I left my laptop in Thailand when I went to Burma. I was told that WiFi would be almost nonexistent, and without cell phone service I relished the idea of returning to my Moleskine instead of a keyboard. Looking at my notebook months later, my enthusiasm is palpable. On day two: “Burma is one of those miraculous, seemingly utopic places where you are free to assume the best in the local people you meet. Juxtaposing this friendliness on the truth about what’s happening inside military-ruled Burma is surreal; you see what you are allowed to see, and no more. But what you experience is real, and in my brief time thus far in Burma, magical.” The friendliness and generosity of the Burmese were primary reasons that other travelers urged me to visit. On that second day, I decided to find myself a Burmese longyi, and it quickly turned out to be the best ice breaker I could ask for.

The longyi is everywhere in Burma.

Longyi-clad women and children in Inle Lake, Shan State

A sarong-like tube of fabric worn by both genders, they are called paso when worn by men and htamein by women. Throughout my time in the country everyone merely referred to the gender-neutral term “longyi”. The patterns differ by gender as well: for men, a thin plaid or woven stripe, tied by pulling the fabric tight against the back and tying an elegant knot in front. For women, anything goes: beautiful, bright batik patterns, traditional woven zigazags called acheiq, stripes or flowers. Women tie the longyi by pulling all of the fabric to one side, folding back at the hip and tucking into the opposite side of the waist, usually topped with a fitted blouse worn just to the waistband. The women also sew in a thin band of black fabric at the waist of the longyi. I was told this was “for the sweat”, but I found it handy to figure out which side was up.

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  • Jodi Ettenberg

    Born in Montreal, Canada, Jodi Ettenberg is a former new media and technology lawyer who quit her job after 5+ years of working…

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