Myanmar is a place where I felt genuinely well-liked because I come from the Philippines. The Burmese are a gentle, lovely and helpful people. It was a common experience, from the airport to the hotel and various tourist places, to get asked if we were from the Philippines. As soon as we say yes, we are greeted with “Mabuhay” and “Salamat!”
Filipinos are already well-regarded because they occupy management and teaching posts, and lately engineering posts in the telecommunication and water supply sectors.
But what makes the Burmese especially like Filipinos lately is that they watch our 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 the exports of the Philippines’ two major TV networks: GMA and ABS-CBN. The soap operas are shown in their original Filipino with subtitles in Burmese.
One of my most pleasant experiences happened in Bagan, a province more than 600km away from the capital, when a lady who sells lacquer ware outside one of the temples approached me after hearing my husband and I talk in Filipino. She asked me if we were from the Philippines, I asked her how she knew, and if she spoke our language. She said no, but she recognized the Filipino words because they became familiar after watching a lot of our soap operas!
She showed me her cellphone where she saved several episodes of both Philippine and South Korean soap operas. She watches Pangako sa Iyo, On the Wings of Love, and Forevermore. Marian Rivera in Dyesebel is her favorite.
Interview of a lady from Myanmar who Loves Pinoy Telenovelas
In case you are wondering what she has on her face, it’s called thanaka. You’ll see most ladies, as well as children from Myanmar wearing this. It is 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.
Yangon’s most famous symbol is its 99-meter high Shwedagon Pagoda. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, believed to contain relics of the Buddha.
It is best to see the Shwedagon Pagoda at night – primarily because it looks magical but also because visitors need to remove their footwear, including socks. The marble floors and tiled could become very hot during the afternoon.
There is an entrance fee for foreigners. Both men and women should wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees.
For shopping, Burma is known for its ruby from the mountains of Mogok, as well as jade. These can be bought from the Bogyoke Market. Burma also has lacquerware and fabric.
Outside Yangon, many tourists travel to Bagan and Mandalay to see the beautiful topography of the remains of these ancient kingdoms. I wrote a separate piece on our trip to Bagan.
There are 1,848 Filipinos registered in the Philippine Embassy, nearly three times the figure from 2013. This number is expected to increase further as more and more Filipino engineers are employed by telecommunication companies.
Among the Philippine’s quiet but effective assets in Myanmar is the embassy staff headed by Ambassador Alex Chua and Consul Alan Gabriola. Meeting Alan gave me a practical insight on the life of our many young consular officers. I wrote about our short encounter here.
We visited the National Museum, which showcases the Lion Throne (1858), which is the only throne that survived the bombings during WWII.
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. A recent soap opera, the military romance Descendants of the Sun, inspired a fresh wave of patriotism due to its subject matter.
The Philippines is inadvertently following this phenomenon but our message has yet to be set. It would be foolish to disregard the economic capital that Philippine soap operas develop with their foreign audience. The TV shows are a minefield waiting to be tapped.
Advice to Travelers
It’s not easy to travel from the Philippines to Myanmar because there is still no direct flight. Myanmar’s tourism facilities, however, are modern. Visiting the country was a lovely experience.
Philippine citizens travel visa free to Myanmar.
The temples, especially Shwedagon Pagoda, are both sacred and have acquired patriotic symbolism for the people through the years. Do wear appropriate clothing. Remove your footwear, including socks. If you are given a brochure with photos of the pagoda, don’t use it as a fan, don’t sit or step on it.
Bottled water only; Yangon’s water system is undergoing improvement. Good luck!