Monsoon rhapsody

Photo Photos - Ko Ko Htay and Thiri Lu

09 July 19 - Source: Myanmar Times - A young Yangonite looked up at a darkened sky above. The wind drove a bank of black clouds immediately overhead, and his face suddenly became more sullen, "Not again!" He was about to cross Sule Pagoda Road, which was congested with cars and trucks blasting their horns.

When it rains on Saturday, people will say, "It always takes longer on Saturday for the rain to come." This means that either sporadically or continuously, it will usually rain all day that day – even if it is just a drizzle.

He had just stepped out on the pavement when the raindrops suddenly came down from the sky, hitting his upturned face. He had to run to a place where he could shelter for half an hour or so, and he knew that most of the teashops were already full of people sipping sweetened tea and keeping dry. He understood that he had to wait for 15 or 20 minutes until the rain would let up.

But today he forgot his umbrella.

Travelling through the city on foot during the monsoon season can be tricky, especially without an umbrella – assuming, of course, you want to stay dry. The streets are full of people drenched in water, longyis and tee-shirts clinging to their bodies, as they make their way home.

Most people in Yangon carry umbrellas, rather than wear raincoats. Even when it's not raining, pedestrians need to give others a wide-berth on the sidewalks – people of all heights and numbers sheltering themselves from the sun with their umbrellas, as they walk from street to street. Innocent passersby, while making haste through the crowd, get poked by the odd umbrella spoke.

Sometimes umbrellas clash, given how narrow the elevated streets in the city are. It can be quite an art sometimes, holding an umbrella up high, and trying to angle it to pass through the sea of heads, other umbrellas and shop signs.

Everyone notices that the rain is punctual, especially during the rush hours. You will find files of people waiting for the buses at bus stops, while the rain falls heavily. They'll all be tightly clinging to an umbrella.

Umbrellas come from various countries, such as China and Thailand. There are different brands names too – Yamasu, Pigeon, Sonata, Susino, Asahi, Eagle Force, etc. Some golf umbrellas are used by taller people not wanting to get the bottoms of their longyis we.

Almost every downtown store Yangon has a display of umbrellas at their entrances to attract potential customers. Often they have a bin or storage container, where people can place their wet umbrellas when perusing the store.

The invention of umbrella dates back to 4000 years ago, using in early civilisations of Egypt, Assyria, Greece and China. The colours of umbrellas are different, and so are the prices. Prices range from K2000 to over K20,000, depending on the durability, style and quality of the umbrella. Some people who like the brand name will go for a Giordano, while others buy the very simple black cloth foldable umbrellas called "the pigeon" from China.

No matter its price or style, the function of the umbrella is usually the same – to protect us from the rain. It's very easy to forget this simple accessory by leaving it on the bus or at a teashop. Some people associate the umbrella (called "hti" in Burmese) with Saturdays, as the word begins with a letter from that day of the week in the Burmese cosmology. So if an umbrella gets lost on a Saturday, you won't suffer any bad karma or bad luck – so the adage goes.

Many Westerners believe it unlucky to open an umbrella indoors, and would be reluctant to bring their parasols inside an office building or shopping center to dry out.

It's difficult to tell the strength of an umbrella by looking at its exterior. Some umbrellas will fold inside-out during the first gale winds, while others will break at the seams when used too many times.

Yangon, unlike many large cities, has umbrella repair stalls. Umbrella repairers can charge K200 to K1000 to re-stitch some fabric, or glue a sturdy handle on to the shaft. Springs, canopies, caps and ferrules can also be replaced for a fee in Yangon.

It is good to buy the strongest umbrellas to avoid repairs at a later date, even if they are not beautiful to look at.

Sometimes, based on gender, the style and colours of the umbrella will be different. Girls prefer umbrellas that are light weight and beautiful, with colourful or floral patterns. Boys prefer black or plain colours, and a strong umbrella.

Holding this simple item in the hand, the enjoyment of the Monsoon rhapsody begins.

San Lin Tun is a freelance writer of essays, poetry, short stories and novels in Myanmar and English.

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