In Rangoon, Love Blossoms under Umbrellas

Lawi Weng The Irrawaddy

RANGOON — Burma may be opening up to the world, but that doesn’t mean that Burmese are ready to share every aspect of their lives with outsiders. That’s why umbrellas have become de rigueur accessories for many young Burmese in love.

In some of the more picturesque parts of Rangoon, umbrellas are a common sight, rain or shine. Under many, you can see cuddling couples, their faces hidden from sight.

Inya Lake, with its cooling breezes and birds darting in and out of the water to catch fish, is one such romantic hotspot. The embankments of the lake are a popular place to take a stroll, and also make a nice backdrop for snapshots of friends and families out for a few leisurely hours together. Most importantly, however, the area serves as a rendezvous point for lovers looking for a little privacy.

Using one or sometimes two umbrellas, they create intimate spaces in this most public of places. Other props, such as opened books that rarely receive a glance, also serve as camouflage to ward off unwanted attention.

While such subterfuge might seem unnecessary for such innocent encounters, Burmese social mores demand that young lovers exercise at least some measure of discretion. Not everyone, however, agrees that it needs to be that way.

“It’s normal. Why do we have to be so shy about our feelings?” asks Jyu Jyu Hlaing, a 22-year-old woman, when asked what she thought about dating in public.

Ko Nge, 25, agreed, but added that umbrellas were still indispensable. “Umbrellas are very important here. That’s why I say they’re so expensive,” he said.

Besides public parks, Rangoon’s pagodas also attract many amorously inclined young people, despite the obvious contradiction with traditional Buddhist attitudes. Many older people, especially, feel that these places of prayer and meditation should be off-limits for trysts.

At the Kyaik Khauk pagoda, there’s even a sign that says, “Couples Are Not Allowed to Date Here.” Not many seemed to heed this admonition, however, as there were more than a few couples there whose thoughts were clearly not on attaining enlightenment.