Burma is a country I've wanted to visit ever since reading Sarah Larkin's Finding George Orwell in Burma years ago. Up until then I probably couldn't have pointed out Burma on a map but the way she described the place and the people made me want to visit immediately. However up until now the timing has never seemed right, especially as the National League for Democracy called for a tourism boycott until 2010. But the political situation appears to be changing - albeit very slowly - and when I met Cuba and Asher in Peru, they spoke so enthusiastically about Burma that I decided then and there that I would visit it during this trip.
One of the first things you notice when you arrive in the country is the teashops. While some are housed in permanent buildings, many just line busy streets and dingy alleyways and their dinky tables and chairs feel made for me. You can find them everywhere, from the capital Yangon to the smallest village, and there's nothing better than perching on one of the tiny stools, often where the passing cars almost touch you and watching the world go by. I love to see the women with their faces covered with the traditional yellowy-white makeup busy doing their shopping (you don't see many of them gossiping in teashops - it's more of a man's world it appears); kids running along in their pristine green and white school uniforms and the men who are temporary monks (something which they are all required to do twice in their life) walking along with their mobile phones attached to their robes, not quite able to let go of the modern world.
There are many things I love about the teashops here: copious amounts of cake and non-stop people watching to name but two. However the thing I love the most is the non-stop tea. As soon as you sit down at a teashop, before you've even ordered anything, a flask or teapot of Chinese tea will be plonked on your table, usually by one of the teaboys who are ten going on forty - barking their orders to the kitchen and running back and forth between tables. Thanks to them a visit to a teashop can last an entire afternoon. Where else could you spend three hours in a cafe and get a 50p bill at the end of it?
|Watching the world go by - nuns collecting their daily alms.|
The food in the teashops is cheap and simple, like noodles and pancakes, but so tasty. And the Burmese love their tea so much they even eat a salad of fermented green tea leaves, which are mixed with sesame seeds, peanuts, peas and garlic - yummy!
|Tea on a plate? Amazing.|