and barrier fence, only to learn that I had walked near the family home of de facto National League for Democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Gyi, who was under house arrest there at the time.) 

Having a digital camera with me this time around (something that I wished I had invested in a few years earlier during a trip to Thailand), I wanted to get to the market at a decent time in the morning to be able to get some pictures and video clips while it was still a bit early, yet late enough to have sufficient ambient light for shooting video. With the camera's flash set to auto, the interior lighting of the market was still dim enough (despite the glow of the bare hanging incandescent bulbs) that the flash was still triggering as I took some shots of the meat, dry goods and food vendors. I then headed back to the fish and meat section to shoot some video clips, as that part of the market held the most interest for me. A fair selection of freshly-butchered meat, almost exclusively pork from the looks of it, had already been laid out for sale, with a few plucked whole chickens and a pile of butchered chicken meat on display in front of the adjacent vendor, as additional live squawking chicken were periodically grabbed and dispatched with an audible snap of the neck, then tossed over to what I took to be family members squatting on the floor behind the counter be plucked, and finally passed up to the to the counter's cut wooden log blocks to be butchered for sale. 

Some of the fish vendors were still laying out the last of their day's inventory for sale, as others scrapped the last bit of flesh from the skin of a fish fillet with a wide-bladed knife to sell as raw fish cake ('nga peh'), with the male fish vendor rhetorically wondering aloud in Burmese why this tourist is taking videos of the vendors prepping for the day's business, as some local kids sitting on the row of vendor platform stalls behind him watch on with curiosity. One female fish vendor with presumably a customer standing in front of her stall thumbs through a stack of Burmese Kyat notes to count them, and then rhythmically pats the fanned-out Kyat notes in her hand across her laid out inventory in the left to right manner, and then she does the same across the counter's edge directly in front of her and finally, flaps the fanned Kyat notes behind her over her left shoulder. I would later learn that this a traditional ritual performed by the vendor after the day's first customer to assure amble continued sales throughout the remainder of the business day. 

From the fish vendors I continued towards the pork vendors located at the end of the aisle. One of the pork vendors across from a stall selling cut flowers was a youngish female with streaks of yellow thanaka power across her cheeks and her shoulder-length black hair pinned back with a decorative metallic hair clip, wearing a colorful floral print dress whose hues and tones matched that of the large pieces of pork hanging over her counter that caught the reflected early morning sunlight. She had a very nice, sweet voice and was singing a melodic and soothing Burmese song to herself as she laid out pieces of sliced pork for sale, and a couldn't resist pausing to capture some of her singing on video. After about 10 seconds of recording, a younger Burmese woman behind her called out to her using the phrase, "A'mah yeh?", a Burmese term that means 'older sister' but is often used when a person addresses an older non blood-related female that they are familiar with, to her to draw attention to the fact that I was behind her with a digital camera, and presumably taking footage of her impressive a capella singing. The vendor woman may have thought that her 'younger sister' was notifying her that she had a paying customer. She turned to her left to see who needed assistance, and upon seeing that it was not a local Burmese customer looking to purchase some pork for a meal, but a Caucasian tourist holding up a small digital camera, her eyes momentarily widened in surprise as a friendly smile quickly formed on her face. "Hmm, a'than kaun bah deh" ("Hmm, your voice is quite good"), I told her, which again brought another look of surprise to her expression upon hearing me speak Burmese, followed by a further widening of her smile and a brief chuckle of laughter. As she was still preparing for her business day, I got on my way to see the rest of the market as she turned to converse with the other woman.

Video clips of a morning visit to the Myei Ni Goan general market appears above (pardon the typo on the market's name in the video's title).

The Roadside Fruit Market Next to the Myei Ni Gone General Market

After finishing that first group walk-through of the Myei Ni Gone general market together with our traveling companions, we walked a short distance due south on Inya Road to the fruit market that flanks the sidewalk. The fruit looked pretty good, and the small Burmese tangerines, which were on the small side and looked deceptively dry when peeled, turned out to be quite juicy and very sweet and flavorful. Auntie would usually top off her amazingly-good, home-cooked Burmese meals by bringing out a plate of the small tangerines for dessert. As with other locations in the developing world, it's generally a good idea to stick with fruits that can be peeled and eaten with clean hands, as I had heard of visitors coming down with bad food poisoning after having eaten locally-grown fruits such as watermelon, papaya and the like that may have been peeled and sliced with an unclean knife, or plated with hands that had been insufficiently washed (or not washed at all). Though I would not develop a taste for/love of durian (the infamous 'King of Fruits' that is often said to taste like Heaven but smell like Hell) until later after trying some fresh Malaysian durian at a roadside stall on the outskirts of Malacca, I regret that I never got to try fresh Burmese durian during my last trip to Burma/Myanmar.

The Revered Reclining Buddha of Rangoon's Chaukhtatgyi Temple

The Exposed Footprints of the Reclining Buddha, Each Containing 108 Auspicious Symbols

Buddhist Nuns at the Base of the Reclining Buddha

The reclining Buddha statuary position, in which the Buddha is shown lying on his right side with his head either supported by his right hand or resting on a cushion, is a major iconographic of Buddhism. The position is historically representative of the Buddha's final illness before his achieving Nirvana, or the release from Samsara, which is the cycle of life, death and rebirth based on one's karma. In later travels around Southeast Asia, I would encounter numerous reclining Buddha statues, some quite large and famous such as the gilded Reclining Buddha of Bangkok's Wat Po, but the first one I would get to see, the Reclining Buddha of Rangoon's Chaukhtatgyi Temple, was by far the most impressive and memorable. Located off Shwe Gon Tine Road in Rangoon's Bahan Township, it is among the most revered reclining Buddha images in the country, with the Buddha image measuring 66 meters (217 ft) long, making it one of the largest in Burma. Each of the statue's exposed footprints contain 108 auspicious symbols in demarcated segments, representing the 108 'lakshanas' or auspicious characteristics of the Buddha. The original Buddha statue began construction in 1899, being completed in 1907 by another construction company, but was the improper proportions and the somewhat aggressive expression on the Buddha's face were deemed unacceptable. In the 1950s, the old Buddha image was demolished and work began to replace the image under the supervision of U Thaung, a master craftsman from Dawei. Large glass eyes with dimensions of 1.77 by .58 meters (5 ft 10 in × 1 ft 11 in) were custom-created for the new Buddha image, which was consecrated in 1973.

The Vendor Shops Flanking the Main Vendor Hall of Bogyoke Market

Paintings For Sale Outside the Bogyoke Market Main Vendor Hall

Burmese Fabric Vendor in the Main Vendor Hall

Burmese Tapestry Vendor in the Main Vendor Hall

Snack and Dessert Vendors in the Central Aisle of the Main Hall

Outdoor Sidewalk Vendor Around Scott Market
After our morning visit to Chaukhtatgyi Temple's reclining Buddha, we did an excursion out into the rural outskirts of the delta region southeast of Rangoon to Kyauktan Township to visit Yeh Le Phaya, a Buddhist pagoda located on a small island in Hmaw Wun Creek, a tributary of Yangon River. The pagoda was built in the third century BCE and is known for its population of very large catfish that congregate at the downstream tip of the island and whom visitors and pilgrims feed small popcorn balls sold in colorful plastic bags (which end up littering the steps leading down to the water's edge) to gain merit. The excursion gave me my first sample of rural Burma, including rustic over-burdened ox carts that shared the dusty, cracked and weathered tarmac with the cars, and stilted thatched houses along the roadside. It also gave me my first 'longtail boat' ride, so named for the Chinese outboard motors utilizing small, fully-exposed (including rotating fan belt) car motors that sit on a pivoting pintle mount at the back of the boat and a long, slender shaft with a propeller at the end that sit at a very shallow angle to the water, and can be slewed to bring the propeller up out of the water when the pilot needs to switch to oars. Upon our return to Rangoon, we stopped by the family home for lunch, and then went for our inaugural visit to Rangoon's main bazaar and major tourist destination, Bogyoke Aung San Market, which our family there continued to refer to by the former name 'Scott Market' in conversation with us.

