The Beauty of Burma

This is a picture of my Burmese grandmother, holding onto my mother, taken some time in the 1930s. Burma”s been a lot in the news lately and for once it”s not all doom and gloom. I have a vested interest, with relatives there, I”m encouraged to know that hopefully happy and prosperous times lie ahead. On a recent visit (my first in 18 years) I was struck yet again by how beautiful and well-groomed Myanmar people are, something which has nothing to do with their more often than not, straitened economic circumstances. Men are always in well-ironed shirts; women wear their long, shiny, black hair pinned up into chignons,with fresh jasmine flowers to decorate. It has hardly changed since my grandmother”s day. In rural areas no one is overweight – people eat less (monks usually only eat twice a day) and even in more affluent parts of Yangon you barely see anyone with a paunch.

When you consider many achieve all this in sometimes basic conditions by our standards – by washing in the river for example, all the while wearing a longyi wrapped tightly round them to preserve their modesty, (and if they”re in Inle Lake more often than not with boat-loads of tourists peering inquisitively at them) looking clean and groomed is even more of an achievement. At my uncle”s home there was no shower, so we washed using bowls of cold, fresh spring water. At first I regretted forgetting to pack the dry shampoo, but cold water doesn”t produce much of a lather, so the shampoo rinses out more quickly leaving clean, shiny hair. Traditional Myanmar shampoo is made from plants which are put in water, resulting in a murky brown liquid with bits of what look like twigs. It”s sold in the market in clear plastic bags. As Burmese women”s hair is always so glossy, I”m not about to knock it.

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Sun protection is Thanaka, a pale yellow paste made from tree bark that is ground with water, then painted on to the skin in varying shapes – children often sport clown-like circles, adults tend to favour broader brush strokes. If someone from Estee Lauder/L”Oreal/Procter and Gamble isn”t currently researching it now as the next big rare ingredient, I”ll be amazed.

In more affluent areas you”ll see the occasional branded beauty parlour, like this SKII shop I saw in Yangon or Tony Tun Tun, (below) apparently as omnipresent as say Tony & Guy here. You also see lots of illegal imported brands, which make their way from China to the indoor markets. And check out my favourite billboard ever – for a spot cream. Blurry snapshot, taken from a car, but it certainly spells out what it does.

4 Responses to The Beauty of Burma

Beatrice says: May 19, 2012 at 9:15 am

I love hearing about your family and can see where you get your good looks from. Mixed raced/exotic people usually have the best of all worlds (I say with race envy).

It’s so endearing to see how much you adore and talk about your mother. Heck it makes me feel proud, keep up the fantastic work.

Kyaw Nyunt says: August 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm

I happened to read your article about your trip to Burma (Myanmar) from I am amazed to the story, and I first thought of you as an old person, some sort of a writer. After I googled you, I’m even more amazed to find out you are a young beautiful famous woman in UK. It’s really felt good to know that there’s someone like you who is connected with Myanmar in that amazing way. I’m very delighted to know that. I hope your family will enjoy your trip to Myanmar. And warmly welcome all of you to visit Myanmar again.

Kyaw Nyunt says: August 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm

I shared the article with friends in my facebook, I think they will like to read that too. Thanks for your article. I really enjoyed that.


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