Friday, June 05, 2009

Horticulture in Myanmar

I have just returned from a 5 day tour of Myanmar, during which we visited Yangon (Rangoon), Mandalay and Bagan (Pagan). It was a sightseeing tour, and the sights were worth it. Some of the temples are, in their own way, as impressive as St Peter's in Rome. The roads and hotels are excellent; the people are friendly; street crime is virtually unknown; and the towns, villages and markets are free of rubbish. The vendors do not try to cheat foreigners. We did not see any armed military or police personnel anywhere.

The extent of poverty is high. On our flight back to Malaysia, the plane was filled with young men and women coming to Malaysia to work. They were shabbily dressed, did not know how to use the toilets, and had not bathed for several days. Curiously, on our way there, the plane had been full of returning workers but we had hardly noticed them. They had obviously been changed by their stay in Malaysia.

Horticulturally, the country is still in the 1950s. Almost all the garden plants are old varieties from the colonial period and the diversity is small. For example the most common variety of hibiscus is the variety that Malaysia chose as its national flower in 1957. This variety is now uncommon in Malaysia because of replacement by new imported hybrids. Still, it was nice to see some old garden plants that I have not seen for years.

The countryside in Pagon is semi-arid savannah, with trees spaced out instead of forming a closed forest. Here most of the trees belong to just a few species, notably neem, tamarind, Acacia leucophloea and Borassus flabellifer (commonly known in Thailand and Malaysia as 'sea coconut' though it has nothing to do with the sea and is not a coconut). In Myanmar, the fan-shaped leaves of Borassus are used as thatch for roofing, the inflorescences are tapped for its sugary juice to make a fermented drink, and the fruits are harvested for food. In olden times, Myanmar was part of the 'palm culture' of South and Southeast Asia, in which written records were made on the leaves of Borassus cut into strips and inscribed using a sharp stylus. The strips were sewn into books for safe keeping.

The women in the villages and countryside are in the habit of painting their faces with a yellowish powder made by grinding the bark of Limonia accidissima on a stone surface.

Those wishing to visit Myanmar should be aware that credit cards are useless because of the US and European trade embargo. You need to carry cash in US dollars. One USD can be changed in hotels for 1000 Kyats (pronouced 'Jets' because K is silent and y is pronounced as j). The banks offer only 450 Kyats for 1 USD. Only clean USD notes are accepted. Soiled or torn or faded notes are not accepted.


Unknown said...

Dear Sir
I have been reading with interest your publications having identified your good self on the FRIM website.
I would like to make contact with the person or dept in FRIM that could look after the following item.
I have an interest in the medicinal cures and folklore of the jungle. I find it facinating when I read some of the "old wives tales" about cures and living techniques. In fact only to day I was "reliably informed" that I should actually use the black sut from a fire to clean my teeth properly as western orientated products (toothpaste) are full of toxins. Now as I cannot dissagree with the "toxin" info but can directly refute the claims of shoving carbon into face I am faced with the dilema of waht to brush my teeth with. Ha Ha HA. I jest of course but there such wonderful discoveries that have been manipulated by sooo many in the "organic industry" and ridiculled by those in the "western science mode" it has become increasingly difficult to enjoy the learning process. Is there perhaps someone you could point me towards? If so, I would greatly appreciate. Thank You


Dr Francis Ng said...

Sean, I do not know anybody in FRIM who can help you. But you can surely trawl the Internet for leads.

Anonymous said...

Dr Ng

Have some photos of Myanmar to share on your blog?