Earlier I gave you a little teaser about the creamy yellow paint that many people (mostly women and children, but also some men) wear on their cheeks and to a lesser extent, noses, in Yangon. It’s called thanaka, and seems to be used mainly for sun protection but apparently can also be used against acne.
We quickly got used to seeing it on the faces around us and hadn’t thought much more about it until we stopped by the vast marketplace and found a young girl grinding the paste from small (3-5 inch) logs and selling the logs. She demonstrated it for us, adding water and grinding the wood against the stone plate (apparently called kyauk pyin) to make a watery paste.
She wanted to sell us some logs, but while we thanked her, we told her we would not be allowed to bring a piece of a tree back into our home country. That just won’t fly with customs.
And it was interesting to see how people reacted to us when we were wearing it.
Before, women would barely make eye contact (except that if we smiled sincerely at girls and women first, they would usually break into a huge smile in return), but once this thanaka was on my face, I got many spontaneous smiles and a few women even pointed us out to their friends.
With my skin color, it doesn’t seem to show up very well in photos, but people definitely noticed it and responded well to us in the street, becoming even more kind than they had been before. It made us feel really welcome.
It’s good to do as the Romans do.