BANGKOK (Reporting ASEAN) - It is now possible to go by car in any weather from Yangon (the…
Myanmar is a place where Filipinos are generally well-liked.
Mabuhay and Salamat! are familiar greetings in airports and hotels to anybody whom they presume to be Filipinos.
Filipinos are well-regarded in that country because many of those working there occupy management and teaching posts--- and of late engineering posts in the telecommunication and water supply sectors as well.
At present, there are 1,848 Filipinos registered with the Philippine Embassy, which is nearly three times the 2013 figure. This number is expected to increase further as more and more Filipino engineers are being employed by telecommunication companies, according to Philippine Ambassador to Myanmar Alex Chua.
But what makes the Burmese especially fond of Filipinos is Philippine soap operas.
Myanmar opened its doors a few years ago to TV shows from other countries. Aside from shows from South Korea, the people like shows from the Philippines’ two major TV networks: GMA and ABS-CBN. The soap operas are shown in their original Filipino version, with subtitles in Burmese.
In the ancient city of Bagan, a province more than 600 kilometers away from the capital city, Naypyidaw, there’s a lady who sells lacquer ware outside one of the temples approached. She would show her cellphone loaded with several episodes of Philippine and South Korean soap operas to Filipino customers.
She names popular Tagalog soap operas: “Pangako sa Iyo,” “On the Wings of Love,” and “Forevermore.” Marian Rivera in “Dyesebel” is her favourite.
Indeed, the Philippines can learn from the experience of South Korea, which has successfully transformed its soap operas into a culture-exporting machine. The Korean wave has given birth to the international popularity of K-Pop dance and music, cosmetics and clothing.
The Philippines is inadvertently following this phenomenon.Its TV shows are a minefield waiting to be tapped.
It’s not easy to travel from the Philippines to Myanmar because there is still no direct flight.However, Philippine citizens can travel visa-free to Myanmar. Its tourism facilities are modern.
So what’s in store for tourists visiting Myanmar?
It’s common to see the faces of Burmese women and children covered with what is called thanaka---a traditional cosmetic paste made from ground bark. It’s fragrant, like sandalwood. I tried it and it feels very cool on the skin. They also use it as a natural sunscreen.
It is best to see Yangon’s most famous symbol---the 99-meter high Shwedagon Pagoda--- at night, because it looks so magical at that time. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, believed to contain relics of the Buddha.
So visitors need to remove their footwear, including socks, entering the place. The marble and tile floors could become very hot during the afternoon. Both men and women are required to wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees.
The temples, especially Shwedagon Pagoda, are both sacred and have acquired patriotic symbolism for the people through the years. If you are given a brochure with photos of the pagodas, don’t use it as a fan, sit or step on it.
For shoppers, Burma is known for its gemstones like ruby and jade from the mountains of Mogok. You can buy these at the Bogyoke Market. Its lacquerware and fabrics are also shoppers’ favorites.
Outside Yangon, many tourists travel to Bagan and Mandalay to see the beautiful topography of the remains of these ancient kingdoms.
Another must-see is the National Museum, which showcases the Lion Throne (1858)---the only throne that survived the bombings during WWII.
A final word of advice for tourists: Drink bottled water only; Yangon’s drinking water system is still undergoing rehabilitation.