Imagining Utopia – When Dawn Breaks in a Covid World


Utopia today is the reality of yesterday. As the world stands near- paralyzed by Covid-19, the common man’s life limited to basics, the givens no longer so, and the perennial now so transient, I find myself thinking of the days gone by. All that as the present was far from satisfying, today, in hindsight seems so beautiful – there was no fear, no restrictions, freedom to do everything and move about, travel, and not at any point be confined indoors. Today the home, appears to be the only safe haven, and all I can do is dream…of a utopian world.

Strange how concepts and our perspectives change. Utopia at one time meant something outlandish, far fetched and far removed from reality, with everything being picture perfect, and everyone in a happy state. Utopia is the unrealistic perfect world we yearn to see, but given the realities around us, we tend to accept the imperfections happily.  The way the wheels of life on planet earth have stopped, instilling fear and uncertainty ruling on all fronts, our wanting life to go back to its old tenor has become utopia for us.

Life has been too easy for us, earning, spending, splurging, running to accomplish multiple tasks but enjoying none, since the next task was waiting. It was items ticked off a list, accountable to whom, I wonder… the goal seemed important, the journey irrelevant. Humankind was unstoppable, scaling higher and higher in terms of wealth, power, prestige, and success. To travel across the globe, see new places, savor exotic foods from diverse cuisines, share experiences, and lead parallel lives, one in the real world, and another, for the world to see – through social media. Were we enjoying the moment, the present, or were we building memories to revisit later, or perhaps creating a better image of ourselves for the world to see? All this snatched away from us, or perhaps put on hold for an extended stretch of time, is our imagined utopia now.

A tiny invisible protein has put everything on hold, or perhaps stopped indefinitely, leaving us wondering if things will ever be the same again. The fear of a potentially fatal illness had locked us up and entire nations have had to live through lockdowns to control the spread and curtail the damage of this pandemic. The pandemic might end one day, but the coronavirus seems here to stay.

Is it all dismal and all bad? The loss of life is the worst irreplaceable truth that has shaken us all and forced even the most stubborn to stop being careless and nonchalant. It has also given us time to think and ponder, for which we never seemed to have the inclination or the time previously.

And as in all difficulties, we must start from rock bottom, gradually building our way up. Looking at the basics, we have a comfortable, if not luxurious roof over our heads, money in the bank, good food to eat, a job that provides sustenance for us and ours. Yes, work from home is a dent, productivity impacted and less to do, since the pace of operations, projects and collaborations has changed, but the employers understand. If we get to keep our jobs, it’s a tremendous relief. If we lose them and other opportunities appear, that is a relief too. We miss the outings, the socializing, evenings spent in the company of friends, and the freedom to step out at any time. In place of all this, is the peace and quiet of home, the domain that did not always get our complete attention this way ever before. We now find that the home is a bottomless well of potential activities, we just need to have the patience to find them and see them through.

Life will never resume the same pace and course we left it at, three months ago. It will be different and to that extent utopian, and the new dawn will have lesser friends, fewer outings, cautiously gloved hands and  masked faces, social distancing, lesser travel, and more virtual meets, virtual workspaces, and shopping binges limited to essentials.

 After two months of lockdowns, and a very gradual opening up, a resigned acceptance has set in already. A tiny light peeps at us as we have started stepping out a bit, meeting a single friend, a short solitary walk…even as we dream of getting back perhaps half of the life we had, the biggest need being, the ability to reach our loved ones.

Today the world may seem plunged in dullness, uncertain about what lies ahead.  But every dark spell ends with the first rays of light, and a dawn breaks…to new beginnings, new hopes and new challenges which we need to gear up to meet.

Information Hygiene – The Concept and Its Relevance

IFor many months now, a plaguing worry has been the flooding of information on the worldwide web, and social media, in particular. The abundance of content is awe-inspiring, but simultaneously worrying because most of the information is unverified, often incorrect and inaccurate, and many a time based on optimized keywords, and hence frivolous and irrelevant.

Long forwards fill whatsapp and viber lists on our smartphones each morning. Even a cursory glance through, by a refreshed mind, makes one absorb 20-50% of what is written. This is because we all have inculcated what is called, ‘continuous partial attention”, the process of paying close attention simultaneously to multiple information sources, but only very superficially

 In present pandemic times when the coronavirus has become the most dreaded infection, it heightens our fears substantially, makes us lose our objectivity, lean more towards doomsday predictions, and scout around for more information, similarly unverified. Often, credibility becomes difficult to doubt when names like “John Hopkins University” or Dr Naresh Trehan ( CMD Medanta Hospital, Gurgaon, India), are quoted… till rebuttals and misattributions appear after a few days, and we find that those we trust have been used, to spread incorrect information.

This leaves the common man wondering what to believe, is any of the information true at all?  

The problem arises when we start quoting from posts we have read, and it spreads – becoming a viral narrative. Somewhere the fake news becomes real news unless contradicted by scientific facts and figures.