Scott Market was built in 1926 during the later period of British rule of Burma, and was named after the Municipal Commissioner of the time, Mr. Gavin Scott, though after Burmese independence in 1948 it was renamed after Bogyoke (General) Aung San. The original building and market area is known for its colonial architecture and inner cobblestone streets, with a new wing of the market being added across Bogyoke Market Road in the 1990's. The interior of the main market building, which is accessed via several open doorways but (during our visits, at least) lacked air conditioning and would get oppressively hot during the day, features a myriad of open vendor stalls selling antiques, Burmese handicrafts (hand-made lacquer ware, tapestries, wood carvings, intricately-engraved silver bowls, marionette puppets, ethnic minority decorative items), jewelry, paintings, clothing, traditional Burmese fabrics, and souvenirs ranging from Burmese-themed T-shirts and ethnic Shan tribe sling bags to stone paintings made from small chips of colorful semi-precious gemstones, in addition to a number of stalls geared to the needs of local shoppers, selling medicine, foodstuffs, garments and foreign goods. The market is a popular black market location for exchanging currency, with jewelry merchants typically able to change the largest notes at the best rates provided the notes are in like-new condition (crisp, pristine USD $100 notes preferred, definitely no pencil or ink marks, streaks or wear marks or torn corners, and any cellophane tape tear repairs will get the bill immediately rejected) and wandering money changers always prowling the aisles for prospective clients. 

Generally, I am not much of a shopper, souvenir or otherwise, and when I travel I might pick up a T-shirt, a small trinket or other memento as a cultural keepsake to commemorate where I've traveled, but don't spend much time in shopping malls as a rule. I did stroll the aisle of Scott Market for a bit to check out the array of traditional Burmese goods and handicrafts, but after having seeing the variety of goods for sale and taking some photos of the vendor stalls to document my visit here, I fond myself doing more people watching than window shopping, and practicing a bit of Burmese when the opportunity presented itself with vendors that were having a slow day and not occupied with customers. Some of the people seen strolling the aisles of Scott Market were members of Burma's numerous ethnic minorities, such as the Shan, Pa-O, Chin, Karen and others, with some of their clothing reflective of elements of their traditional ethnic costume such as a head scarf, turban, shawl, style of shirt/blouse or jewelry.

During my first visit to Scott Market's main hall, I was approached by a Burmese gentleman of Indian extraction who asked me if I wanted to change any money. Upon our arrival in Rangoon, I had been told that I don't have to worry about changing any money out in public, as all of that could be done at the family home, and that it was considered illegal for foreigners to exchange money on the black market despite being able to get a much better rate of exchange, and that if I were caught changing money on the black market, I could be arrested and do jail time, or forced to pay a very large bribe to be released, or possibly kick out of the country. Perhaps it was the allure of the 'forbidden fruit' aspect of black market money-changing, but as I did have some USD on me, I figured I'd do it more for the experience that the need of additional local currency. The then-black market baseline exchange rate was about 1,000 Burmese Kyats to the USD $1, and he said he would give me a rate of 1,130 or so, and motioned for us to back out of the main aisle and into a more narrow side aisle between a line of facing vendor stalls, and then took out a small calculator (something that all vendors, legit and black market, seem to have with them). I forget the exact amount I gave him (perhaps USD $38 was the amount I had in my pocket at the time?), but he quickly tapped the number into the calculator, then reached into his right pants pocket and then his left, producing two fairly thick wads of Kyat notes in various sizes and denominations, some of the old and faded, some old and well-used such that they were darker in color and would be harder to read the denominations for someone only recently acquainted with a new currency. He combined the stacks into his left hand and began quickly thumbing through them with the other hand, pulling some out seemingly at random to begin building smaller stacks that he would alternately tuck in between his left pinky and ring finger, or ring finger and middle finger with incredible muscle-memory speed and dexterity borne of having done this task near-countless thousands of times. Glancing left to right to confirm we were not being conspicuously observed, he hands me the created stack of Kyat notes and says, "Okay, check it..." I fumbled with trying not to drop the thick stack of bills as I tried to confirm the count, having to first read the denominations that I'm still getting familiar with and then trying to keep the tallies straight and do the math. I managed to screw up the count a couple of time and could see that he was glancing around a bit more and starting to act a little nervous, likely regretting that he agreed to this transaction. Luckily, my sister-in-law walked up, and after giving me a look of mild shock that I would do such a thing in public after having been warned about the possible consequences, she exchanged some words in Burmese with him, took the stack of Kyat notes from my hands and quickly counted it. She peeled off some additional notes from the stack, telling me that he gets this back as the count was a bit off, and then we parted company as the money changer made his way back into the flow of shoppers and I accepted my scolding as we met up with my wife, where I would receive another scolding and a warning that I was lucky I wasn't caught and taken off to jail.

Food Vendors on the Sidewalks and Streets Around Bogyoke Market

Scott Market Outdoor Eateries, with Tabletop Toilet Paper Rolls Instead of Napkins

Htamin Leth Thoke (Rice and Noodle Salad) & Pazoon Kwet-Kyaw (Shrimp Fritters)

Assorted Stewed Pig Offal (Organ Meat)

Organ Meat on a Stick with Assorted Dipping Sauces, a Common Street Food

During my visits to Scott Market, I tended to spend much more time strolling the sidewalks and walkways that flank the outside of the main market building than inside amid the aisles filled with vendor stalls, personally finding the myriad food vendor stalls and photo opportunities much more intriguing than jewelry, handicraft, clothing and such. I had been duly warned about the risk of randomly trying street food (or drinking regular tap water, for that matter) in Burma due to the threat of food poisoning, and as such refrained from trying anything from the street food vendors. (I would, by the end of the first trip to Burma, end up with food poisoning and have a single bout of very early morning vomiting that I attributed to mistakenly drinking from our driver's water bottle that happened to be the same brand of purified drinking water - Chinthe Brand - as mine, but may have contained water drawn from one of the communal wells, during our brief trip up to Pagan. I also recount the worse case of food poisoning that I ever had while traveling in Asia during our second trip to Burma in my post The Upside of Food Poisoning in Bagan, Myanmar (Pagan, Burma), which turned out to be a blessing in disguise and enabled me to experience the rustic neighborhood of southeast Pagan Myothit like a local thanks to a young local artisan that became my guide and fixer for the day and evening during my recovery).

As I strolled among the food vendor stalls and found those that piqued my interest enough to take a photo or a short video clip, I would confirm that it was okay for me to do so by asking in Burmese, which would normally evoke a surprised look followed by a bemused, friendly smile. One particular food vendor stall that caught my eye was selling htamin leth thoke (rice and noodle salad) & pazoon kwet-kyaw (shrimp fritters). 'Htamin leth thoke' roughly translates to 'rice salad mixed with hands', as given that the ingredients includes two types of long, cooked noodles, tossing the htamin leth thoke by hand/fingers is the most efficient technique. The ingredients for htamin leth thoke are cooked long-grain jasmine rice sprinkled with chili powder and chili & fried garlic-infused oil to impart a reddish color, cooked vermicelli noodles, cooked egg noodles, diced boiled potatoes, shredded cabbage, shredded green papaya, diced seeded cucumber, diced tomatos, thinly-sliced onions, sliced spring onions, toasted rice powder, dried shrimp powder, fried diced garlic, crispy-fried sliced shallots, lime juice, tamarind juice, fish sauce, and additional chili & garlic-infused oil and belacan ('ngapi kyaw' - fried fermented fish paste) added as the ingredients are being tossed together. As I asked the htamin leth thoke vendor girls if it was okay if I could shoot some video ('Video yiht-lou yah lah?'), they immediately began to chuckle and responded, "Yaw deh. Aye-aye, say-say yiht bah." ('Sure, no worries. Shoot video clips'). And then they continuing jokingly with intermittent chuckling as the video recording proceeded, "Nuh-nuh thee, yiht bah..." ('Even take video of the shredded papaya if you want; no worries...'), as seen above.

