One of the most striking things I noticed when I set out on my first day in Yangon for a stroll through the city was the women. Burmese women are beautiful, innocent and quite elegant. Their pressed blouses and the cut of their long skirts, hugging their hips tightly, exude a graceful sensuality that is lost among the low-cut tank tops and miniskirts of Western pop culture. Like people in most of the developing world, they don't leave the house unless they are well-dressed - according to conservative conventions - and wearing makeup.
Burmese makeup is unlike any I've ever seen. Many of the women - and small children, as well - paint a thick stripe of gold-colored paste in a wide stripe across their cheeks and sometimes their forehead. Thanaka - made from grinding the bark of the Thanaka tree into a powder - is actually very beautiful if applied well, with a bright gold streak running down the cheek under the eye, fading as it reaches the ear. I found my glance lingering on the face of many a young woman as I passed, and my heart warmed when their bashful eyes met mine and they broke into a wide, inviting smile.
But thanaka is not merely makeup - it has a myriad of uses. It's also good for the skin, protects against sunburn, and its scent is intoxicating.
Or maybe that was all of the curry I never stopped eating...