It is April 2020 and the world is going through probably the most tumultuous time, that we millennials have seen in our lifetimes. Dependent entirely on media coverage of news and information as we practice social distancing and remain confined to our homes, working and studying online, it becomes imperative to question what we read and hear. Rational, and objective mental capabilities are important and the need to sift through the massive stockpile of information to find credible, reliable news is of utmost importance.

All this is what made me notice a seemingly new concept of ‘information hygiene’. The term is self-revealing and resonates with my thinking completely, and made me research and find out more, what people have to say about it, and if there is any scientific evidence to prove its absence and any statistics even vaguely related to the term.

 Hygiene simply means being clean, maintaining certain basics to ensure good health. Various cleaning processes are the route to good hygiene. Over time, hygiene has been used in connection with food as well, and the latest I have seen is linked to information-even though the meaning is very different. Clean with reference to information would mean true information and not fabricated, exaggerated, or false information, meant to pass off as the truth.

Data hygiene is a closely related concept which involves processes to make data error free and hence clean. Information hygiene similarly seems to indicate factual, true information not lacking in authenticity, stating reality not tarnished by the figment of individual imagination, hype, bias or exaggeration.

The need for information cleansing or scrubbing, just as it exists in the realm of data, is paramount at present, when the common man is inundated with information, but remains confused what and how much of it to believe.

Information can be of various kinds:

  1. Small truths blown out of proportion to create sensational news that is eye catching even though highly exaggerated.
  2. Convictions that take the form a news piece, without an iota of truth but potential of having a big impact.
  3. News just for kicks. Some people enjoy the impact of a piece of information they share.
  4. Harmless news about trivialities especially about celebrities which will appeal to a limited audience but not have any adverse impact-often read, and forgotten.
  5. Verified news, backed by research, beliefs of thinkers and experts in the field, or pieces of information shared by the most reliable and trusted intelligentsia .

Information hygiene becomes critical during times of crisis, as during this pandemic which has shaken the world, instilled so much fear, led to massive medical, economic and psychological costs, with public morale down and fears of the future causing unparalleled stress. The threat is to life itself, to survival, and the future seeming bleak, till a vaccine and a cure appears on the horizon. The need of the hour is to propagate facts, instill hope, share information that will reinstate optimism, and make people and their morale more upbeat, than what it has been for the last couple of months.

The information overload is weighing us down negatively, giving us talking points, something to share, however untrue but seemingly significant. Increased density of dataflow, abundance of ‘information noise’ makes the mind retain the irrelevant and often forget the significant.

It is here and now that responsible agencies, governments and organizations begin a concerted campaign to sift out fake news, ensure stating of factual information and rate news and websites on the basis of the credible information they provide.

Parenting Challenges in a RapidlyChanging Myanmar


Zu Zu put her hands up in despair yet again. She has not been able to understand, for the last couple of years, how to react to her teenaged daughter’s behavior. She doesn’t seem to relate to her children any more, and while, in public, she feels proud that they speak well and conduct themselves appropriately, and have become smart and confident, their conduct at home, seems less warm, and are always finding fault with her, the way they live and what they do  not have. She is just one of many parents feeling this way.

Sounds familiar? Yes, this is one of the outcomes of rapid changes in society, when external international influences impact traditional beliefs and practices. The contrasts become stark, with foreign ones holding more appeal, and domestic patterns and ways of living appear archaic and unappealing, especially to the younger population. Parents, however wish to cling to their system of values and ideals, balance the western and Asian influences, limit the penetration of practices that clash with their religious and personal beliefs, and keep their children rooted in the local systems.

As economies get globalized, multinationals and international organizations bring with them, modern influences on education, living styles, social interactions and have a deep impact on society, particularly the vulnerable youth, that is hungry for change. Global connectivity and access to the worldwide web gives a virtual view of life and liberal practices, often very different from Asian norms, and seem so easy to emulate.

The mushrooming of numerous international schools in big cities and an inadequate local education system has pushed parents to send their children to these elite institutions with the hope of providing the best education to their offspring.  The academic learning apart, international education encourages independent behavior, makes children responsible for their tasks, encourages to form opinions and inculcate the ability to discuss. This is somewhat in contrast to traditional Asian values, where children must listen and obey rather than argue, especially with elders, where family hierarchy is respected more than equal standing for all. The result is conflict and resentment that tends to build between generations. Parents are not able to enforce rules they previously did, children become secretive since they find parents non accepting, and literally lead dual lives, one in school with friends where they have many commonalities, and one at home that they wish to break free from, eventually.

Many well-travelled parents themselves exposed to western ways, are more accepting and give children sufficient leeway, while many more try to enforce discipline in the traditional manner, that causes distress and some children end up with psychological problems. Neither side is wrong, one generation wishes to practice age-old ways of socialization of their offspring, and the other that prefers the more appealing western contemporary attitudes and perspectives.

Conspicuous changes in youth

An individualistic mind set, and being self-absorbed, wanting make their own choices and take decisions, shake off parental control, and being less thrifty than the previous generation. The family unit is also changing especially in urban areas, joint extended families are being replaced by nuclear ones, the role of grandparents is reducing, but family bonds remain strong. The youth remain respectful with just less time to devote at home, since gadgets and devices keep them hooked to online games and social media.