One of My Local Scott Market Buddies

I did meet a couple of rather unique locals during my multiple trips to Scott Market. One of them was a begger that always hung out in the market that looked to be a Burmese of Indian extraction, and was apparently either mute or perhaps a deaf-mute. He approached me on serveral occasions during each visit begging for money, which at one point I had given him some spare Kyat notes and even a couple of extra Granola bars that I had in my day pack. He got very familiar with us by the second visit to the market, and at one point after I had returned to the main market hall after taking photos outside, I began strolling the maze of vendor stalls looking to find my wife, daughter and sister-in-law, but after wandering up and down the aisles for some time I was still unable to find them. I suddenly felt a tap on the shoulder and turned to see the Burmese-Indian begger, who silently pantomimed for me to follow him. He quickly wove his way through the aisles of crowded vendor stalls, glancing back over his should from time to time to make sure I was still following him, and making an enthusiastic beckoning motion with his hand. After a few more turns he suddenly stopped ahead of me and excitedly pointed down the left side of the intersecting aisles, where the three ladies were hudled together with a vendor over a jewelry display counter. I thanked him and tipped him a few Kyats in appreciation. 

Hla Thazin Aung, a Young Wandering Postcard Vendor Girl at Scott Market

The most memorable new local friend made at Scott Market would have to be Hla Thazin Aung, a petite seven year-old wander postcard vendor girl that had first approached us near the market's Burmese painting vendor stalls. She was, as is often the case, quite persistent in her quest to make a sale, but her bubbly personality conveyed despite her not speaking much English beyond the basics required to sell to visiting tourists and my command of spoken Burmese being very weak at best was quite endearing and, perhaps out of boredom due to very slow sales, ended up following us around for quite a while. She was genuinely intrigued that I could speak some Burmese, at least enough to exchange a bit of rudimentary small talk, with my wife and sister-in-law able to translate when we hit a brief impasse. I wasn't interested in buying any Burmese postcards at the time, but did share some of my Granola bars with her, of which she ate one and placed the other in her ethnic Shan sling bag for later. We would see her the following day on a return visit to the market, as she was walking down the central aisle of the main hall and we were sitting on some stools at an often-visited jewelry shop along the main aisle that was owned by a friend of the family. I asked Hla Thazin if she was interested in jewelry and she replied, "Theit wathanah ma'pah bu" ('Not really interested'). It must have been another slow business day for her, as she appeared to be content to just sit with me lazing around instead of go out looking for prospective postcard buyers. "Pyin lah?" ('Are you bored?'), I asked her in Burmese. "Pyin dah boor!" ('Of course I'm bore!'), she responded with mock overemphasis, then giggled and leaned down to fiddle with her sandal. She then walked out to the central aisle and took off one sandal, kicking it ahead of her as she slowly walked up and down the central aisle to stave off boredom (which I was also feeling as I waited for the ladies to finish up at the jewelry stall counter), until a wandering vendor boy a bit older than her tapped her on the shoulder then continued running up the aisle, causing her to squeal loudly and give chase, as kids their age will tend to do in the name of fun. On our last trip to the market that visit to Rangoon, I would again find myself on that same stoll at the same jewelry shop again waiting for the ladies to finish up, and Hla Thazin would again come up and wait with me. I offered her another Granola bar, which she accepted and, after a slight pause, looked up at me, then pointed first to me, then tapped herself on the chest and said, "Ngah thinyeigyin" ('You're my friend'), which I thought was very sweet. Before leaving Scott Market and bidding farewell to Hla Thazin Aung, we bought a plastic strip of multiple postcards of the top tourist attractions of Burma from her, and gave her a bit of walking around pocket money. My sister-in-law would continue to see her around the market off and on for a couple of years after that visit, then she just seemed to disappear. By now she's likely married with kids, and I hope that wherever she is, she is doing well.

Sidewalk Produce Vendors Between Scott Market and FMI Mall

Payit Kyaw - Fried Large Grasshopper Stuffed with Garlic & Ginger

Clothing and Handbags Sold from the Sidewalk in Front of FMI Mall

A Sidewalk Vendor Selling Snack Food, Including San Win Makin Semolina Cake

A short walk to the east of Scott Market is FMI, a smaller but more upscale two-level shopping mall with air conditioning and a traditional shopping mall layout verses aisles of open vendor stalls, with the sidewalks that span the distance between Scott Market and FMI dotted with sidewalk vendors that predominantly sell produce and some snack food, along with clothing sold from tarps laid out on the sidewalk. Perhaps the most interesting vendor stall along that stretch of sidewalk was the one selling payit kyaw, which are large grasshoppers whose body cavities are gutted and stuffed with garlic and ginger, and then fried. Though I have try the much smaller Mexican chapulines roasted grasshoppers in the States, I was not up to trying the payit kyaw stuffed grasshoppers, nor the similar fried grasshoppers and other insects that I had seen in Thailand and Cambodia.

Rangoon's Maha Bandoola Road, with the Sule Pagoda Centered in the Distance

Vendor Woman and Child on Maha Bandoola Road

Sidewalk Apple Vendor Along Maha Bandoola Road Near Shwedagon Pagoda Road

Fruit Vendors Near Maha Bandoola Road in Rangoon's Chinatown

Buddhist Nuns Preparing to Beg for Alms on Maha Bandoola Road

High Shelves at a Market in Rangoon's Chinatown

Maha Bandoola Road, located in south Rangoon not far from the Rangoon River waterfront, was another part of the city that held enchantment for me from a street vendor and people watching standpoint. The western portion of the road between 18th and 24th Street forms the northern boundary of Rangoon's Chinatown, which was created when the British expanded the city in the 1850's, and that section had always been particularly lively whenever I had visited there. There were a wide variety of sidewalk and curbside street vendors in the vicinity of Chinatown offering produce, household goods, foods and beverages, with one resourceful vendor suspending a large block of ice with wraps of heavy wire such that it hung at a slight angle so that the bottom corner was perpendicular to the ground, with an improvised wire cup holder directly beneath it and a plastic cup to catch the dripping melted runout, which he sold as cold drinking water. I also was intrigued to see an ethnic Pa-O tribal women dressed in traditional Pa-O attire (including an orange and black cloth turban wrapped around her head) sitting on a stool near the corner of Mah Bandoola and 19th Street, though when I walked up to ask if I could take a photo of her, she told me that she charges USD $5 per picture, which seemed a bit steep. 

The one-way, west-to-east running Maha Bandoola Road is a busy thoroughfare that extends eastward to cross the Pazundaung ('Shrimp Mountain') Creek, with a traffic circle (or 'roundabout') at Sule Pagoda Road that encircles Sule Pagoda itself. Legend has it that the nearly 145 feet tall Sule Pagoda was built before the Shwedagon Pagoda, which would make it roughly 2,600 years old, and enshrines a strand of hair from the Buddha; politically, the Sule Pagoda served as a rallying point in both the 1988 uprisings and 2007 Saffron Revolution. My visit to the Sule Pagoda was definitely memorable, but not pleasantly so. As with all temples and pagodas, visitors must take off their shoes and socks or sandals at the entrance, normally placing them in provided wooden cubby hole-type shelf (the more rural temple ruins, such as those out on the plains of Pagan, don't have these, and the shoes/sandals are left in the dirt at the edge of the temple compound's stone paving). With Sule Pagoda, the restrooms are located well within the compound a substantial walk away from the entrance, and as we had consumed a fair amount of liquid between the Burmese roasted green tea with our lunch earlier and the water we had been drinking afterwards while exploring downtown Rangoon by car and by foot, I was in need of a trip to the toilet. The white tiled floor of the Men's Room was either poorly graded for drainage or the drain may have been clogged, but whatever the case at the time there was about a half an inch of dirty gray, foul-smelling standing water extending from an overflowed urinal to the two sit-down stalls. Knowing that I would be forbidden from walking back to the entrance to retrieve my sandals and then carry them back to wear while in the restroom (no bathroom slippers or flip-flops had been provided for visitor use), and having to now pee quite badly, I had to think of something to get me through the unpleasant predicament. My only option was to make use of two already dampened hand towels that were lying on the floor near the sink, straighten them out and fold them over with my toes to create some thickness exceeding half an inch, and use them like snow shoes to slowly 'forward-moonwalk' through the foul, gray water with my feet just above its surface (but the souls of my feet exposed to any absorbed water) to the nearest bathroom stall to relieve myself. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it was the best one I could come up with given what I had available to me at the time.

