Illustration by Jared Downing | Frontier

Listen to my wisdom, Myanmar and America

Well, Myanmar, we’ve had some good times, but it’s time for me to leave. Hear that, America? I’m finally coming back.

After four-and-a-half years, I will try to improve my own country with the lessons I have learned, and likewise leave Myanmar with some parting advice.

USA: Make America Fun Again with KTV

My first group of Yangon friends loved nothing more than to crowd into a private KTV (karaoke) room, get drunk on tequila and belt out Abba and Backstreet Boys louder than Boris Johnson before a Brexit vote. While my current generation of expat friends do not enjoy KTV, they are also pretentious ice queens with sticks up their butts.

Myanmar: Ease up on the air con

Do your bus companies think passengers spoil if you don’t keep us at meat locker temperatures throughout the ride? Seriously.

USA: Try a Grab & Go Daiquiri

Forget the Pegu Club. The Grab & Go Daiquiri is arguably the only true Yangon cocktail. The recipe is as follows:

  • One large, orange Fanta flavoured slush from Grab & Go
  • One small bottle of Mandalay Rum

For best results, serve on Sunday morning after a hard night at Penthouse.

USA: Myanmar’s cinema experience

Being able to buy a movie ticket, popcorn and a Coke for US$5.50 has been one of the true joys of my Myanmar experience. You can buy boiled quail eggs at the snack bar, you can bring your Grab & Go Daiquiri in with you, and while Myanmar directors lack Hollywood refinement, they make up for it by just not giving a damn. If Myanmar cinema were a film, it would be a Jurassic Park-Fast and Furious crossover, and it would score 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Myanmar: Get rid of the toilet water squirter

And don’t try to tell me it’s “cleaner than paper”. All the water squirter accomplishes is leaving one’s jeans damp in the ass and the toilet seat covered in ever-so-slightly brown droplets.

USA: Don’t steal so much

For all the criticism that Americans receive, you have to grant us one thing: we are warm and friendly to the point that it literally makes Europeans uncomfortable. (I don’t blame them; if my culture had to deal with Vikings, the plague and nine months of winter each year, we would probably be chronically dour as well.) Therefore, it means something when I say that we can learn from the sheer integrity and niceness of Myanmar people. If I drop a US$100 note on the ground, someone will chase after me to return it. If I leave my bike alone, nobody will steal it. And when the air-con guy comes, he doesn’t try to bamboozle me. I honestly can’t say the same for even the wokest, most-hipster American city (Portland).

Myanmar: Lift the motorbike ban

I’ve written about this multiple times already, so if you want to read about how Yangon’s motorbike ban only serves to deprive working class people of affordable, private transport, enter “White Rider” in the Frontier website search bar.

USA: Try mohinga

I’m already preparing myself for the moments I roll up to a McDonald’s drive-thru, say “mohinga shi la?” and then sigh in disappointment.

Myanmar: Except for mohinga, serve all tourists Thai food and tell them it’s traditional Myanmar food

I get it, your food is yours. You love it. Just like the British love warm beer, Americans love guns and the Germans love frowning. No judgement. But you have to stop pretending that all outsiders are going to get into Myanmar food. Instead, change tactics: mandate that all restaurants have a second menu of Thai dishes, and then tell tourists and expats it’s your traditional cuisine. It sounds difficult, but Cambodia has been running that scheme for decades.

By Jared Downing

By Jared Downing

Jared Downing is an American journalist from Colorado and Alabama. He likes podcasts, radio theatre and hitchhiking and collects cans of sardines from around the world.
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