  • Greater use of the English language
  • Discarding traditional attire
  • No longer have tanakha smeared faces
  • Hanging out in trendy shopping malls
  • Cafes have replaced tea shops, an intrinsic part of traditional Myanmar

Both generations are impacted by the new wave of consumerism, a more materialistic attitude simply because of the ever-increasing range of products available. What was once purchased on annual trips abroad is now easily available here. Disposable incomes have also increased with the emergence of a growing middle class in cities and towns. Veblen’s concept of conspicuous consumption, once apt for only the top 1% of Myanmar society, is trickling down to the next strata as well.

Parenting methods that must evolve

Open societies that see western influences creeping and merging into their age old practices, require some openness to changing internally. Perspectives need to broaden, dogmatic beliefs need to be shaken off, and being amenable to change on numerous fronts, seems to be necessary.

By no means can one say that the new age concepts are right and the older ones incorrect, both sides remain as warm, as devoted and committed to seeing children blossom, and neither can be seen as black and white. The well-defined domains, the dividing lines have both become less demarcated, and the thin veil between generations has lifted.

Parents can now be ‘friends’ with their children, must no longer ‘dictate’, set hard, non-negotiable rules, confine children to the home and limit their range of activities. The ‘my word is law’ days are on their way out now. The warmth and care needs to manifest itself in other ways, less with discipline, more with softness and visible warmth, the tone and use of language displaying tenderness. Like spending quality time as family, doing fun activities, eating meals together with engaging conversations that are stress relieving for all.

Listening to children from an early age has become important. Often, we ignore what our children are trying to bring to our notice, forgetting that there can be issues plaguing tender minds, there may be concerns that worry them, or they may even be victims of abuse. The channels of communication must work both ways, and children need to feel confident that their perspective will be heard sympathetically without a scolding. Once this channel is open it brings confidence, strengthens bonds, and children grow up feeling more secure. Explaining to children why we want them to do something makes them understand the rationale, and are then happier obeying.

The level of involvement of parents is never in doubt, but it must never become so intense that it cages the child, leaves him incapable of handling problems and managing on his own. This is the typical Asian way of ‘protecting’ them, but can also make them excessively dependent.

Parents are always the children’s first role models and if they lead by example, practice what they preach, then the young ones will follow happily. Children tend to get confused when they feel that the rules laid down for them are different from what they see their parents doing. For instance, children may be asked to restrict the time spent on devices, be it the mobile phone or watching television, but they see one or both parents constantly on their phones, even if it is for work. If parents can impose a ‘no phone time’ on themselves, it will prompt the child to do the same. This type of positive enforcement is far more effective.

The balancing act

Mature parenting involves balancing the western and Asian influences, preserving cultural traditions and adapting to prevailing changing norms, since there is wisdom in both, despite the contrasts. We can choose all the practices that fall along the middle path. The challenge lies in the sifting and not allowing the intergenerational conflict come to the fore. The Asian value system holds immense appeal, since we feel it is the path that leads to peace and contentment rather than having discontented materialistic lives. We come across thousands of people who are perennially unhappy, with something always missing from their lives, and some cravings always keeping them dissatisfied. To value what we have, to count our blessings and looking below us for the material, is one useful habit to inculcate in ourselves and our children. In contrast, for spiritual elevation, we need to look up at those who have scaled higher, and this will help us evolve and improve, and this pursuit does not create unhappiness.

The younger generation also seeks instant gratification, quick results, and immediate resolution, everything treated in the same way as the click of a button on their devices. This is something parents alone can change, by not agreeing to all the children’s demands, by playing the waiting game, and allowing a wee bit of a sense of deprivation come to the young ones, only so that they value what they receive, everything not being their right, but a favor. This reduces their sense of entitlement, and prepares them for times ahead, when everything they want is not within their parents ability to give, and external factors are involved.

For this, Myanmar has an advantage over other countries, because empathy, sharing with others begin early, the monastery experiences of children during vacations make them calm and content, and the tenets of Buddhism become deeply ingrained in this largely Buddhist nation.

Parenting is a lifelong challenge, and external influences make it tougher. But parental love, devotion and commitment is far stronger in Asia, and this helps both generations. The older ones need to display wisdom with open minds, patience and mature perspectives, and the younger ones need to reciprocate and never forget where they belong, even as they pursue international education and emulate Western ways.

Myanmar Summers – Beat The Heat


Come March and man and earth alike seem parched and dry, under the sweltering heat of an unrelenting sun. Stepping out after 8 am has us all sweating profusely and scurrying for a patch of shade, and any respite from the blazing heat. Distances have never seemed as much and the cool air-conditioned comfort of offices, never more welcome. This continues through the months of april and early May, with a brief respite during the week long thingyan break when playing with water and all else that comes with the water festival. The monsoons are by now eagerly awaited, and the wait for the rain Gods to condescend and send the first showers continues.

