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Struggles with the Longyi Lifestyle

Our first day in Bagan we headed to the market to pick out our longyis, a popular traditional Myanmar clothing similar to a wrap skirt. I was eager to wear one in order to better blend in with the locals. I immediately gravitated towards a beautiful turquoise longyi with gold trim. I bought it without a second thought. It wasn’t until walking home in the hot sun that I began to rethink the thick fabric I had picked out. But I pushed the thought from my mind.

They next day I got dressed excited to try out the new look, I did my best to tie the longyi myself and headed to breakfast. But It did not take long for me to realize a problem, it was very difficult to take long steps. The skirt is fashioned in away that only allows you to take small measured steps–it’s forced femininity in a way! Stairs were practically a non-starter, and don’t even get me started on walking quickly.

When I got to breakfast I was elated to see that the majority of the group was also wearing their longyis. During breakfast the instructors informed us that they had a surprise for us, an all day scavenger hunt in a horse and cart. We were divided into 3 teams and were given money and a set of instructions.

Now during this time unbeknownst to me all of the kids who were wearing their longyis during breakfast went back to their rooms to change. One of my friends almost passed out because she felt so constricted by it! I stayed true to the “longyi lifestyle” and kept it on. It wasn’t until my two teammates (both in pants) effortlessly hoisted themselves into the cart leaving me to have to half jump half squirm my way on to the cart that I realized my mistake.

I voiced my concern about my clothing choice to one of my teammates and she looked at me with pity in her eyes and said “well if you make it through today in a longyi you can make it through any day in one.” And just like that we were off. It was an adventure filled day to say the least. One filled with angry horses, aggressive saleswomen, beautiful temples, and some ridiculous and slightly embarrassing tasks.

I would love to say that I wore my longyi with grace and pride, like the men and women of Myanmar do, but I would be lying. The truth is I was anything but graceful. In order to get around quickly I developed a walk not unlike that of a penguin. And as far as pride there were quite a few moments when I desperately wished I had worn something else. One of our tasks was to have ta na kah painted on our faces. Our driver brought us to a place where a nice woman painted beautiful leaf designs on out cheeks. The woman was so nice that she kindly offered to fix my longyi for me (I had tied incorrectly). In the process of retying it, however, she took the longyi completely off me. Not just for a few seconds but for a solid two minutes, that have since become the most embarrassing two minutes of my life. In those moments I cursed myself for not wearing something — anything else.

But I made it through the day and my team even ended up winning the scavenger hunt. And it turned out my teammate was right after making it through that day in my longyi I can make it through any day in the tightest of longyis.