Nang Kham Moon navigates between traditional and modern worlds
Generations ago, ethnic tribes in Myanmar's mountainous Shan State would rarely marry outside their own village, let alone tribe. Now, although such marriages are more acceptable, long distances between villages is often the limiting factor as to whether couples will meet and the lack of communication and transportation options has kept these rural villages fairly isolated. It has only been recently (mid 2014) that mobile phone access has become accessible for much of the population in Myanmar.
When it comes to the practice of dating in villages, Nang Khan Moo (Moon) says it would go something like this:
"When a girl likes a boy, she’d invite him to her family home one evening after dinner for tea. If she liked him, she would talk a lot. But if she didn't, she’d add a pinch of salt to his tea as a subtle gesture to let him know that it wasn't going to work out. And, if he didn’t like her, he’d let her know that he needed to use the toilet outside, and wouldn't return."
Of course, elsewhere in the world, people can also be guilty of using passive ways to inform a date when not interested. However, while we might feel safe ending or abandoning a date in a big city since it’s unlikely we’ll run into them again, in the village there is no doubt you will.
With mobile internet access rapidly opening up a new world for teenagers and young adults, it won't be long before they're meeting potential partners online, rather than down the street in their village.
Moon (19) grew up amongst all this change. She spent most of her childhood in a Pa-O village of 800 people, which is two hours away from the nearest city, where she later moved to attend high school. In 2012, she met her future husband when she returned to the village after completing high school. It was decided that they would marry after she finished university, but due to his family's insistence, it instead happened earlier.
Now, she sits on the edge of a changing Myanmar: young and married within her village, as was the custom in years past, but without the traditional clothing of her village, instead preferring to embrace the latest fashion of university students. One foot in the past and one foot in the future.