Pondering the Padaung
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
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After slowly waking up over a plate of hot banana pancakes and force-sipping a cup of vile "coffee" on the chilly communal terrace it was time for the day's excursion to begin. We followed behind our driver down a dirt path to the canal and boarded our two seat motorized canoe. For over an hour we made our way past the Intha fishermen rowing their boats with their legs wrapped around their oars and past waving families washing themselves by stilted wooden shacks and young boys herding water buffalo on the banks of the lake. We arrived at the market only to find that it featured much of the traditional tourist's fare and that the actual local market was puny by comparison. Nonetheless there were some great buys and some interesting souvenirs that caught our attention en route to the hill top monastery.
In each country I've visited the hawkers and salespeople parrot virtually the same lines. The favourites in Thailand are, "one-hunded puhrcent Thai silk - eeets silk on silk"; "You buy from meee"; "Lady you look at my shop I give you good price" and "Only 40 bahts -you buy!" In Cambodia it's "Hey lady, you want cold drink, lady?" but they're most famous for the snippy comebacks that normally go like this:
You buy from me, madam
No thank you I already have one.
You buy two - buy for boyfriend buy for mother.
No thank you I don't like red.
I have blue one,
No thank you, I'm fine.
I'm not fine - you buy something.
In Lao they sit up and wipe the sleep from their eyes but normally nod out before you can reach for your wallet. At the night market however they can get aggressive. Their standard is to throw something your way that you glanced at two blocks away and announce "Lucky day! I give you good price! Lucky day!" In Vietnam last year I noticed their unnerving habit of telling you what each object is your looking at, "That skirt!", "That chopstick!", and "That postcard!" Once I had a little girl shadowing me so closely that I ran into her twice and then asked her if she'd mind not standing so close to me when I was thinking about buying something. She looked up and said, "When you not near I sad." I bolted feeling the need to scrub my soul with a scouring pad I felt so sickened. In India they trick you to buy things and are without a doubt the masters of deception and scams throughout all of Asia if not the world
In Myanmar the standards are to flatter you, "Oh, you bew-tee-full!" or the most curious is "LUCKY MONEY! LUCKY MONEY!" It took us a while to figure this one out but I believe it means that the first sell of the day is "lucky money" but I'm pretty certain that the luck is on the side of the seller. When Cameron bought something from a lady she took the money and hit everything on the table with it, which by the way is also an invitation for every seller who witnessed the ritual to pounce. "Sista you see my shop" is also very common but they all say "Come. Just looking - you just looking." The Burmese also have an afterward that follows an actual purchase and that is "You have present for me?" They will often follow up with specific requests for cosmetics.
After a buying a large tin peacock necklace for two dollars and fifty cents the effeminate salesboy asked if I had a present for him and then asked for "Lip-ah-stick" and "Puh-fume". I was a bit taken aback but looked in my bag and found some pretty pale blue silk ribbons and offered those
I was wearing my new necklace when we were walking by a silversmith shop and was beckoned inside to see the ones made in sterling. They were out of our budget and frankly the tin one was more interesting so we thanked him and turned to leave. Then he said, "You want to see long neck Padaung women?" I couldn't even disguise my elation and didn't even bother to ask Cameron and with eyes as wide as a brass neck band I blurted, "Yes!"
He told us that there was a fee of a buck fifty but I'd have paid much more. How many times did you stare at their photos in National Graphic in elementary school amazed by their long necks and colorful costumes? Last year I read a book written by a member of the Padaung tribe and it refreshed my interest and now I was champing at the bit.
He led us out of his shop and up a little hill toward a small thatched house. Through the window we could see them and at first I thought we'd been taken when I saw young girls weaving at looms who may have just been born with long necks
I wanted a souvenir before I left and what better than a copy of the scarf that she was holding. She wrapped it around her neck daintily and with a faint nod she batted her eyes holding my gaze and said "Bew-tee-fuuuull." Sold.