Monday, 4 February 2013

Umbrellas Part One: Yangon's number one accessory

When a friend of mine visited Yangon recently, he was repeatedly saying to me "please don’t take my eyes out with that thing." Of course, he was referring to my umbrella. And on reflection, it seems a mystery that more people don’t have visible facial injuries here, as everyday people are faced with the dilemma of what to do with their umbrella when another is coming at them in the opposite direction. Do you put it down or raise it higher? Do you move it to one side? Or do you just do nothing, forcing the other pedestrian to duck, this being their only means of escaping substantial injury? To avoid this problem, people could just slap on some factor 50, walk in the shade and leave the umbrella at home. But we all know that this is not going to become a popular thing to do, especially not when the umbrella business here is so huge. Let me explain!

In the western world, we associate the use of umbrellas with one thing and one thing only. R A I N! But usually when you get rain, you also get wind which means your umbrella will turn itself inside out and blow away, leaving you looking like an idiot (and also leaving you soaked to the bones). So not very practical in the grand scheme of things. You can usually get away with a bit of light drizzle though!

Drizzly 38th Street

But here in Yangon the umbrella has many more purposes. Its first and most common use (at this lovely time of year at least) is to provide shade from the sun. Anyone with a brain carries an umbrella. It’s hot here. Some have better umbrellas than others. Some go for the compact version whilst others go for the gigantic family-sized ones that can fit 10 bodies under and are, let’s be honest, fairly unnecessary.

Hot and Sweaty.

For others, umbrellas provide a certain sense of privacy when you are in one of the busiest public places in the city. This is where it could be acceptable to have the gigantic family-sized one but it’s rarely a sight that’s seen.

What are they doing under there?

Another important use is as a temporary market stall. The umbrella acts as the seller’s ‘shop’ and also offers protection from the elements. You can recognize your local hat seller by the colour of his brolly.

Checked umbrella = Wallet Shop. Red and blue = Specsavers

With all the daily wear and tear, you’d think that people would be out buying new umbrellas like they were growing on trees. Not so. If your umbrella has a hole or rip in it, or if one of the metal bits isn’t working; Or even if you want a new colour to go with your new handbag or lipstick, you can just go here and any of these guys will fix, replace or clean up any part of your umbrella!!

Who'd have thought there were so many parts to an umbrella? These guys know how to fix and replace all of them!

You could have a different one for every day of the week as they only charge 1800 Kyats to get the material replaced. And look at all the choices!!!

Polka dot or flowery? Why not get both?

This one could easily have been restored to its former glory. Now I wish I'd picked it up.

It would take those guys 10 minutes to fix this one.

Of course, there are also the oh-so-beautiful paper parasols that the religious types carry. I heard that some are in fact waterproof but I wouldn’t risk it. They are great for the cool season and you might think you look really fashionable carrying one of them but actually, unless you're a nun, you should only use one if you want people to think you are a lunatic. Personally I prefer to use them for decoration.

See.... They look good on the wall. 

So remember, use your brolly sensibly. Avoid contact with other umbrellas and especially with other umbrella carriers’ faces. And never ever buy a new one (unless you leave yours at the supermarket), just get every part of it replaced until it’s brand new again. Just like Trigger’s broom. And if you leave it at home one day, just put some tanaka (sic) on and walk in the shade. It has the same effect and you’ll feel much cooler. 

One last picture for you though. Just so the kids don't feel left out.

The inflatable umbrella: Wow!