The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology had predicted a warmer than usual March, the summer of 2016 to be the hottest ever, and the El Nino effect could even lead to shortage of water. The coming days are only going to get hotter and with it are health hazards and illnesses especially food gets rancid sooner and adequate refrigeration and storage facilities are missing. Already the power load has increased and power failures have increased. A delayed monsoon is also predicted, raising fears of deaths due to heat stroke when the hot spell continues unabated.

Myanmar is not really the hottest country in the world. The problem arises due to people not being accustomed to this kind of heat and global warming is gradually pushing average temperatures up. May is also the month when the average sunlight hours are the highest.

The number of people fainting and falling in the heat is increasing as body salts reduce due to excessive sweating. Overcrowded public transport with lack of proper ventilation, further aggravate the problem. Stomach disorders and food poisoning is on the rise.

Thankfully the heat abates after sunset thanks to the numerous water bodies and the breeze that brings cooler air onto the land expanse. This makes the late evenings and nights a bit more comfortable. But with the highest temperature of the day touching 40 degrees, the drop in night temperatures is only of a few degrees.

Beating the heat – A few Tips to stay cool

Global warming that we see in every corner of the world, is here to stay and Myanmar is just getting hotter by the year. Interestingly, every year as the heat intensifies we seem to forget how bad it was the year before. With no other alternatives, it is best to attempt to stay cool and avoid the ill effects of the heat by adopting a few recommended remedies.

  • Wear cottons in light colors – Cotton material is ideally suited for summer and thin cotton helps in allowing air to pass through. Cottons also absorb sweat and prevent stickiness on the skin. Wearing light colors helps because they reflect the sun’s heat away from the body and help it to stay cooler. Dark colors absorb the heat and pass it on to the body. According to a 2011Mayo Clinic report, light colored clothing are the key to regulating body temperature and help in staying cool, thereby subverting the risk of heat strokes. White color retains the least amount of heat.
  • Increase consumption of fluids to stay hydrated – Heat tends to dehydrate the body and fluid loss is far quicker. This leads to exhaustion and fatigue sets in much sooner. It is important to increase fluid consumption and this includes water, the most important nutrient. Water helps to maintain body temperature and takes the heat away from the body’s internal organs, hence preventing damage due to a heat stroke. Fresh juices and coconut water are other cooling fluids that help in keeping the body hydrated. Tea and coffee while adding to fluid intake, also have a diuretic effect.
  • Avoid walking under the sun, select the shaded alleys – In countries like Myanmar the sun hits us even more due to the vast expanses of land getting the heat of the sun directly, few pockets of inhabited land and virtually no high rise buildings. Though there is respite in the form of water bodies and the greenery surrounding them, it cannot reduce the heat felt. Thankfully there are trees all around even in cities like Yangon that are the most thickly populated. It is preferable to walk in their shade or even in the shade of the buildings to prevent sunburn and heat strokes.
  • Stay indoors during the afternoons – the sun is directly above us at noon but its heat is maximum on the ground at 2 pm. Though it begins to subside subsequently, the afternoons are the worst times to be outdoors. It is best to keep outdoor activity for early mornings and late evenings.
  • Avoid foods that are heat inducing – In eastern cultures, there is a distinct concept of warm foods and cold foods, that is heat-inducing and cooling foods. Thus fruits are supposed to be cooling while dry fruits supposedly induce heat in the body. Similarly red meat is heat inducing while salads are cooling. Having cold fruits and yoghurt is always beneficial in keeping heat away from internal organs.
  • Cover glass windows and keep closed during daytime – Plain glass windows are unable to block the heat piercing through, unless the glass is tinted or covered. Even curtains need a sun blocking lining to stop the heat. Keeping windows closed prevents the hot air from entering and makes a marginal difference in room temperature. The natural inclination always is to open doors and windows to capture any amount of fresh breeze.
  • Lighter food with salad focus – Heavy, oily foods and fried snack foods take longer to digest due to the high oil content. Similarly, spicy foods and caffeine add to the heat produced in the body, with some spices even causing burning sensations. Certain types of medicines taken for lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart ailments also produce heat in the body due to their chemical composition but are unavoidable due to their therapeutic value. Salads with their high water content, cooling properties and freshness can make up for heat producing foods and if consumed in larger quantities, can help to keep body heat low.
  • Prevent loss of body salts – when outside temperatures are high the body faces more stress and tends to sweat. Sweating takes away body fluids and minerals. This aggravates the stress on the body and can cause cramps. Sweat contains salts and when these body salts are depleted, a feeling of weakness leads to fainting spells and one falls down just anywhere, causing injuries. The only solution lies in having plenty of fluids especially juices of coconut and orange. Electrolyte supplements help too.
  • Exercise in cooler places or just swim – Exercise causes sweating and this can be a double whammy if carried out in warm places or outdoors. Cooler areas like under the shade of trees, or indoors, is more practical and sustainable for a longer period. Alternatively, exercise can be kept for after sunset when it is cooler. The best exercise during these hot summer months is swimming, since being in the water is extremely refreshing and cooling since it reduces the body heat. Swimming is a work out for the whole body that also reduces weight and therefore is the perfect form of exercise.

