Yesterday was a typical Saturday. My driver and friend picked up a friend and I at 8:00 a.m. We headed to a local tea shop for breakfast. The place was crowded but the young manager recognized us and immediately came over to escort us to a table. The fact that a man was sitting at the table did not seem to be an issue. He was apparently finishing up and gave us a smile as he left.
Tea shops in Myanmar are open air and patronized mostly by men, although there are usually at least a few women there, usually with a man. The servers are young boys who consistently seem to be both curious and shy when approaching us. The small tea shops are rarely patronized by tourists and there aren't that many expats in Mandalay, so standing next to me may be the closest they've ever come to a foreigner.
I ordered my usual breakfast - e ja gway (the spelling is of my own invention - that's how it sounds) and oh no! cow sway!. E ja gway is long a long, plain fried donut. They are greasy and fabulous. Even if I didn't like oh no! cow sway!, I'd order it just because I think it is fun to say. It's a bowl of chicken broth with coconut cream, noodles, a tiny bit of cooked chicken and boiled egg. As with most soups in Myanmar, it's served with raw onions, cilantro and lime on the side, to add as you like.
There is a pot of tea on each table at tea shops, along with small cups. It is complimentary. If you order tea, you get a cup of sweet, milky tea.
Breakfast for two, which included several of the pastries (I like to take them home), sweet tea, the coconut chicken soup and a 1 ltr. bottle of water. Cost was $2.
The show that comes with every visit to a tea shop is free. While the locals talk and concentrate on the people they're with or the large tv screen which most tea shops have, I look around. There is ALWAYS something new and interesting going on. I could easily spend an entire day sitting in a tea shop.
Yesterday, the most curious thing were the women walking past. They were in a row, about five of them. Each one had a very large basket on her head full of owls. No one else seemed to notice. I was fascinated. After a bit of research, I now know that people in Myanmar consider owls (especially pairs of owls) to be good luck. And, if you release a bird and you're Buddhist, you gain merit by saving a life. If you release an owl, that's even better.
After enjoying an hour over breakfast, we headed to the wet market. At Mingalar market, in the center of Mandalay, you can have clothes custom made, buy a fresh whole fish, orchids and roses or a variety of produce. It's a full service market. It's indoors and outdoors and not air conditioned.
Before visiting my favorite vendors we went on a search for buttons. After asking several locals by pointing at the buttons on my blouse, we found the notions lady, right where everyone had pointed. I pointed at my buttons and she pulled out a box of buttons. All about the same size but different colors. They were a penny apiece. My friend grabbed a large handful and asked how much. The woman looked horrified that she wanted to buy so many of her buttons. They settled on 10 buttons for 100 kyat. That's a penny apiece.
I bought the basics...potatoes, onions, avocado 3 large ears of corn and a large bag of perfectly ripe strawberries. Total cost was about $2.50. That's because I splurged on the strawberries - they were $1 for about a kilo. I was also happy to see green mangoes for sale. I didn't buy any. I'm too lazy to make green mango salad when I can buy it from a street vendor for about a quarter. But the green mangoes mean that ripe mangoes are on their way.
After Mingalar, we headed to New Ocean, not to be confused with Old Ocean, which is in Diamond Plaza. I stopped to change $300 into 327,000 Kyat. The nice lady tried to convince me to take the money in 1,000 K notes. That was a stack about four inches tall. Not wallet friendly.
I bought a few things, including green chiles and olive oil. I'm assuming the long green chiles must be imported since I've only seen them at the produce market once.
We sat near the entrance of the mall to enjoy a cold drink. As we chatted and watched people going by a family ran over and sat down on either side. Photo! The two men whipped out their cell phones and took multiple photos of the two white ladies and their wives.
Next stop, Style Star. Two hours of pampering - massage, shampoo, mani/pedi was 8,500 K. Beauty shops are one of my favorite things in Mandalay and Style Star is my favorite. They're friendly, no longer intimidated by working on the white women and do a great job.
After all that shopping and pampering, it was time for lunch. I've ordered pizza occasionally from Central Park but hadn't been to their new location. I was impressed. Indoors, air con, nice ambiance and great service. No tea shop prices here, though. Pizza for me and chicken tacos (which bear only a passing resemblance to tacos but are ok) for my friend, fresh grapefruit juice and water for me and an iced cappucino for my friend was 17,000K. Worth it, though - the pizza and grapefruit juice were delicious.
If you're visiting Mandalay and would like to experience a few hours with an expat here, give me a shout. I love this place and am happy to show you around.