Monday, July 6, 2015

Myanmar Lost

Welcome to readers from Chile, Belarus, South Korea, Italy, Mexico, Cambodia, Switzerland, Brunei and Nepal

Just a short ride away across the Kra Buri river in Thailand is Kawthaung (formerly called Victoria Point).

Architecture in this part of Burma looks a little like England 120  years ago. The mood here is mournful leading to wistful.

Listen to Sebastien Tellier's mournful L'Adulte below:

Filmed for my favourite newspaper in one of my favourite cities, London, with my favourite music artist du jour.


Myanmar - unsurprisingly, not the easiest place to be. People here in this part of Myanmar are shy and very short of money. The combination makes visiting a little rough-going. Infrastructure is basic and commercial development almost nil. Well exactly nil. There are hotels for visitors. Inside mine the white-tiled appearance of a sanitarium. Another resembled a broken down 1970s miners social club.
Myanmar is still unused to visitors and very little grace can be found. People were half-friendly, uncertain and there was a general lack of assistance. In anything. Money goes into pockets and the simplest, quickest job is done.
Myanmar had been isolated and a pariah state since 1963. Borders were only re-opened in 2013.

This is Kawthaung. Over the river from Ranong in Thailand. It was a 100 degrees when we arrived. The streets were sun-blind and the glare off the water at the port fried indigenous hope.

You don't need a guide in Kawthaung but it helps. Only the guides speak English. Over the hill and several kilometres away an incredible beach awaited. A curving, empty beach with a basic house, a few trees for shade and some cola in the fridge. You could not stay there. Rice and vegetables could be bought from a local woman from her family's pot.

Beach. 11 am. Southern Myanmar


If you like drinking tea check out Singing Bird Tea below:

Waiting for the boat

My second and last iPod classic broke while I lived in Kerala. Now $450 worse off I decided against a third. I wished I had some music to soften up Myanmar now. Alas I had nothing. I needed a Latin sound like this by Lenny Kravitz to lift me up a notch.

Making betel leaf parcels for evening promenaders seeking relief.

Drying fish in the fishing village

The man

Tea in Myanmar

Tea dust is stewed in a kettle with milk, sometimes condensed milk.

The tea is aerated during the pouring process.

And there is your cup of sweet black tea.

Perhaps if the British had colonised China the Chinese would pour milk into their oolongs and red teas.

At a tea shop in the back of Kawthaung in Southern Myanmar I got a cup of local tea. Alongside the black tea were steel kettles full of hot Chinese tea as they called it.

In Myanmar it is necessary to have a guide. My guide said 'we drink Chinese tea to clear the palate, Chinese tea ... ' and he whispered, 'just hot water.' Further questions drew a blank as to its origin. The tea, from the fragments in my cup and the colour, presented like an oolong brewed with a lot of water.


I happen to like tea very much. Lahpet is a salad made from pickled tea leaves. What you see gluing the salad together, a speckled darkness, is a kind of tea paste made from the tea leaves. Despite eating all this I slept rather well. 17% of Burma's tea harvest is eaten.
Historically Lahpet was an ancient symbolic peace offering between warring kingdoms in Myanmar, and is exchanged and eaten after settling a dispute. In pre-colonial and colonial times, lahpet was served after the civil court judge made a verdict; if the arbitrators ate the lahpet, this signified formal acceptance of the verdict.

Set in Burma the film The Purple Plain stars Gregory Peck as a war pilot shot down in the Burmese wilderness.

The heat that kills Maurice Denham and nearly does for Peck is unremitting. Like Calcutta in late spring. Devastating heat. That same heat is in Kawthaung. The world here is an oven and the heatwaves make everything crinkled.


Thai highlands on the left, Burmese islands on the right. A view from the temple above the town of Kawthaung.


Myanmar is a country rich in jade, gems, oil and natural gas. Large sections of the economy is controlled by military interests. The income inequality gap is one of the widest in the world.

The atmosphere in Myanmar is palpable and much anger floats in thick traces on the thermals. The National Geographic recently reports ethnic and religious strife abroad in the country: -

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