For countries where increased temperatures are a recent phenomenon, it is going to take some time to get accustomed to the scorching heat of the sun. Myanmar is witnessing some of the most severe summers now and the effects of El Nino as predicted are making life quite uncomfortable. The monsoon showers are still a month away, but till then it is important to beat the heat.

Yangon’s Booming Beauty Business

Is looking good necessarily the reflection of natural beauty and the features one is born with? Not quite. A subtle enhancement of natural appearance transforms men and women alike, though the latter spend far more time, effort and money to look what they perceive to be beautiful. Women certainly take their external appearance very seriously, seeking to change any of their physical attributes that do not appeal, or seem to detract from their beauty. The straight-haired wish their hair would curl, while those with wavy tresses spend time and money straightening them.

The beauty industry is booming and demand for the phenomenal variety of products and services is spiraling, even as millions of dollars are being spent on research to find solutions for perfect skin, perfect hair, age-defying creams, and potions that will elevate beauty. The global demand can be gauged from the figures released by Euromonitor International, which pegged global sales of skin care products at USD 107 billion in 2013, and hair care products at USD 77 billion, with both industries slated to see a 20% increase in the next three years.

Its all about personal preferences and being beauty conscious

Looking good has different connotations for different people and among the many influencing factors are, age, nationality and gender. Time and effort levels may vary but the global consumer does focus on being clean and presentable, though some are obsessed with enhancement of features and going to great lengths and pains to remove every blemish. There are many who believe in bathing being the complete cleanser, and just as many who follow a four-step regimen of cleansing, toning, scrubbing and moisturizing, everyday. Some are comfortable with their acne and freckles, while others may visit dermatologists and skin clinics to try out skin peeling, ozone treatments, and steroid creams to get rid of them. The bottom line of course, is that we all want to have softer, smoother, blemish free skin, shining and whiter teeth, and wish to age gracefully, albeit with age reflecting last on our face!

Some of the universally accepted characteristics of looking good include:

  • A clean appearance and fresh smelling, odor free body
  • Well combed hair that are neat and tidy
  • Presentable attire that is neither dirty nor crumpled
  • Some form of makeup that adds to facial features.

Style is one aspect of personal image of which physical appearance is one significant part. The all important need to be well groomed that adds charm to the outer appearance requires a wide range of products for skin and hair care, cosmetics to add color, and fragrances.

Myanmar’s budding beauty sector

That knee touching mane of straight, dark and silken hair, and tanakha covered cheeks is perceived by most tourists as the most pleasing, pristine beauty in the women of Myanmar. How long this lasts in the country which is now an open playground for global players of the beauty business, remains to be seen. Strong influences from highly fashion conscious neighboring countries, already seem to be permeating in big cities like Yangon and Mandalay.    

The Euromonitor International ranks Myanmar as one of the 20 markets of the future. With a middle class that will double in number by 2020 and a potential customer base of nearly 60 million across age groups, nearly every player in the global beauty and personal grooming industry is waiting to step into the country. The money making potential apart, this will create job opportunities for aspirants, and contribute substantially towards capability building through training programs that will take the recruits to international standards of service and performance. Eventually, as the country turns more cosmopolitan, there will be a need to provide world class services, comparable to what neighboring countries offer.

Myanmar hosted its first international beauty trade exhibition, Cosmobeaute Myanmar, in June 2014 where 58 companies from 11 countries showcased their products. This is one of many firsts, introducing locals to a variety of brands, not known before. Not that most international brands aren’t available – they have been flooding the market for the last two years. It is now easy to buy the latest creams and lotions, toners and cleansers, in fact a significant part of the range offered by Kanebo, L’oreal, Revlon, Maybelline, Shishedo, Joico, Clinique, and other leading international brands, are seen in spas and beauty parlors. Supermarket brands like Dove, Sunsilk, Rejoice and Rexona seem to have been left behind, at least by those who can afford to pay more.

Beauty parlors, spas, skin clinics, nail art and hair salons have multiplied manifold in the last two years. While earlier, one could expect high quality services only at salons located in four and five star hotels, it is now possible to enjoy similar services in one of the many spas and parlors opening up. L’Oreal Salon, California Skin Spa, Nitipon Beauty Center, Clinique Skin and Laser Clinic, are some of the foreign chains that bring with them better expertise and international standards. From small hair salons to upscale parlors, the number runs into hundreds now.

