As trading routes were formed with both China and India, numerous influences arrived
to the land that is today Myanmar. The greatest of these introductions was Buddhism
from India, which is still the most commonly practiced religion today. The beliefs
of Buddhism form the basis of Myanmarese culture and even now it is expected that
every male become a monk for a brief time period as a young boy and again in young
adulthood before marrying. It is not uncommon to see women also taking on the monastic
life as they shave their heads as well, but wear pink robes instead of the red worn
by men. Another great import during this time of trade came from China as numerous
Chinese foods arrived and even today Chinese roots can easily be seen in many dishes.
Later in history the lands returned to a nearly isolated state and this transfer
in contact moved back and forth over time. The constant was that the mountainous
interior always slowed transportation and communication leaving these people more
isolated. Because of this isolation, the local rulers controlled the people quite
successfully as few outsiders could challenge internal rule and soon great local
empires arose, including the Bagan Empire. It was under this empire that today's
architecture and culture is rooted as these rulers had the money and resources to
put money into all aspects of daily life, including arts, architecture, and more.
Despite the power of the Bagan Empire, it didn't last forever and the country
was again fragmented as numerous foreign rulers took over the external parts of
the country. However, the less accessible regions were again free from outside rulers
as many of these areas saw the rise of minority leaders that represented the local
people. This time sparked great division among the people, most particularly the
ethnic minorities, who continue to rebel against the government and sought greater
freedoms or complete independence.
After some time under the rule of British India, during which Myanmar (then known
as Burma) maintained its distance from western culture, the country gained independence.
Upon gaining freedom, the country experienced that which they have experienced multiple
times in the past, a strong government. As a very peaceful, honest, and non-violent
people whose culture is heavily based on Buddhism, there were, and still are, few
to no protests against the government. Violence is simply not an option as the people
refuse to fight their government, even if they disagree with that government. Despite
the lack of protests internally, numerous foreign countries fought this government
and isolated the nation as tourism and trade were fought and even banned in many
cases, completely isolating the people.
Primarily due to this isolation from foreigners and foreign influences and products,
today the people of Myanmar live much as they did 100 years ago. The people dress
and act much as they did in the past, they eat the same foods, have the same simple
lifestyle, and they follow the same religion, giving them the moral compass that
is attached to that. Only minimal outside influences have broken into the country,
such as cars and more recently the internet, which is still quite rare. International
brands, especially those from Europe and North America, are only now getting into
the country as economic blockades were lifted in 2012. This means items like Coca-Cola®
are only entering the market now, but are yet to make any true impact on the culture.
Farming, buying foods at local markets, eating at home with family, fishing, and
owning small shops are still the norm in Myanmar as chains, even domestic chains,
restaurants, and the concept of travel are foreign ideas that make every person
in Myanmar intrigued. In fact just being present in Myanmar will lead to numerous
encounters as the locals can't help but let their curiosity win as they smile
and ask the few passing tourist: "What country!?"