The Rangoon Central Fish Wholesale Market

Fish Being Unloaded from a Boat at the Rangoon Fish Wholesale Market Dock
Sorting the Unloaded Fish on the Dock

A Fish Vendor Sells from the Sidewalk by Candlelight and a Battery-Operated Lamp
A Sidewalk Kunya (Betel Nut) Vendor at the Fish Wholesale Market

Pyin Lone Chan Thar Pagoda, Near the Fish Wholesale Market

Perhaps the most interesting market that I've check out in Rangoon was the Central Fish Wholesale Market, also known as the 'Yangon San Pya Zei', which I covered earlier in this blog with text and photos here, and have included a link to the video of the Central Fish Wholesale market above which also appears in the blog post. In order to catch the market at its busiest, we had to arrive at its location on the banks of the Yangon River in west Rangoon before 5 a.m. The benefit of arriving so early was that there seem to be no other Western tourists in sight, giving the setting that much more of a authentic 'local' feel, and that one of the fishing boat tied up along side the pier was still in the process of being unloaded by crane, with the trapdoor of the large basket of fish sprung at the top of its gentle swing arc to allow the catch to spill onto the tarmac to be sorted by hand according to 'export' vs. 'local' grade into colored plastic mess baskets. 

As we walked through the warehouses packed with baskets, crates and neat stacks of fish, and tubs of crabs, squid, shrimp, giant prawns and a variety of shellfish, the shouts of both vendors and buyers mixed with the rattle of passing push carts loaded with seafood, the sound of stacking and shuffling of seafood crates, the loud murmur of countless shouted negotiation and conversations, and the warning calls of workers briskly approaching with large, dripping wicker and plastic baskets over-loaded with fish balanced on their shoulder above the constant patter of passing flip-flops on wet concrete floors created a cacophony matching the level of frantic activity going on all around us. As we moved between crowded warehouses packed with both buyers and sellers through puddles of standing water made up of melted ice, slimy scales and pungent fish runoff, and I was bumped countless times by passing wet, fish-laden carts, carried wooden crates and plastic meshed baskets, I soon realized that open-toes sandals and shorts was perhaps not the best choice of attire for the early-morning excursion. In the alleys and along the walkways between the warehouses, we passed vendors (predominately women) selling small quantities of fish and shrimp from plastic and stainless steel bowls placed on the sidewalk atop plastic tarps and lit by candles and small battery-powered lamps.

We made our way back out onto Nat Sin Road (the San Pya Fish Wholesale Market has been relocated a few block south of Nat Sin Road since my visit in 2009), which was quite packed with both vehicle and foot traffic despite the early hour. Food vendors beneath tarp canopies lit by hanging fluorescent lamps offered the typical array of Burmese breakfast foods such as mohingar fish chowder with fine rice noodles and the requisite condiments including fried onion and opo gourd fritters, fried rice with sprouted yellow pea, savory rice porridge ('san byor') with fried Chinese donuts (with the Burmese word for it - 'ee cha kway' borrowing the Chinese word with their own local tweak to the pronunciation), 'htiminae', a soft sticky (glutenous) simmered in oil with sweet, shaved coconut, fine fried threads of slivered ginger, peanuts, and both roasted black and white sesame seed added and folded into the sticky rice during the cooking process (with the constant stirring and folding of the ever more gooey sticky rice giving one's wrist a major workout), other fried snacks such as Chinese-style egg rolls and Indian-influenced samosas (using Chinese egg wrappers in lieu of the traditional Indian fried pastry dough exterior), and such. Also present on the sidewalk were the carts of betel nut vendors fashioning their folded packets of betel nut leaves containing chopped supari or areca nut which, together with the chewing tobacco, calcium hydroxy paste, lime juice and other optional flavoring ingredients, produces both a decent buzz and dark red saliva (and teeth and lips). As we approached the intersection of Nat Sin Road and Kyee Myindaing Kanner Road, at the corner of which sits the gilded Pyin Lone Chan Thar Pagoda, a full-size public bus chock full of early-morning passengers sideswiped the right-side mirror of a empty parked bus-car (a old pickup truck converted into a bus by welding a canopy over the bed and two bench seats running the length of the bed, plus and extended bumper with hand railings on the rear of the canopy frame uprights for those who wanted to take a ride on the wild side by standing on the back bumper while traversing pothole-filled roads in heavy traffic), with the two vehicles becoming intertwined briefly as the bus goosed the accelerator alternately in forward and reverse gear until he could free his crowded bus from the empty bus car. By the time we got back to the car to head back to my in-law's house for an early breakfast, I realized that I was reeking of fish and in need of a shower and a change of clothes.

Rangoon's Swe Taw Myat Buddha Tooth Relic Pagoda

Gilded Sitting Buddha in the Swe Taw Myat Buddha Tooth Relic Pagoda

Protective Chinthe (Mythical Lions) at the Swe Taw Myat Buddha Tooth Relic Pagoda

Sunset from the Swe Taw Myat Buddha Tooth Relic Pagoda Terrace

A Food Vendor Snacking on Her Inventory

Rangoon's Swe Taw Myat Buddha Tooth Relic Pagoda was one of the more recently constructed temples (I was told some of the locals were said to be reluctant to visit it because they believe it was funded by the ruling military generals, similar to a pagoda built earlier in the vicinity of the Shwedagon, which was said to be funded by former military junta ruling General Ne Win himself.) A tooth, believed to be one from the Gautama Buddha who died some 2,500 years ago, was brought over from China in 1994 and enshrined in the pagoda for 45 days for Burmese Buddhists to pay homage. Two ivory copies of the Buddha Tooth, which is said to be much larger in size than a normal human tooth, were enshrined along with the original relic, and one of which is still enshrined there today. Though the Swe Taw Myat pagoda compound pales in comparison to that experienced at the Shwedagon Pagoda around sunset and early evening given its relative starkness and absence of the Shwedagon's enchanting ambiance created by its myriad pavilions, shrines, the ringing of its numerous bells large and small struck three times by the fathful, and the air perfumed by the vast amount of incense and fragrant flowers offered, our pagoda visit was still enjoyable given the causal, laid back vibe conveyed, in part, by the local families gathered on the terrace to enjoy the sunset.

Old Ferry Boats and Private Boats for Hire on the Rangoon River

Scenes from the Rangoon River Waterfront

Rangoon's Pansodan Ferry Terminal Viewed from the Rangoon River Ferry

Ferry Passengers departing at the Dala Jetty in the Warm Hues of the Afternoon Sun

The Setting Sun Over the River During the Return Trip to Rangoon
Sunset on the Rangoon River
A Final Photo from the Pansodan Ferry Terminal Jetty
Another fond memory of Rangoon was enjoying a sunset along the Rangoon River waterfront after taking a round-trip ferry ride across to the town of Dala on the south bank of the river. Driving along Rangoon's Strand Road, we pulled onto a narrow side street and found a parking spot overlooking the docks, then walked over to the Pansodan Ferry Terminal jetty. The heat of the day had finally waned as late afternoon came, with a faint but refreshing cool breeze coming off the river as we strolled past cargo ships being loaded, smaller long-tail/paddle riverboats for hire picking up or dropping off their fares, and other ones being loaded up with both passengers and cargo for yet another trip across the river. We made our way to the ferry terminal office where, as a visiting foreigner, my trip across the river and back cost me USD $2 verses the USD $0.10 or less equivalent in Kyats that the locals would pay to get across. The old double-decker ferry boats, assumed to be holdovers from the later British colonial period, but which I understand have recently been replace by modern ferries of Japanese manufacture, had an open-floor design on the lower deck to accommodate the sizable inbound and outbound flow of passengers, large parcels carried by hand or tied in stacks and carried in pairs suspended from wooden shoulder yokes, large wicker baskets carried balanced atop heads, bags of rice or grain carried balanced over shoulders, bicycles pushed by their dismounted riders or utilized as trolleys for cargo, and such. The upper deck was fitted with rows of benches for passengers that wanted to sit during their transit across the river. Wandering food and snack vendors stood or sat on the dock to sell to the boarding passengers, calling out in sing-song, melodic fashion what they had to offer. I opted to stay on the lower deck during the round-trip cruise to be able to survey the scene and be able to move about and take photos. The rear portion of the lower deck contained a lavatory near the glass-less windows in the corner, which I stood by so as to take in the view of the river as we headed across, though the stench emitted from it stayed despite the ample window-over-deck and the resulting low pressure slipstream created once we got underway, so I strolled forward long the back of windows along the starboard side of the ferry.

