Today was typical "chore day". Not that I have a routine, but my driver knows without me saying anything where I want to go.
First, Mingalar market for produce. All I wanted was corn, mangoes and cooked garbanzo beans. When I asked the "bean lady" how much for the beans (it was $.40 for two cups) a middle-aged woman passing by stopped to translate for me. Actually, she wasn't translating so much as making sure the "bean lady" was not cheating me. The "translator" hadn't seen me put the first bag of beans in my basket and thought I was being overcharged. After that she trailed me through the market to offer her assistance, in a very subtle way. After about 15 minutes she seemed to realize that I was a market regular and the vendors were helping, not cheating, me.
As we prepared to leave the market, a group of "boy monks" who were busy collecting food and money for their daily meal came to an abrupt stop when they saw me. I wasn't sure if it was just the way I look or if it was because they knew I'd given money to several of the other young monks.
One little guy (perhaps 7-8 years old) was lagging behind the group and was a bit surprised when they stopped short. Then he looked up at me. And let out the cutest "Oh!" sort of exclamation. Seems the last thing he expected was a very large, very blonde foreign woman to be looking down at him. The other monks laughed (the oldest was about 12). The vendors laughed. It was one of those moments that is hard to explain but was so sweet and cute. Made me smile for the rest of the day.
A few stops later, I was at Ocean Center, better known as "new Ocean". As we walked into the mall, I noticed a family taking photos of themselves by the fountain. I thought it would be amusing to casually join their family photo. I would NEVER do that in the U.S. But here, people frequently ask to have their photos taken with me so what could be nicer than offering a photo opp?
As the photographers (who appeared to be daughters in their early 20's) switched places, I sat down next to the woman I assumed was their mother. She was very surprised and immediately linked her arm in mine, scooted closer and posed with a big smile for the camera. After a couple of photos, we all stood up and the woman put her arm around me and asked her daughter to take a photo of just the two of us. She was easily a head shorter than me and about 100 pounds lighter. After more photos were taken she started commenting to her kids about me. Clearly she was commenting on my breasts and over all fat. Yup, I'm large and squishy. If I were younger or more sensitive, I might have taken offense. But, she was correct - she is tiny and very, very thin. I'm very, very not. We shared a hug and a laugh and I moved on.
A few minutes later, I was waiting for a friend and people watching. And being watched. Families and kids were fascinated. One group of 4 kids just stood off to one side and stared. Then two kids I know from school came by. They were casual about screaming "Teacher Nancy!" but also seemed to appreciate that they were famous with the other kids just because they knew me. Yes, fame does rub off.
I love shopping in Mandalay. Aside from paying $.15 for a bag of basil and $.30 for a huge bag of tomatoes, I love the people. I'm so excited about being home in 16 days for a long vacation. But really - what am I going to do without people getting excited just because I say "Hi!" to them?