Author’s Note: We cycled through Burma for five weeks. The following 10 part series is our account of how recent political changes in this historically isolated country are affecting the lives of its everyday citizens.
Part 1: The Anime Convention
Lone Lone, Pinky, and Russell did not go to the international food expo in Yangon to see the new whirling, non-stick Japanese rice cookers, or the cheddar cheese from the Australian food stand. They came to see the Cosplay Show.
The Cosplay show was hard to miss. Located at the far end of the convention hall, aside from the rows of booths with short-skirted attendants seducing Burmese wallets with their bizarre array of industrial water filters, gourmet pasta sauces, and instant coffee brands (complete with dancing mascots), the cosplay show was the main attraction of the week-long Japanese invasion. “Oh my god, here they come!” we heard a Burmese teenager exclaim.
We followed his eyes to the stage, where three doll-like figurines, dressed head to toe as human interpretations of animated Japanese anime characters, began a choreographed dance to techno music. They wore 3 foot colored hair extensions, metallic makeup, and prop swords that whirled around the stage with them. The Burmese youth rushed to the edge of the platform and started fist-pumping like they were at a Metallica concert. Others walked over from the rice cookers and stood against the wall with baffled curiosity.
“Dude, that was awesomeeeee!” Lone Lone said afterwards. The long-haired, Burmese rock musician and graphic designer was the reason we were there; he invited us to event after we found him on couchsurfing.org and sent him a hangout request.
“Yeah man — that was bloody awesome” agreed Russell.
Despite the heat, Russell was dressed in zebra-print tights and a shiny leather jacket. He also spoke though a heavy British accent.
“Oh — did you learn your English in the United Kingdom?” we asked him.
“Nope,” he said. “I learned my English from Adele.”
We thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. The Burmese fashionista had acquired his British accent from listening to interviews with top 40 soul singer.
Pinky was the only girl in our group, but she seemed to know the most about the anime characters at the event. She kept running off to grab pictures with characters from her favorite shows. Her bubble gum dimples and dangling earrings matched with the exaggerated ‘peace signs’ she made in her poses.
We all took a “gangnam style” group photo in front of the convention center, and then decided to retreat to the shade of a nearby tea house, where – being only our second day in Myanmar — we were eager to ask our new Burmese friends about all the political changes we had been reading about in Western newspapers. “So what do you think about Thein Sein?” “What will happen with Suu Kyi?”
They looked at each other.
“Um. We don’t really talk about politics.” Lone Lone said.
We were surprised. It certainly didn’t sound like the democratic revolution we were expecting. So what did Lone Lone, Pinky, and Russell mean when they kept referring to the “changes” happening in Myanmar? After we heard them throw the clichéd term out a few more times, we pressed for an answer.
It clicked. At least for this group of 20 years olds in Yangon, “change” wasn’t necessarily new ways of thinking, “change” was opportunity. Change was something new to see, something to get excited about. “Change” meant a series of firsts. The first Cosplay shows. The first film festival. “and the first Jason Mraz concert!”
That change was already affecting how they lived their lives. At the end of our tea, we were surprised to learn that the Burmese had not known each other before the attending the Cosplay show. Just like us, they met at the event.
“That’s what’s so cool about these new events, they’re bringing people together.” Lone Lone said.
As we left, everyone exchanged phone numbers, facebook IDs, and email addresses. Then Lone Lone and his new friends went off to the mall to check out a brand new coffee shop.