The trip across the Rangoon River to Dala was perhaps 15 minutes, and as we approached the floating dock connected to the pier by a wood and steel gangplank, food vendors on the dock seated behind tall single plastic stools serving as their stall display racks loaded with their offering of choice flanked by smaller plastic stools to seat their customers came to life to prepare for another period of business, however brief it might be. I stayed by the window to take in the activity and take photos as the departing passengers with their loads of burden began to slowly file up the gangplank to make their way home or to the next destination beyond the village-like town of Dala. I would make another southbound trip across the river during my subsequent trip to Rangoon, though it would be made in a small car ferry that would bring us ashore a short distance downstream from the Dala passenger ferry dock, where our white sedan would roll down the ferry's ramp and up onto a tarmac-paved rock and earthen ramp that lead up a small berm and into town, as we would continue west overland to the town of Twante, which can also be reach from Rangoon by boat via the Twante Canal. Twante is known for its exceedingly large ceramic pots that are made there, and is one of the day-trip options when visiting Rangoon. During our visit we would tour the rustic ceramic factory owned by an acquaintance of the family friend that hosted my excursion, whose company fabricated activated carbon water filtration pots to meet the urgent needs in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

After the remaining passengers left the ferry, we waited for about ten minutes as outbound passengers came aboard, then got underway back across to the river en route to the Pansodan jetty as the sun continued to sink nearer to the horizon, seemingly growing in size as it flared in the low haze and streaked the river's shimmering surface. Back on the jetty we continued to watch the setting sun until it dimmed and reddened, then slipped beneath purple band above the dark profile of tropical foliage along the far bank of the river.

A Burmese Gentlemen's Club in Rangoon (Reference Photo Courtesy of

In my four trips to Rangoon, I would end up managing just two nights out 'with the guys', that being out with some close male friends of the family (considered practically 'honorary family members') for a night involving some alcohol without any elderly Auntie and Uncle relatives - or wife and daughter - in tow. 

The first night out was rather laid back, if not a bit sedate, at a local watering hole located on Insein Road called Ko Kant. It was kind of a smallish bar housed in what reminded me of the shop houses that you see through Southeast Asia, where the front of the place has adjacent roll-up door sections that allows the front of the establishment to be open-air and accessible from the sidewalk long its width during open hours, with a few stories of what appeared to be apartments above it. The place had an assortment of beers and hard liquors, plus a kitchen with a grill that offered an assortment of good Asian bar food to accompany one's drinks. As I had been drinking mostly Myanmar Beer, with an occasional Dagon Lager Beer thrown in for variety, we decided to order Mandalay Red Label Beer, which tends to be a little bit darker and more full-body than Myanmar Beer (for which Burma basically 'borrowed' the recipe for Singapore's Tiger Beer and went on to win some regional accolades). Food-wise, we ordered some small pork ribs simmered in a savory black bean sauce (similar in style to what you would get off a dim sum cart in a Cantonese restaurant) and a large grilled tilapia fish that, after gutting/cleaning, had the body cavity stuffed with sliced chilies and spices, which was very tasty but gets increasingly spicy the closer the flesh gets to the chilies. 

The place seemed popular with the locals, and there was also one Western couple sitting at the table off to our right. A somewhat large, mellow dog (larger and much better fed than the 'zei kway' stray dogs that are ubiquitous in Burma, hence it must have been the owner's pet) lazily wandered among the tables as we ate and drank, and watched one of the Pierce Brosnan James Bond movies (with Thai subtitles) that played on the smallish flat screen TV that hung on the wall to our left. The eldest of my hosts for the evening was testing the waters for a possible business venture with a friend, who had opened a small distillery and played around with recipes for sorghum (a grain that the Chinese also use to make distilled alcoholic beverages, and was a major plot element in the award-winning 1988 Chinese film Red Sorghum, which starred Gong Li and was about a young woman's life working on a distillery for sorghum liquor) whiskey and soju (a popular low-proof alcohol in Korea). The friend finalized the recipes and had some samples of the first successful batched bottled. My senior host decided to bring one bottle of each with us that evening, and opened the sorghum whiskey for us to try. It tasted okay, but seemed much subtle and lower in proof than your normal whiskeys. I have to say that I wasn't overly impressed with it, and actually much prefer the ethnic minority Chin tribe sticky rice (glutenous rice) village moonshine that I was able to sample some years later, which tasted more like a tequila. 

My host knew that, after returning to Singapore in a few day, we would be off for three days on the beach in Phuket, Thailand, stay up in Hat Surin on the much more laid back northwestern part of the island (though we would end up having dinner down in the tourist party haven of Patong Beach, and stroll the 'Walking Street' red light district to see the bar girls, freelance hookers and ladyboys on display). He asked me to consider taking a bottle of each Burmese sorghum liquor with me to the beach and walking up to people to ask if they would like a sample shot to see what they think of it. I mentioned that most tourist would be leery about sampling an unknown liquor from an unknown guy who walks up to them on a beach, and politely declined his generous offer. When one of the waitresses came to the table to check on us, I asked her in Burmese if they have Mandalay Rum, something I was curious to try this trip. They did have it, and I was able to sample a shot before we called it a night (it was pretty good, perhaps a bit better than the Thai SangSom rum that I had tried before). The waitress was quite impressed with my Burmese and told the others behind the bar, causing the female bar manager to come over to hear me speak it for herself. The bar staff thought that I was a bit of a novelty, and during my subsequent return to Rangoon, one of the friends that took me to the bar mention that, whenever he would stop in for a drink, the ladies behind the bar would usually ask him how his American friend who speaks Burmese was doing.

My next 'guys night out' would prove to be much more interesting and memorable, as I would have my introduction to the Burmese 'gentlemen's club' concept, which was decidedly odd. I knew that Burma was a pretty conservative country relative to other parts of Southeast Asia (not to mention a bit authoritarian), but still had prostitutes plying the 'World's Oldest Profession'. I wasn't quite sure what to expect their version of a gentlemen's club to be like, though I suspected that it would be much more sedate and prudent than the upstairs 'ping pong ball/vaginal magic show' that I had checked out in Bangkok's Patpong red light district - covered elsewhere in this blog but meant for mature audiences only - and figured it might be closer to the scene at Chiang Mai's (Northern Thailand) Predator Bar, where the resident bar girls sit with you or stand next to your at the bar, perhaps with an arm draped over you or a light massaging of your shoulders, as they flirt, chat and try to get you to buy them drinks, or maybe roti prata drizzled with condensed milk and sprinkled with sugar from a place a couple of doors down Moon Muang Road across from the Old City moat. We had finished an extended family dinner at a venue that features a live Burmese cultural performance show, and during the meal a moderate Myanmar Beer was consumed, so as we left the venue for the family home I was feeling quite satiated and a bit buzzed. I was told that some of the male friends of the family wanted to take me out to experience a Burmese guy's night out, and that the bill would be covered so that I didn't have to bring any USD or Kyats, and that I should also leave the camera behind. We shortly got in the car and headed into downtown Rangoon, making our way over to 38th Street before pulling to the curb to park, and then entered a club called Asian Entertainment City.

Stepping through the inner door, we heard what sounded like Burmese contemporary pop music over the sound system and were lead to a booth perhaps one row back from a dance floor, where soon a waiter showed up with several large bottles of Myanmar Beer, glasses and some bowls of small roasted and salted Burmese peanuts. At the far end of the dance floor was a stage where about ten Burmese girls perhaps in their early to mid-twenties in stylish youthful outfits were lined up at the back of the stage. It appeared to be a fashion show as the girls took turns walking to the front of the stage, stand for a second and strike a pose while flashing a flirtatious pout, then slowly turn and pause to show off the back their outfit, followed by a final forward-facing pose before rejoining the line of girls at the back of the stage. Periodically, as one of the girls had her turn at the front of the stage, a girl who worked for the club would walk up from the audience holding a plastic flower, which she would present to the girl. I would later learn that if a gentleman in the audience liked a particular girl or though that she was pretty, he could purchase/rent a plastic flower to have given to the girl. If a particular girl received several plastic flowers from the same guy, she may opt to come sit with him during her break. At the end of each round of modeling, the girl that received the most plastic flowers would be draped with a feather boa that designated her as the winner of the round.