The newer salons and spas are vying for space in upscale localities while the older businesses continue to flourish in their old locations. All of them are replicating décor and designs seen in places like Thailand, with soft soothing music offering relaxation, dim lights and clean, sterilized equipment being used. La Source has two branches, one that lies off Inya Road and another in Sedona Hotel, and it had to close down the one it had opened in Junction Square. Le Coiffeur is off Kabar Aye Pagoda Road, the Clinique Skin Clinic has recently opened on Kan Street, off  Pyay Road. T8 and Tony Tun Tun are popular beauty and hair salons with multiple outlets. Similarly, Beauty Concepts serves customers from the Sule Shangri-La Hotel and Market Place. Spa Paragon has conveniently opened at ground level in the luxurious Shwe Hin Tha Condominium, benefitting from its 150 plus apartments mostly occupied by expatriates, and a vast clientele beyond. The Inya Day Spa has many walk in clients due to its prominent location, and the standard of its services does not disappoint. Last year, the well known Thai salon, Nitipon, opened on Kabar Aye Pagoda Road.  With shopping malls mushrooming in every part of the city, small beauty salons are opening up on higher floors to attract mall visitors, and completing their mall experience.

Most of these offer membership that comes with a 10-20% discount for all treatments. As competition increases, these salons are coming up with festive promotions, and freebies that were practically nonexistent two years ago. Luring customers is one thing, retaining them requires a higher quality of services than what is found in other salons.

Popular beauty treatments

Most of the spas and parlors visited seem to be using similar brands and have both local and expatriate clients. While tourists visit mainly for body massage and hair wash, those residing in Yangon, opt for the whole gambit of services. The range of services offered is most or less similar too, though La Source offers ozone treatment for hair, some hair regrowth therapy, and hair steaming to promote hair growth.

The majority of local Myanmar ladies, visit salons for hair wash, color and treatment and nail art. For them hair care takes precedence. Hair straightening is extremely popular, especially since the local women have admirably long hair. Coloring hair into numerous shades of brown or just highlighting the ends, is a favorite pastime of the younger generation, wanting to sport a new look, every few days. Hair wash outside the home seems an alien concept to most expatriate women, but once tried, they get hooked on to it too. Manicures, pedicure and foot massage are very common too. Footfalls increase over the weekend, though during the week, one would find these salons overstaffed, with the staff just sitting around beautifying themselves.

Asian women with darker hair often have to resort to hair removal treatments and frequent salons for waxing and threading, eyebrow reshaping and so on. Removal of facial hair does wonders to the appearance. Permanent solutions like laser treatment for hair removal have started appearing, but have yet to make a mark in Yangon since this requires a high level of expertise and experience.

Yangon is one more Asian city where so called beauty therapists provide a wide range of beauty services at home, visiting client homes, and are much cheaper, though one cannot compare the quality of services. This is partly because the better salons send their staff to Thailand for training and learning all the essential skills, who then come and train the other staff on the job. Most of the staff are young ladies, though some men work as hair stylists. Almost all the spas visited had young ladies in their twenties, working with reasonable levels of expertise.

Most of these beauty treatments are rather time consuming and don’t come cheap. A body scrub at Spa Paragon takes two and a half hours and costs 60,000 kyats. A preference for natural products has made French brands like Decleor and Sothy’s very popular. The Japanese SK-II is another frequently preferred brand. Hair care products from Shiseido, Joico, Kerastase, L’Oreal Professionnel and others have become popular though prices vary.

Price range of services

The list of beauty services provided for hair and skin, the face or the body, is rather long, but some of the most frequently used ones are mentioned. Hair loss treatments have recently picked up, and can put anyone down by a few hundred dollars. Their effectiveness, of course, remains debatable.

  • Hair wash costs between 2000-10000 kyats depending on the salon. The shampoo and conditioners used also affect the price charged.
  • Maincure charges range between 5000 – 12000 kyats
  • Pedicure can cost between 6000 – 15000 kyats.
  • Hair cut with shampooing of hair costs between 6000 – 20,000 kyats
  • Facials which include face cleaning and elaborate treatment come for anything between 25000 – 85000 kyats
  • Body scrub costs 40000 – 60000 kyats

Staying Natural

All the salons may be doing brisk business, but coming to Yangon made me understand what wonders natural skin products can do. Applying tanakha actually improves the skin in texture and clears blemishes left by pimples and acne, and I wonder why Myanmar folk, for whom applying this sandalwood paste has been a sacred routine, should even dream of giving it up. I, for one, prefer natural looks more than heavily made up faces caked with layers of foundation, and admire those who dare to step out with their simplicity on display.

Celebrating Thingyan in Yangon – Fifth Year In a Row

After more than four years in Yangon, I too, like everyone in Myanmar, wait with excitement and enthusiasm, for Thingyan, the water festival. Thingyan is the biggest festival, event and celebration of the year in Myanmar. It comes as a welcome break from the hectic pace of life, and brings all activities to a virtual standstill for all, when work stops and workplaces shut down, when the mood of holiday and festivity in the entire month of April means nothing will move. Except for the water spraying pavilions, loud music and vendors feeding the hundreds playing, the city or actually, the whole country is transformed, the buzz and bustle is missing, and there is just an ambience of relaxation and fun, noise and merriment. Those who can afford it, leave the country to take a break elsewhere and catch up on all that is missing in Myanmar.

