Recently I started talking to a friend and he has a really good way of drawing out my very fond memories of growing up in the 1990s Myanmar. Since then I have been thinking a lot about the uniqueness and the gift of being born Myanmar and growing up in Yangon. So I decided that as a budding writer struggling with topics to write about, I should take a trip down memory lane and revisit Yangon through our conversations. So here goes episode 1.
One of the things I remember about my life in Yangon was how simple activities like going to the video tape rental shop is an adventure. When we were growing up, at one point or the other, the government at that time decided all Hollywood films to be “unsuitable” for the Burmese public to watch, thereby making the act of borrowing the tapes and the video tape rental shops illegal. As far as I can remember, it wasn’t an offence which one could end up in jail (I probably didn’t register the gravity of the situation), but the rental shop owners took them quite seriously. During that period, in order for me to watch my much beloved Hollywood films, my mum had to take me to the shop where all the free spaces on the walls and signboards are decorated with current Burmese films. After a hushed exchange of conversation my mum, one of the thin Chinese ladies who owns the place would lead us to the back of their shop which also happened to be their house, and in the back room, I’d climb up a ladder and onto a little annex where stacks and stacks of video tapes were places scattered all over the room. I will sit and chose the ones I like – there was no wikipedia or IMDB – my only way of knowing whether the film might be something I like or not is to ask the lady. She had watched everything and she also does the parental censorship which my mum approves – too many adult scenes (I wasn’t allowed to watch love scenes until like I was 18 LoL ), too many violent scenes et cetera. While I chose the films, my mum and the ladies would exchange economical difficulties, sudden price hikes, and the difficulty of running a business under this regime, children and family and so on and so forth. If there were power cuts at that time, they would talk about the gruelling times they had to wake up in the middle of the night to fill water tanks and cook while there was power. It always amazes me even then the instant bond of trust and sudden camaraderie my mum shared with them even though we were practically strangers. After I made my choice, we went downstairs where the tapes would be put into covers featuring Burmese movies.
I don’t know what happened to those ladies and how long this period lasted. I recalled it lasting a couple of months but sporadically happening throughout the years. I also remembered one particular time when one of the ladies came to our house and dropped off crates of movies to hide for them and we did for a few weeks. I now feel so far away from Myanmar and what I used to know but thinking back about these times help me build a picture of what our lives were like then. And suddenly the gap becomes a little smaller. These memories help me keep what I understood at one point to be my home close to my heart.