I don't recall ever attending a fashion show, and it seems odd that a gentlemen's club would build its business model around this form of entertainment as opposed to, say, the more typically expected girls in string bikinis or skimpy lingerie pole dancing or otherwise gyrating on stage solo, or perhaps a line of girls with bikinis and numbered badges on their hips with a bored look on their faces dancing up on stage as a bass-heavy dance beat or some Bon Jovi song blared on the sound system, as I had seen in Thailand and understand is common in the Philippines (which is at the top of the list of future destinations to check out in Southeast Asia). This type of club is what the Burmese refer to as a 'model girl' show, which they tend to pronounce as 'mod-deh gair'. I was wondering why Burmese guys would be interested in watching fashion shows instead of something more stimulating, when a group of maybe 12 Burmese girls of varying degrees of attractiveness in causal street clothes were brought up to our both not long after the beers were delivered. I was told by one of my hosts that I was supposed to pick one of the girls to come sit next to me while we watched the fashion show. As it turned out, these girls were actually local freelance prostitutes that were allowed to solicit the patrons in the in the establishment, though I would never find out whether or not the patrons had to pay a fee to the club in order to take the ladies outside of the establishment (commonly referred to as a 'bar fine' in the red lights of Southeast Asia), or if the girls had to pay any sort of cut to the place's owners/management. (During my last trip to Southeast Asia in 2010, I would learn of the the foreign freelancer bar compensation protocol in Singapore's Orchard Towers legal red light district - covered elsewhere in this blog but meant for mature audiences only - where the women, mainly from the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam visiting on a one or three-month Tourist visas, have to split the SGD $10 added to the price of their drink that a patron buys them  with the bar owners, with the ladies able to negotiate with the patron to leave the bar with him after five drinks are bought (I would learn about the Orchard Towers hook-up protocol in conversation with Jordan, a 27 year-old single mother from the Philippines, after buying her an overpriced shot of tequila at a club called Ba Li Ba.) I assumed that the Burmese freelancers would likely have to take their clients offsite, unlike the club in Patpong that apparently had rooms available for 'boom-boom' and whatnot (Bui, one of the two young, attractive Thai bar girls that stood beside me as I watched the ping pong ball show suggested that we have a threesome 'upstairs' during my visit there), or the club I visited in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where the female bar manager walked up and charge me USD $5 for (as she explained it to me) NOT taking Sunitha, the Khmer bar girl dressed like a Tiger Airways stewardess whom I had been sipping beers and chatting with for some time while waiting for the first go-go dancer to take the stage, into one of the provided back rooms for a massage and other activities - also covered elsewhere in this blog.

The model girl club was a bit dim so I couldn't see the girls in any detail, and as such, I randomly pointed to a fairly tall, slender girl standing near the edge of the assembled group and she came over and slid across the fake leather padded bench seat next to me in the booth. It was only in close proximity under the dim amber cone of illumination from the recessed spotlight above that I could make out her facial features, which were quite attractive and rather sultry, that she had a moderate resemblance to a Burmese friend of ours back in The States, albeit not as slender and with the eyes, jaw line and other features better proportioned and much more aesthetically pleasing in my opinion. Granted, I'm not about to tell our friend's husband that if his wife was more attractive, she could pass for a common Burmese prostitute. She wore a form-fitting pastel T-shirt that hugged her fit, slim abdomen and smallish to average sized breasts for an Asian women, with tight faded blue jeans whose thread-bare, faux-rips revealed thin crescents of bare, light brown skin on her right thigh and below her left knee.

Her name was Su Su (in Burmese naming convention, female names are often repeated pairs of single syllables, such as Su Su, Cho Cho, San San, Aye Aye, etc., with the prefix 'Ma' added to the name for a girl or woman who is of relatively younger age than oneself, even up to an early middle-age, and the prefix 'Daw' added to the name of an older woman), and though she spoken no English and my Burmese is pretty poor (especially when attempting to make small talk), we were able to somewhat sparsely communicate over the time that we sat together, despite the level of the Burmese pop music playing while the rounds of model girl competition continued. In rather limited conversation, I learned the Ma Su Su was 27 years old, that since her mom had passed away she was taking care of her father who was in poor health, that she lived together with her ailing dad and a younger sibling, she enjoyed singing Burmese karaoke as a hobby and, that when she's at home she tends to wear the traditional Burmese yellow thanaka powder on her face for its moisturizing benefits, but otherwise wears Western makeup when out for the evening working. Our conversation was broken up by periods of silence as we watched the rounds of model girl competition and I had to come up with the English to Burmese translation for my next bit of small talk as I nursed my glass of beer and she her class of Coke. As one particularly pretty model girl made her way to the front of the stage, Ma Su Su turned to look at me with her large, dark almond eyes, prefacing a comment in Burmese that the girl now at the front of the stage was very beautiful ('Eh-dee mein kalay a'yun hla deh...') I told Su Su that I thought she, too, was also very pretty in Burmese (the Myanmar Beer now assisting me with my choice of words, and my Burmese seemingly flowing more smoothly if I did say so myself.) "Ma'ho boo. Chih-ma theit ma hla boo. Eh-dee mein kalay de'ghet hla deh." ('No, I'm not pretty. That girl up there, now she's REALLY beautiful.') 

We continued watching the competition, as another 'mod-deh gair' whom had received a few plastic flowers was crowned with a pink feather boa. After a brief period of silence, Su Su then turned in my direction, and after we established eye contact she paused for a second with a bit of anticipation in her gaze and asked, "Aiht ma lah?" ('Do you want to sleep with me?'). I figured this was the moment of truth; that if I were to come out and tell her that, no, I'm a married man, she would not want to waste any more of her time, and would get up and walk to another booth to try her luck with another guy. I was rather enjoying her company by this point, as we had been sitting together sipping our drinks, snacking on peanuts and watching the models on stage for nearly an hour, and figured that we would likely be here another 15 minutes or so and then call it a night. I decided I would  try to stall for time a while in answering so that she would maybe stick around a bit long before asking the question again and inevitably moving on. I pretended that I didn't understand what she had just asked me, and tried to change the subject by passing her the bowl of peanuts and asked her in Burmese if she wanted some. She declined and slowly turned with a look of mild irritation towards the stage at my having deflected the question by changing the subject. The Myanmar beer was catching up with me in more ways than one, so I headed off the the men's room with a fairly substantial beer buzz, beginning to move a tad bit unsteadily down the dimly-lit hall. When I returned to our booth, one of my hosts leaned in to tap me on the shoulder before I could slide in next to Su Su. He said that she had spoken with him in my absence and mention that she asked if I wanted to sleep with her and that I did not give her and answer, adding that it was time to let her know yes or no, so as to not waste her time. I took my seat next to her as she gave me a look that suggested she was still waiting for the answer to the question. 

I decided then to face the music and responded to her earlier question that I had attempted to forestall. "Ma Su Su, yeh. Aiht low ma'yah bu, naw. A'myo thamee shee bah deh, k'myah." ('Ms. Su Su, I cannot not sleep with you, okay. I'm a married man.') By adding the 'k'myah' at the end of a sentence for a male Burmese speaker (or 'shin' for a female Burmese speaker), I made the sentence more polite or formal, thereby showing respect to the person I was speaking with. Su Su briefly cast her eyes downward with a change of expression that conveyed disappointment, then after a pause looked back up at me. "Cauh ma'lah?", which refers to calling or talking to a person on the phone, and I interpreted as her asking me if I wanted her 'hand phone' (cell phone) number to possibly hook up with her at some later time. "Cauh low ma'yah bu, tin deh, a'myin ma'tohr buh." ('No, I don't think it would be appropriate for me to be calling you.' Again, Su Su gave me the downcast eyes pause of disappointment, though slightly longer as she appeared consider her next move. When she at last looked up to make eye contact, her gaze and expression conveyed an imploring yet flirtatious quality. "Hmout boan paet?" ('Can I have some 'snack money?' In this case, she was meaning a tip to compensate her for her time). As I had been told to leave behind my cash and my camera behind before we embarked on this adventure, I had asked the host that had spoken with Su Su while I was away if he could spot me some money to give to her, to which he said to give her this as he handed me a 1,000 Burmese Kyat note. I turned to Su Su and handed her the money respectfully with two hands, and as she accepted it in a similar manner, I spontaneously blurted out a very Burmese sort of short blessing to her (again perhaps it was again the Myanmar Beer's influence, and I thought it might come off as cute or endearing?) that is commonly uttered by Buddhist monks at monasteries and house blessings, and as the ending part of a ceremonial where elders are paid respect by younger family relatives, or especially when younger relatives are about to take a journey or be away for an extended period and may not see the elder person again, and the elder person conveys their blessings before the younger ones depart. "Chun-mah bah zee, chun thah bah zee" ('May you be health, may you be prosperous'). And then, just to be funny, I added, "Thatay yee-zah yah bah zee" ('May you find a rich boyfriend.') Su Su's eyes briefly widened in surprise (I imagine she likely hasn't heard a 'blessing' like that from a prospective 'John' before) and then almost looked like she wanted to laugh, and then responded with, "Paet deh, suu neh, pyay bah zee" (the translation is something like 'may the blessings and wishes you've given me come true.'), which is the traditional response after the elders being paid respect to convey their blessing, which made me laugh. She then stood up and leaned over to give me a quick hug before moving on to find a potential client for the evening. After she left, my host that had spoken with her while I was in the restroom mentioned that he had asked her about her pricing out of curiosity, and learned that she charges USD $25 for 'one shot' (short-time) and USD $40 to stay overnight with her client.