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Myanmar’s Mountains Beckon

Myanmar has become famous as the road less traveled attracting tourists from virtually every country. Its breathtaking, untouched natural beauty against the backdrop of which we see countless pagodas in every city, town and village, has led to a flurry of tourist activity. The number of tourists entering Myanmar in 2014 has touched 3 million, and the numbers are only increasing every month. Most of them explore Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle, Mytkyina, Taunggyi, and Kalaw.

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Three Thingyans Old In Myanmar

For the third year in a row, I can sense the excitement in the air, a sense of waiting building up, enthusiasm to switch off from work, close offices, while making plans for all that is to be done during the week long Thingyan break. Already, the first piles of wood planks and bamboo sticks are reaching roadsides where pavilions are going to be erected. Water guns and powerful water hoses are on sale, clothes and offerings for the monks, gift hamper and traditional Thingyan foods, stacking shelves. Gradually the cityscape will be transformed, with 35-40 large pavilions erected, road blocks placed, traffic rerouted, and water connections kept ready to draw water from the lakes around. This may not be everyone’s idea of fun and enjoyment, but the feeling of merriment is infectious and ropes us all in.

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Ethnic Indian Saris

The Indian handloom sector with its fine art of weaving and dyeing, produces some of the most exquisite fabric and a lot of it goes into creating Saris, the Indian dress that is perhaps the most graceful ethnic attire in the world. Women drape six yards of fabric around their waist and falls pleated like a skirt till the floor, with a blouse worn on top. The grace and charm of the sari remains unmatched, and it is universally admired by young and old alike.

Traditional designs and ethnic weaves have given way to trendy saris that use western styles, combination of fabrics and glitter to attract, in contrast to the muted grace of traditional weaves, which with all the gold and silver can never be garish. Markets are full of these flashy saris, in vogue today, but out of fashion in no time. However, India boasts of classic weaves and designs that have timeless appeal, and signify class, charm and sophistication that remain unmatched. Thus, a Paithani sari can be a show stealer, and a Pochampally worn by airhostesses of the national airline, Air India, draws admiring glances at airports across the globe.

I would love to gift each one of these classics to my daughter, as ageless treasures that will last a lifetime and beyond. But I realized that she and so many of my young friends are not even familiar with many of the traditional Indian sari varieties. For some reason, their knowledge is limited to Benarasi and Kanjeevaram!

So, in an attempt to educate myself and those around me, I set out to discover and learn about Indian ethnic handlooms and weaves that go to create the beautifully charming sari.

Benarasi- Benaras/Varanasi is home to some the finest tissue and silk sarees with intricate  weaves, motifs and intricate borders, using thread and gold. Pure silks with a touch of gold are called Bafta and brocades of variegated silk are called Amru.

Baluchari – Silk saris from Bengal, woven in Murshidabad and Bishnupur. They are famous due to the weaving of mythological scenes on the pallu of the sari. Baluchari in gold is called Swarnachari.

Bhagalpuri – Tussar silk saris with a distinct dying style from Bhagalpur, Bihar. The city lies on the banks of the Ganges and is called the silk city.

Bandhani/bandhej – Made by tying the sari fabric with thread at several points, thus producing patterns likeleheriya, mothra, ekdali, shikari…depending on the way the threads are tied. Once processed, bandhani produces dots, squares, waves and stripes.

Bomkai- Bomkai saris are also called Sonepuri saris produced by Bhulia community of Subarnapuri district of Odisha. Bomkai designs are those from a village named Bomkai of Ganjam district.

Chanderi (Madhya Pradesh) – traditional saris made in Chanderi, MP, in silk, cotton and cotton silk. Floral art, geometrical designs, coin and peacock designs are most commonly woven into them.

Dupion Silk- a plain weave silk that is crisp that has fine thread in the warp and uneven thread reeled from two or more entangled cocoons in the weft. The fabric that comes out is tightly woven and is lustruous, But considered to be rough silk.

Dhakai Jamdaani- special cotton saris made in Dhaka, Bangladesh, light as a feather and almost transparent, with intricate motifs. Jamdaani weave is exclusive since brocade looms are used along with a supplementary weft technique. One sari can take 9 months to weave. Tangail jamdaani comes from tangail district in Bangladesh and have traditional broad borders, lamp and fish motifs. SHantipur jamdaanis are from india and have striped motifs, while the Indian Dhaniakhali Jamdaani has a tighter weave compared to shantipur and tangail, have bold colors and dark contrasting borders.

Traditional jamdaanis were only in pure cotton and dhakai muslin was the world’s finest. Now cotton, cotton silk mix and pure silk are made.

Dharamavaran-  small town in AP known for its silk weaving of saris in muted colors and double shades with gold borders and contrasting pallu-quite similar to Kanjeevaram.

Eri silk- this is the most exclusive and purest form of silk from Assam and the silkworms used feed on castor plants. Eri silk is considered the father of all forms of cultured, textured silk and the only domesticated silk produced in India which does not involve killing the silk worm-hence it is also called Ahinsa silk or fabric of peace, and therefore the preferred fabric for Buddhist monks and vegans. It is also produced in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Bihar Orissa etc. Eri silk threads are shorter and this makes the silk very fragile.

