Pop Cultural Connections in Myanmar

By Emma Williams
May 17, 2018

Recently, while settling in to watch the new Avengers movie with my counterpart at our nearest movie theater, I had a thought: you haven’t really lived in a foreign country until you’ve watched a movie there. 

Of course, tasting local dishes and visiting historic sites is all very important, but pop culture also provides a vital way into a new culture. Often, you’ll find that the similarities outweigh the differences.

Emma's counterpart, Daw Aye Thida
Emma's counterpart, Daw Aye Thida.

I am not a big fan of action movies. I had only seen one prior Marvel movie and was only vaguely aware of the main characters, but as someone who used to go to a movie every weekend, three months away from the theater is a long time, and I was willing to see anything. My counterpart, Daw Aye Thida, didn’t know the characters at all, but as always was up for anything. She’s a tiny woman who’s always laughing; her full-body cackle is distinct and gleeful. 

Perplexingly, our theater did not have Myanmar language subtitles for the movie, although the trailers for Myanmar movies all had English subtitles. Still, Daw Aye Thida bravely attempted to follow along. When she put on her massive 3D glasses she turned to me and asked “hla la” (“beautiful?”), and then erupted into her signature laugh.

Neither of us understood much of what happened in the movie, but a good time was had by all.

Emma's balcony during a rainstorm.

Many aspects of American pop culture mix much more easily with Myanmar life than the Avengers. In particular, many American songs blend perfectly with the Myanmar climate. I’ve found that Cardi B’s “I Like It” is a perfect complement to the sweltering, steamy afternoons, while Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green” feels made for the quiet, misty nights. I love to sit on my balcony, listening to music, writing in my journal, drawing up lesson plans and reading while watching the motorcycles and ox carts respectively whizz and trot by. I’ve read so many old British mystery novels lately that I decided to name the two geckos who like to hang out on my bedroom walls Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Agatha Christie in her natural habitat.
Agatha Christie in her natural habitat.

Although rainy season doesn’t officially begin for another month, I live so close to the sea that we’ve been treated to daily rainstorms a bit early. Whenever the rain starts to pour down, I turn to old standbys like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Nothing can make you feel more like a fourth Brontë sister wandering the moors than an intense Myanmar rainstorm.

By finding parallels and connections with my most beloved items of pop culture, I’ve been able to adapt into my new surroundings with greater comfort and familiarity. Plus, I get to spend the next two years learning even more about the diverse cultures of Myanmar as well. So keep in mind: the next time you visit a new place, put the local movie theater on your list of sights to see.

Emma Williams

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