In the States, it’s a common sight to see people playing basketball in their driveways or in neighborhood parks. In Thailand we saw people playing soccer in every available open space. In India the default street game is cricket. During our two weeks in Myanmar we saw the most varied games we have seen in a country thus far. It seems as if everyone, regardless of age or ability has a game of choice.
Our first game sighting was the Burmese national game of Chinlon, invented over 1,500 years ago for Burmese royalty. The game is more of a social dance than a competition. Traditionally, it has six participants who move in a circle, keeping a single rattan ball called a Chinlon in the air by using a combination of knees, feet and heads. It’s similar to playing with a hacky sack, but the repeated sound of the clicking rattan ball adds a musical element to the measured moves of the players.
A Chinlon is also used to play a modified version of volleyball, where the objective is to use only heads and feet to land the Chinlon on the opponent’s side of the net. Skilled players can actually spike with their feet. When we walked through the old Indian quarters of Yangon we saw little kids playing cricket in the streets. Apparently, cricket is only played among the Indian Burmese. I suppose our love for the game is strong no matter where in the world we are.
In the alleys of Yangon’s Chinatown we found this group of men playing checkers. The pieces on one side we beer bottle caps facing up. The other side had the bottle caps facing down. The men were liberally consuming beer while playing, which I am sure is part of ensuring that they never run out of game pieces.
We witnessed what may be the most magical setting for a chess match – oversize pieces on a board set along the moat of the royal palace at Mandalay. The players were so fascinated by our fascination of them, they invited us to play.
While in Inle Lake, our boat driver settled into a game of carom while we ate our lunch on the water.
Many children in Myanmar haven’t seen an Apple product, let alone a mechanical toy or even a set of coloring pencils. In the villages we trekked through in Kalaw we say these children happily adapting their own game of marbles using stones.
Apart from the chess pieces, all the material needed for these games were simple. Yet in contrast to some of the highly competitive games we play (Sandeep and I can get very nasty with each other in Scrabble) people engaged in their games were happily interacting with their opponents, keenly aware of the social aspect in task.