Myanmar, the short version

The Burmese are staggeringly poor, but there are almost no beggars - and despite their complete lack of money, they're incredibly giving. Everyone (better than 95% of the population) wear flip flops and longgyi - essentially a skirt, worn by both men and women. Power outages are a daily thing in most places, and many businesses own their own generator for exactly this reason. The cars on the road are incredibly old, most dating from the 1970s, because the government taxes newer cars to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, car ownership is pretty much impossible for any but the very rich (even most ex-pats can't afford cars). The roads are incredibly bad. Despite the condition of the roads, there are frequent stops on the inter-city roads to pay the road-tax, essentially a hangover from the time of feudal lords. The inter-city buses are 20 to 30 years old, and packed to the gills. The written Burmese language is one of the most attractive scripts I've ever seen. The chewing of betel nut is incredibly common, as is the red spit and black teeth that go with it. You can see huge signs by the side of the road that say things like "The Tatmadaw will never betray the people" (the Tatmadaw is the military junta now in power). Converting to local money means going to the black market to get reasonable rates, and then you end up with an inch-thick wad of devalued currency. The government subsidizes three litres of gas every three days, but you have to buy more than that at market prices - this has led to a healthy but fairly public black market for gasoline. You can't enter the country across any land borders - okay, you can, but then it's impossible to get to the centre of the country ... just fly to Yangon or Mandalay. There are still areas of the country that tourists can't enter, and others where hard-to-get permits are required. Women do almost all of the work in Myanmar - the men hang out in tea shops and occasionally drive taxis. "Tea money" is the local phrase meaning "a bribe," and the question associated with it is often "you have a gift for me?" The commonest form of food is mild but flavourful curries that are left simmering under a half inch of oil (to keep the flies off). Internet connections are filtered by the government and are incredibly slow: Yahoo Mail and Hotmail are unavailable, and Gmail was on the way out when I was there. The tea shop is the social centre of any Myanmar neighbourhood, as a pub is in Great Britain. Air conditioning is rare in this stiflingly hot country.