Sunlight shifts over gold, silver and sapphires in the ordered, sheltered aisles of the covered Bogyoke Aung San Market in Yangon/Rangoon. Fabric folds and hand carved fans scent the air with jasmine, bringing a sense of quiet and relative wealth to the covered Scott’s Market area.
But that’s not the only around. Just outside live the roadside, no, never mind the side, the road-on-the-very-surface-and-taking-up-every-inch-of-space-imaginable market that you can find just a few streets away.
The fresh food market.
You can still smell the jasmine, as women drape garlands around their wrists to sell to shopkeepers, housewives and anyone passing by to bring a sense of perfume to an otherwise ordinary day. But you can also smell sizzling chicken, the sweat of fish and every now and then the unmistakeable hint of drain.
Not a movement is wasted, not a moment is lost as vendors trade eggs, cheese, innards and creamy thanaka paste that the women and men here use on their cheeks as sunscreen.
There are sacks of rice, of course, alongside plastic bowls and flat bamboo baskets whose carrots, tomatoes and green-stemmed vegetables drape their tendrils through the sunshine and lollop lazily onto the ground.
Lightbulbs jab out from jerry cans and fish slither into heaps across banana leaves on the floor.
Recommended reading: 27 Ways Food and Travel Go Together (Not just for “Foodies”)
There are things I know not what they are and things that somehow remind me of home. A banana is still a banana when all is said and done, and the onions here manage to look much the same as well.
Yet stained hands grind turmeric and robed monks stride on past, newspaper and mobile phone in one hand, bag of beansprouts in the other. The men sport tattoos and T-shirts blazing Guns ‘n’Roses while their legs wear the traditional dress of Burma/Myanmar, the cotton wraparound longyi. (Read a beautiful story about buying one as a foreigner over here on Legal Nomads.)
The essence of this market matches that of those the world over: people going about their business in the search for something to eat. Supermarket aisle or supercrowded aisle, the end result is no different. Trading and wading through our chores, we are all just doing our best to find nourishment and, ultimately, to stay alive. It’s only when I stop and watch someone else, and that only seems to occur to me when I’m in some far-flung land, that I realise simply how beautiful those actions can be.
Here’s to fresh food markets. And here’s to staying alive.
This post forms part of the #DragonRoute, a project between myself and Cathay Pacific that took in Vietnam, Burma/Myanmar and southeast China.
Look out for: In Myanmar/Burma, people use thanaka on their cheeks to stay beautiful and to protect against the powerful sun. I didn’t get to try it myself although I did spot some of the raw brown sticks bound together for sale at the market. Locals grind this bark into a buttercup yellow and white paste before smearing it on their cheeks.
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