Gadhwal- Saris woven in Gadwal, mahbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh-body of sari is of cotton while border and pallu are of silk. Gold zari is used to enhance the sari. The whole sari can be folded and packed into a match box.The weave used is interwoven weft technique.

Gajji silk- this comes out of a satin weave on silk fabric. Shiny, and used in tie and dye saris in Gujarat.

Himroo shawls and saris-himroo is unique fabric from Aurangabad, made with silk and cotton and woven with gold thread into saris and shawls. The use of pure gold thread makes both shawls and saris very expensive.

Ikkat- Ikkat is a dyeing technique in which a resist dyeing process is used on the yarn before dyeing and weaving. The result is a blurred kind of design with no sharp outlines. Initially typical of weaves in Gujarat and Orissa, ikkat is now used all over.

Khandua/kataki/ maniabandi – traditionally red In color these saris are woven in Cuttack, this ikat sari is worn for weddings and offered to Lord Jagannath. They have the text of Gita Govinda on them.

Kalamkari- is a hand painted and block printed cotton textile, with intricate designs, sharp lines and organic colors. Used now in silk and other fabrics as well.  

Kantha-a type of embroidery used in Bengal and Bangladesh. It uses a simple stitch in muted shades with extensive use of black. Ideal on tussar, a silk type used widely in east India.

Kosa silk- is a variety of tussar silk and obtained from a worm similar to the silkworm. It is sturdy but soft and comes from Chattisgarh in soft earthy shades.

Kanjivaram- come from Kanchipuram and are some of the finest silk saris worldwide. The silk comes from Karnataka, the gold from Gujarat and the sari weaving is done in Kanchipuram. Typically, the sari and the border are woven separately and then interlocked.

Maheshwari-woven out of silk and cotton fiber, with gold zari added, these are a specialty of maheshwar MP. They have reversible borders and the trademark five stripes in the pallu.

Mangalgiri- Woven in Mangalgiri in Guntur district of AP-they are made out of pure cotton on a pit loom. They are generally plain with gold embellished borders, are airy and light weight. They are woven in silk for weddings etc.

Munga-Muga silk comes from Assam an is one of the rarest varieties of silk. It is golden yellow in color and comes from a semi cultivated silk worm. It is fine but strong and its golden luster increases with age.

Narayanpet- a small town in Mahbubnagar district in Telenganathat is popular for its handloom in silk and cotton. These typically have checks and a wide border on both sides. The saris are woven using the interlocking weft technique, and have a fine weave count. Eight saris can be woven simultaneously on a single loom. Most affordable.

Pasapalli – handloom sari from the Bargarh district of Orissa which generally has a checked pattern, in black and white similar to a chess board, which supposedly inspired these saris.

Patola-this is a double ikkat woven sari, made generally out of silk. A specialty of Patan, Gujarat, double ikkat involves wrapping the warp and weft threads so as to resist the dye as per the pattern. This tying is repeated for each individual color that has been decided. The bundles of thread are carefully knotted before dyeing. There are only 3 families left in Patan that create these patola saris. One sari can take 6 months to a year to complete.

Paithani- woven in a small town called Paithan in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The first paithanis were in cotton but over time the fabric evolved into fine delicate silk. Hand woven out of silk, typical features include a square, oblique design and a peacock or other distinctive motifs on the pallu. One color is used for weaving lengthwise and another widthwise. Paithani saris are some of the most exclusive wardrobe treasures.

Pochampali- originates in a small town called Boodhan Pochampally in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh. It is a cluster of 80 villages which have traditional looms weaving century old designs. Using ikkat patterns and geometrical designs  on silk, cotton, or silk-cotton mix, the basic tie and dye  technique is used.

Sambhalpuri- A specialty of Sambalpur Orissa, these handloom saris use sambalpuri Ikkat in which threads are first tie n dyed and then woven into a sari. Sambalpuri sari varieties include Bomkai, bapta, sonepuri, barpali and Pasapali saris.

Taant-these are traditional Bengali saris, cheap and made of cotton. Typical designs include a thick border and woven motifs, and are used for daily wear all over Bengal.

Tanchoi- Silk sarees with a satin finish, with intricately woven designs using double warp plus 2-5 colors on the weft to create exquisite patterns. The art of weaving was adapted from the Chinese technique by Gujaratis but later, the weavers from Varanasi were able to produce finer and cheaper Tanchois.

Uppada- aresilk saris of the Jamdani variety but woven in Uppada, Andhra Pradesh. Using cotton warp, these use a lot of gold and the texture is almost translucent. All these are hand woven and take months to complete

Venkatgiri- are handwoven cotton zari sarees made in Venkatgiri, Andhra Pradesh. The saris are light and soft, besides being very durable. Recently the Jamdaani technique from Bangladesh has been incorporated into Venkatgiri saris to weave the most unusual saris.

Tussar silk is wild silk produced from an unraptured cocoon. Ghicha and Matka silk comes from an unraptured cocoon.