Let’s meet at …
Typical gathering places for Myanmar young people have changed over time. When I was a university student, many of us would go to a karaoke shop to have fun with a close circle of friends, especially during special occasions like the evening after the final exams and birthdays. Karaoke is very popular in Myanmar and groups of buddies can share a room at an affordable hourly rate. Nowadays, these places are not that popular owing to the widespread appearance of night life which literally replaced karaoke rooms. Other popular places of gathering in the past include parks and playgrounds; they are mostly visited during weekends and national holidays as visits to those places usually take a full day.
As time goes by, those places become less popular to hang out. In the recent decade, many shopping malls have popped up everywhere in cities like Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw. They have become popular choices among young people when setting up a place for meet-ups. There are many reasons for this. Shopping malls are in city centers and are easily accessible by the public transportation. In every group of friends, there is usually one or two who would always be late. The closer the friends, the more likely the meeting time will have to be flexible up to an hour or two. Hence, while somebody in the group is late showing up, the rest of the gang can leisurely do the shopping. In addition, these big supermarkets offer many options of restaurants and we can hop around one restaurant after another – all under the same roof. This also facilitates making a common decision over picking a restaurant among groups of friends.
Another all-time-favourite spot for gathering of friends is a pagoda. Either early in the morning or late in the evening, young people would come to a local famous pagoda to do good deeds and say prayers. There are many activities to do in a pagoda compound like lighting candles, offering incents and flowers, sweeping floors, feeding pigeons and taking photos. Furthermore, a pagoda has eight corners around the main stupa, each of which represents a specific day of the week, where individuals born on Sunday will say prayers at Sunday corner and so on. Wednesday born individuals have two separate corners depending on the time of the day they were born. As such, people go around the main stupa and wait for individual turns doing prayers at their respective corners. Most of the time, students would immediately pay a visit to the pagodas right after the exams to pray for good results.
Particularly for guys, a typical place of hang-out is a local teashop. When in Myanmar, it is easily noticeable that many teashops are occupied by men chatting loudly and drinking either milk tea or hot dried tea. Surprisingly, one can barely see groups of only women or mixed gender in such places. “Let’s go to the teashop” is the most common words used by close friends either at leisure or during small businesses. This is indeed part of our Burmese culture. Local teashops are mostly crowded with customers during weekends when football matches are broadcast live on TVs installed in the shops. There, men would spend hours cheering for their favourite teams and sipping hot milk tea. From time to time, rounds of applause or disappointing sighs could be heard throughout the neighborhood during much-anticipated football matches. Therefore, one can even guess the status of the match just by hearing the noises from teashops.
Recently, with the invasion of the western culture of coffee shops, many cafés are established in big cities. These modern and well-decorated coffee shops have become more and more popular among students as they can do homework and group projects with their laptops. Unlike traditional teashops, they are air-conditioned and tranquil. Some shops even incorporated interesting ideas like mini-library and mini gardens which attract young contemporary people. Like locals, many expat workers in big cities like working at these coffee shops as they offer free internet services. All in all, time and cultural diffusion play as critical factors shaping the minds of young people in Myanmar when choosing a place to hang-out while some traditional practices will remain popular among them.
By Thein Min, ASEAN correspondent from Myanmar