Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blame it on Burma

Yes, yes, yes!!!!  I know!!!! It is now officially called Myanmar, but “Blame it on Myanmar” just doesn’t have the same ring to it!!!  So sue me :)
On a recent trip to Myanmar, Yangon (Rangoon) to be exact, the importance of good shopping venues was impressed upon me once again.  As I learned from this experience, shopping sometimes is way more than a luxury.  In some circumstances it is a necessity.  Okay, I can already see the smirks on some of your faces, equating my rambling with Paris Hilton on “The Simple Life”.  And while I wouldn’t object to being a BFF with dear Paris, this is much deeper than that.  This is a subject that touches the heart and soul of all red-blooded shopping mavens across the globe.
Here’s the situation.  I was leaving Bangkok for a four day excursion to Yangon.  I already had some trepidation regarding this trip, knowing the political climate of the country and the enormous amount of poverty.  Since it was a relatively short trip, I decided to pack light.  Granted my version of packing light is not that of others. I still had a full size suitcase and my ginormous computer bag. My idea of packing light is perhaps closer to the concept of not bringing a steamer trunk.  Even in my youth, when everyone else was backpacking through Europe, I “suitcased” through Europe. Please!!! Me with only a backpack??? However, that is a story best left for another day.  In the attempt to “pack light”, I decided to bring only one pair of shoes; a pair of black penny loafers.  I figured that they were practical enough to get me through days of huge amounts of walking, but still dressy enough to wear to dinner in the evening.  I mean, how dressy would I ever really need to be in Yangon?
Now for the glitch.  As I entered the Yangon airport from our newly arrived plane, I glanced down and to my horror saw that the upper had separated from the sole along the entire outer edge of my right shoe.  All I could think of was that here I was with non-functional shoes in a country that from what I had been led to understand really did not have a western concept of shopping.  I kept calm by telling myself that the reports I had heard were surely exaggerated, that they must have at least one shopping mall where I would be able to find a new pair of shoes......
As our taxi brought us into the city, it was very obvious that NOONE was wearing shoes anywhere that you looked.  It appeared that the only footwear that anyone wore were flip-flops or sandals that resembled flip-flops.  Even when living in Southern California, the land of flip-flops, not only do I not ever wear them, I do not even own a pair.  To be quite honest, I abhor flip-flops.  They are unattractive, anti-fashion and despite what anyone says, flip-flops are NOT shoes.  After reading that little diatribe, you can see how I was feeling about the prospect of having flip-flops as my only option.  Now don’t get me wrong, in a country like Myanmar where it is the custom, it totally works for the people there.  It’s in the western world where I can’t accept it and refuse to wear them myself!!
When we arrived at the hotel, I inquired of the concierge as to where I might be able to buy a pair of shoes.  My hopes raised when she showed me on a map a shopping mall, not far from the hotel.  As soon as we had checked in, I was off in search of the shopping mall.  As I waded through the flip-flop clad denizens, I stayed focused on my shopping destination like a guided missile fixed on its target.  I really wanted to explore the sites of Yangon.  But, I was having a bout of OCD and couldn’t focus on anything other than replacing my shoes.
Then I found the mall. You had to pass through a metal detector and two armed guards to enter the nondescript four story building.  Once inside, I realized that we were the only customers.  It resembled a mall only in that it had “stores” along the outer edges of the four floors that surrounded an atrium.  The stores themselves were all small mom & pop type outfits, some selling clothes, some selling crafts and yes, even a few selling shoes.  It all resembled more of a swap meet than an actual mall.  Going in to the 2 “stores” that sold shoes, I found that they were very limited in sizes and that most of the styles had probably been in there since at the earliest the mid 80’s.  The only thing that I could find in my size was a pair of very dated and way too dressy knock-off Gucci Loafers.  Desperate, but not insane, I decided to pass and continue the search.
The rest of that day was spent “seeing the sites”, but my mind was still on my shoes.  I felt very self conscious walking around with shoes that were torn.
The next day, I found another “mall”.  This one was similar to the last, but felt a wee bit more modern.  Perhaps that was only due to having an escalator for each floor and a western style doughnut shop.  I was finally able to find a pair of shoes there that while not anything to write home about would be functional and not altogether hideous.  I purchased them, made my escape and felt no need to return to these “malls” during my stay.
The only other shopping I experienced there was bazaar style shopping.  Very interesting to peruse Myanmar cultural artifacts, fabrics, etc., but hardly my idea of going shopping.  The rest of the visit was devoted to sightseeing and visits to the many pagodas of Yangon. Although on a separate note, we were able to discover a few very good dining options during our stay.  But that will be another tale to tell. :)
Needless to say, upon my return to Bangkok, I made a bee line to the shopping districts and reveled in the massive western style malls! My appreciation of “western style” shopping was highly elevated.  It is amazing to me how much we take our shopping for granted and I for one decided to never take it for granted again!!!


  1. I enjoyed reading your post! twas a unique shopping experience for you

  2. Ah the conveniences of our shopping life! I can actually get lost in bazaars - some of the most memorable for me were in Turkey and Israel. But when looking for shoes, I can totally understand why you were craving a mall! What a fantastic experience - surely an unforgettable one at that!

  3. Such a fun post! And, yes Burma it should be, as in Bombay-Mumbai. Why do they do this?