Myanmar: a local shopping day

I was standing near the foreigner volunteer building at ThaBarWa Centre when my new friends Ella and Erin happily swung around a pink building to greet me.

“The lady who helps coordinate lunch wants to make us longyis!” they exclaimed together.

“Long what?” I replied, wrinkling my nose up.

“Lawwwwnnn-geeee. The long skirts they all wear here.”

I looked down at my tiny pine-tree accented maxi-skirt and cursed a little inside. In Myanmar, it’s friggin’ hot and muggy, but it’s also disrespectful to show your shoulders or legs, so all women wear ankle-length wrapping skirts that create a personal sweat rectangle on your lowest half. My 45L backpack did not come pre-packed with a personal sweat rectangle (thanks a lot whoever packed that … oh wait, that was me …) so I was given a longyi by the head office at Thabarwa that I’m 90% sure is intended for teenagers or even, perhaps, children.



Some have ties or buttons to secure them, but most as just a circular piece of cloth (tube?) that you step into and then magically twist just the right way so it stays up.

Except it never. Stays. Up. (See my post about getting help with that, here). Given I was going to be in Myanmar a while and that asking strangers on the street to tie my skirt was no longer going to be the best strategy, I for sure wanted a longyi of my own.

“How much?”

“9000 Kyat, plus material,” the girls noted.

“So that’s $10. Wow, let’s do this!”

Material cost me $4, but it wasn’t really about the cost in the end. Or even the dress. Sure we went to market and exchanged money with locals for a service, but our little lunch coordinating tailor named Ma-Sue ended up cementing wonderful memories and bonds into our hearts. She called us sister every time she addressed us, and we certainly felt like part of her family. A few photos below of our shopping and tailoring experience, which was both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. We were stared at on many occasions, but as soon as we said, “Mingalaba (မင်္ဂလာပါ!” (hello) in Burmese the people’s faces changed from concerned curiosity to huge, beaming smiles accompanied by a furiously friendly waves. This was one of my favourite days of the trip!

To the market we go with Ma-Sue, and we are greeted with too many fabric options.

Having a great time shopping in the local market.

Ella, Erin, and I have selected our patterns!

Getting fitted for our blouses and longyis. Ma-Sue was so generous and gave us each an extra blouse and skirt to take home.

I may have been a little tall for them to measure me …

Ella showing off her custom longyi and blouse. The photo, taken in the dorm, doesn’t do the colouring justice at all. She received many subsequent compliments from passers-by.


Some of the final products. What a cool experience! So glad to have shared it with these beauties.


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