The next Burmese 'lady of the evening' (in Burmese, referred to alternately as a 'kyet-ma' or female chicken, which as I recall is also a slang term used in Thailand, or a 'pah thei ma', which I recall 'pah' referring to a woven can or wicker basket and 'thei ma' referring to a female vendor) to approach me was named Cho Su ('cho' meaning sweet or pretty). She was shorter and not slender like Su Su, but had an attractive body and a cute face. She had been chatting with one of my hosts while I was sitting with Su Su, who at one point must have said something risquely funny to Cho Su, as she had suddenly flashed him a mock look of shock on her face and a wide open-mouth smile, then comically mimicked wringing his next with both hands as she laughed out loud. I chatted with her briefly in Burmese and found her to be much more bubbly than Su Su, who seemed a bit more reserved and serious, and obviously had a sense of humor. It was but a few minutes later that she asked in Burmese if I wanted to sleep with her, though after I turned down her solicitation she continued to hang out at our booth. My last solicitation for the was a quick hit-and-run as Ni Ni, a more full-figured Burmese girl of average looks but a pleasant smile popped the sleep-with-me question seconds after introducing herself. By this time we had finished the beers that had been brought to the table and decided that it was time to leave. As we walked to the exit, I noticed that several of the freelancing ladies that were standing together were watching me and giggling, glancing towards one another to exchange comments, then turning back to gaze at me to giggle and flash flirtatious looks. As we were passing them, one of the girls shouted out, "Mway pout lah?", which I interpreted as 'Does the snake bite?' I figured this what meant as double entendre slang humor referencing my manhood, and figured that I could manage a witty comeback in Burmese to get a chuckle out of them, responding with, "Dee mway ma-pout boo, a'yun khin deh..." ('This snake doesn't bite, it's very friendly...') This had the group of freelancers, and others within earshot, roaring with laughter as we continued to the door. The 'model girl' gentleman's club was perhaps the most quirky experience had in Rangoon to date.

My last visit to Rangoon/Yangon was back in 2009. Since then, the city has modernized a bit, with overpasses being built on some of the major roads to aid in traffic flow, but I understand traffic is still terrible, much more so than my last time in the city, with hired sidecar pedal cabs and walking almost a faster way to get around much of the city verses taxis and buses. I hope to get back someday as there is still so much more to see and do there. 


A Brief History of Burma's Governance, Politics and Its National Hero General Aung San:

A condensed (though still somewhat lengthy) historical summary of Burma's governance over the years from the Briitsh colonial period, its political evolution and struggles, and its national hero General Aung San is presented below for those interested. Source: Wikipedia

Prior to the 19th century, the country of Burma was a monarchy that had been ruled mainly by three dynasties: the Pagan Dynasty 849–1297), the Taungoo Dynasty (1510–1752) and the Konbaung Dynasty (1752–1885). The incremental establishment of British rule in Burma began with the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26), with additional territory coming under British control after the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852. Burma came under British colonial rule when Britain, after the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, created Burma as the Province of British India in 1886, with Rangoon being established as the capital. Whereas the state and religion (Theravada Buddhism) was intertwined during Burma's prior monarchical heritage, after abolishing the monarchy and sending King Thibaw into exile, the British sought to separate the state and religion, establishing secular schools and also encouraging Christian missionaries to visit and set up schools. By the early 1900's, a Burmese nationalist movement began to gain momentum in response to the changes instituted by the British, with demonstrations and later strikes held by Burmese students to challenge colonial power. In 1933, Aung San would enter Rangoon University and soon become a student leader and later a major figure in the nationalist movement. In 1937, the British separated Burma Province from British India and granted the colony a new constitution calling a fully elected assembly, which resulted in many powers being handed to the Burmese, though by 1938 a new round of strikes and protests would heighten the conflict between the ruling British and the Burmese nationalists intent on achieving independence.

By October of 1938, Aung San ended his law studies and entered political, being strongly anti-British and anti-imperialist and would help to organize countrywide strikes, in addition to joining the nationalistic Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans Association) organization. In 1939, Aung San became a founder member and the Secretary General of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), though in March of 1940 Aung San was forced to flee the country when a warrant was issued for his arrest in association with an attempt by the Dobama Asiayone to organize a revolt against the British. While in China seeking assistance from the nationalist Kuomintang government, an encounter with Japanese military occupiers convinced him to instead go Japan for assistance. This would benefit Japanese as they were looking for potential allies in-country as they planned to invade Burma with the goals of obtaining its vast natural resources, cutting the overland 'Burma Road' which linked Lashio (the north end of a railway from the port of Rangoon) with the Chinese province of Yunnan to stop the supply line to the Chinese Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek which had been fighting the Japanese for several years, and also to protect the flank of their main attack against Malaya and Singapore. 

In February 1941, after having received military training from the Japanese, Aung San would return to Burma and recruit a small group of like-minded revolutionaries (later known as the Thirty Comrades) whom would follow him back to Japan for additional military training. By December 1941 Aung San founded the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in Bangkok, Thailand, which aligned itself with Japan. Rangoon would fall to the Japanese forces in March 1942, with Aung San's BIA becoming an administration for the country that operated in parallel with the Japanese military administration. The BIA would soon be disbanded and re-formed as the Burma Defense Army (BDA), with Aung San made a colonel and put in charge of the force. In August 1943, the Japanese declared Burma an independent nation and Aung San appointed War Minister and the BDA again renamed as the Burma National Army (BNA), though Aung San was not happy with the level of independence granted by the Japanese and one year later was speaking out publicly against Japan. He later made contact with the British authorities in India in cooperation with Burma's Communist leaders, and in March 1945 led the BNA in a revolt against the Japanese occupiers, helping the Allies defeat the Japanese.

The returning British established a military administration, with the Burma National Army renamed the Patriotic Burmese Forces (PBF), then gradually disarmed by the British as the remaining Japanese were driven out of the country. In 1945, Aung San was offered the rank of Deputy Inspector General of the Burma Army under British command, but instead opted to a civilian political leader and the military leader of the People's Volunteer Organisation or PVO. In January 1946, Aung San became the President of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL, a united front, comprising the former BNA members, the Communists and the Socialists) following the return of civil government to Burma the previous October. A rift later developed inside the AFPFL between the Communists and Aung San, who was leading the nationalists and Socialists, which came to a head when Aung San and others accepted seats on the Executive Council of the British-Burma Crown Colony. Aung San soon became de facto Prime Minister, although still subject to a British veto, but by January 1947, Aung San was able to negotiate with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee signed an agreement in London guaranteeing Burma's independence within a year. 

After the agreement with Britain, Aung San signed an agreement at the Panglong Conference in February 1947 with leaders from other national groups, expressing solidarity and support for a united Burma combining the regions of Lower Burma, Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which up to this point had been administered separately by the British. But on 19 July 1947, armed paramilitaries of former Prime Minister U Saw assassinated Aung San and six of his cabinet ministers, including his elder brother Ba Win, father of Sein Win, during a meeting of the Executive Council at the Secretariat Building in downtown Rangoon. Aung San's assassination occurred about 6 months before Burma achieved full independence from the British on 4 January 1948 and became a democracy based on the parliamentary system. Aung San is revered as the architect of modern Burma and a national hero for his efforts to unite the country as a single, independent entity, and 19 July has since been commemorated as Martyrs' Day to honor Aung San.

Following Aung San's assassination, U Nu (known at the time as 'Thakin Nu') became leader of the AFPFL and was the one to sign the independence agreement (the Nu-Attlee Treaty) with the British Premier Clement Attlee, and became the first Prime Minister of independent Burma. The early years of Burmese independence were marked by armed rebellion by the White Flag and Red Flag communist factions formed by a number of the original 'Thakin' members of Aung San's Thirty Comrades group, and various ethnic groups, in addition to exiled Kuomintang (KMT) Army elements that, after having been chased out of Mainland Chinese following the Communists victory in 1949, established bases in Northeastern Burma and remained until early 1950's before finally being driven out. Though Burma had originally been supportive of foreign assistance to rebuild the country, American support for the presence of the Nationalist Chinese KMT military in Burma would lead the country to reject most foreign aid. Through the mid 1950's, U Nu oversaw the implementation of a national economic development plan to establish an industrial welfare state in Burma, though in 1956, he voluntarily relinquished the Prime Ministerial position, which was taken over by AFPFL member Ba Swe, while remaining in the AFPFL. Due to a rift between factions in the AFPFL, U Nu asked the Army Chief of Staff General Ne Win to take over as a "caretaker government", with Ne Win being sworn in as Prime Minister in October 1958. A general election was held the February 1960 resulting in U Nu's Clean faction of the AFPFL winning in a landslide victory over the Stable faction, with U Nu forming the Union government in April 1960 after returning to power.

On 2 March 1962, Ne Win and sixteen other senior military officers staged a coup d'état, arrested U Nu and several others and declared a socialist state to be run by their Union Revolutionary Council, thus embarking on the 'Burmese Way to Socialism' in accordance with Ne Win's vision, which would isolate the country from contact with the rest of the world. A one-party system was established with his newly formed Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) in complete control, with commerce and industry nationalized across the board. 
Initial protests followed the coup were met with a restrained response by the military, but on 7 July 1962, a peaceful student protest on Rangoon University campus was forcefully put down by the military, killing over 100 students.  In April 1972, General Ne Win and the members of the Union Revolutionary Council retired from the military but, now as civilian U Ne Win, he continued to run the country through the BSPP. A new constitution in January 1974 created of a People's Assembly, which held supreme legislative, executive, and judicial authority, and established Ne Win as the president of the new government. By mid-1974, a wave of strikes hit Rangoon and elsewhere in the country against a backdrop of corruption, inflation and food shortages, especially rice. The economy began to grow in the 1980's as the government relaxed restrictions on foreign aid, but by the late 1980's falling commodity prices and rising debt led to an economic crisis, which would result economic reforms in 1987-1988 that relaxed socialist controls and encouraged foreign investment. In September 1987, U Ne Win suddenly cancelled certain currency notes, causing a great down-turn in the economy. The main reason for the cancellation of these notes was superstition on U Ne Win's part (perhaps on the recommendation of a 'beydin saya', or fortune teller), as he considered the number nine his lucky number—he only allowed 45 and 90 kyat notes, because these were divisible by nine.

Following U Ne Win's official stepping down from power on July 23, 1988, the reigns were handed over to General Sein Lwin, who would soon quell the burgeoning pro-democracy demonstrations of August 8, 1988 (known in Burma, and later around the world, as the '8888 Uprising') throughout the country by force, with the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) opening fire on unarmed demonstrators and killing anywhere for a few hundred to as many as 3,000 people. By August 19, 1988, General Sein Lwin would be replaced by Dr. Maung Maung by decree of the People's Assembly, who declared him President and Chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). A civilian and well-known author with advanced degrees from abroad (including a Doctorate in Judicial Science from Yale University), he would seem to be the best hope for the country, though anti-government demonstrations continued which resulted in another military coup led by Senior General Saw Maung on September 18, 1988. Saw Maung would declare himself chairman of his newly-form State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which replaced the former BSPP (of which he was a high-ranking member) and promised multi-party elections to soon follow.

The military government announced a change of name for the country in English from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, which similarly reverted the names of select cities from English to the original Burmese, for example, Rangoon becoming Yangon and Pagan becoming Bagan. It also continued the economic reforms started by the old regime and called for a Constituent Assembly to revise the 1974 Constitution. This led to multiparty elections in May 1990 in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory over the National Unity Party (the successor to the BSPP) and about a dozen smaller parties. However, the military regime would not let the assembly convene, and continued to hold the two leaders of the NLD, Tin Oo and Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of national hero Aung San, under the house arrest imposed on them the previous year. Burma came under increasing international pressure to convene the elected assembly, particularly after Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, and also faced economic sanctions. In April 1992 the military replaced Saw Maung with General Than Shwe, who latter released U Nu from prison and reduced restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest, finally release her in 1995, although she was forbidden to leave Rangoon. Than Shwe allowed a National Convention to meet in January 1993, but insisted on major role for the military in any future government. The NLD walked out in late 1995 due to continual government interference and the assembly was dismissed in March 1996 without producing a constitution. 

With the failure of the National Convention and no new constitution, tensions between the government and the NLD resulted in two major crackdowns on the NLD in 1996 and 1997. The SLORC was abolished in November 1997 and replaced by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), but it was essentially just a name change and continued reports of human rights violations in Burma led to increased United States sanctions in 1997, and European Union sanction increases in 2000. Aung San Suu Kyi was again placed under house arrest in September 2000, being subsequently released May 2002 with her travel restrictions outside of Rangoon being lifted. Suu Kyi was once again taken into custody in May 2003 after an ambush on her motorcade reportedly by a pro-military mob during a period when reconciliation talks held with the government came to a stalemate. It was at this time government also carried out another large-scale crackdown on the NLD, arresting many of its leaders and closing down most of its offices. In August 2003, Kyin Nyunt announced a seven-step "road-map to democracy", with the government reconvening the National Convention in February 2005 in an attempt to rewrite the Constitution, though major pro-democracy organisations and parties, including Suu Kyi's NLD, were barred from participating.

In November 2005, the military junta started moving the government away from the capital of Yangon to an unnamed location outside Pyinmana, to a newly designated capital city with the goal to move critical military and government infrastructure away from Yangon to avoid a repetition of the events of 1988 (it's entirely possible, in my opinion, that 'beydin saya' fortune tellers may have been consulted on the move). On Armed Forces Day (27 March 2006), the new capital was officially named Naypyidaw. The 2007 Burmese anti-government protests were a series of mass demonstrations that started in Burma on 15 August 2007, with the cause attributed to the unannounced decision of the ruling junta, the SPDC, to remove fuel subsidies, which caused the price of diesel and petrol to near double suddenly and the price of compressed natural gas for buses to rapidly increase five-fold. The protests were first dealt with quickly and harshly by the junta with many arrests and detentions. Starting 18 September, the protests were led by thousands of robed Buddhist monks, leading the international press to coin the term 'Saffron Revolution' for the demonstrations, which had been allowed to proceed until a renewed government crackdown on 26 September 2007. It was reported that up to 40 monks and 70 civilians were killed, 200 beaten, and thousands of pro-democracy protesters arrested, though the actual numbers were likely much higher. In February 2008, SPDC announced that a referendum for the Constitution would be held with Elections to occur by 2010, with the Burmese constitutional referendum taking place in May 2008.

The 2011–2012 Burmese democratic reforms were comprised of a series of political, economic and administrative changes in Burma undertaken by the military-backed government, which included the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and subsequent dialogues with her. Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, participated in by-elections held on 1 April 2012, with the NLD in winning the by-elections in a landslide, taking 41 out of 44 of the contested seats, with Suu Kyi herself winning a seat representing Kawhmu Constituency in the lower house of the Burmese Parliament. The 2015 election results gave the National League for Democracy an absolute majority of seats in both chambers of the Burmese parliament, though NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from the presidency. The new parliament convened in February 2016, with Htin Kyaw elected as the first non-military president of the country since the Military coup of 1962 in March 2016. Aung San Suu Kyi assumed the newly created role of the State Counselor, a position similar to Prime Minister, in April 2016.