Nestled in the south-eastern part of Asia, Burma is a country located between Bangladesh and Thailand. Out of the total area of 676,578 sq. km, land occupies about 653,508 sq. km and about 23,070 sq. km is occupied by water. Area-wise, it ranks 40th in the world and lies between the geographic coordinates 22°N latitude and 98°E longitude. It borders countries such as India (1,468km) and Bangladesh (6,522km) in the west, towards the north and north-east by the People’s Republic of China (2,71km), in the east by Thailand (2,416km) and Laos (238km) and the Andaman sea and the Bay of Bengal in the south. Stretching a coastline of about 1,930 km, it is slightly smaller than Texas.
Burma enjoys a tropical monsoon climate with scanty rainfall, hot and humid summers and dry winters. The higher mountain regions experience vey cold temperatures and snowfall. The terrain includes hills and valleys in the north and mountain ranges in the east and the west, which forms a giant horseshoe-like shape. The highest point is Hkakabo Razi measuring 5,881 m. The three major rivers of Burma are Irrawaddy (also called Ayeyarwady), Chindwin and Sittaung. Considering its terrain and climate, Burma is prone to cyclones, landslides and flooding.
A major portion of the land in Burma is covered by forests while some part of it is cleared for cultivation. Trees like pine, oak, teak, rhododendron and hardwood are found at various levels of the mountain ranges. Also, bamboo, ferns and coarse grass is found on the cleared lands. Mangroves, as high as 100 ft, are found near the Ayeyarwady and Sittaung basin. Birds like pheasants, peafowl, parrots, wild fowl and grouse are found in Burma. The Asian two-horned rhinoceros, wild water buffalo, wild cattle, tiger, leopards, wildcats, gibbons and monkeys all make up the wild life of Burma. Snakes like pythons, cobras, viper and crocodiles are also found.
The Burmese culture is greatly influenced by Indian culture where music and dance form an integral part of its rituals and traditions. They celebrate the Thingyan or Water festival with great enthusiasm from 13–17 April every year, where they splash water at each other. The Burmese emphasize on ‘age’ in social and human relations. They prefer to address their elders with some ‘title’. They tend to have only first names and no family names. The traditional attire is hatami or longyi (long tube-like cloth) common for both men and women. Arranged marriages and joint family arrangements are common. There are no formal greetings such as ‘Good Morning’, and when they meet each other they ask, “Have you eaten?”. Enquiring about health is considered as a polite form of greeting. Sending a male child to a Buddhist monastery to become a monk is also an important part of the Burmese tradition.
A majority of the Burmese follow Buddhism and among them, about 68% of the population are Bamars. In addition to this, a minority of the population are Muslims and Christians. Officially, people in Burma speak the Burmese language. English is spoken as a second language, followed by many other local dialects. The Burmese language is similar to the Tibetan language and a few tribal languages spoken in some parts of China.
The staple food of the Burmese is rice and curry. However, fish forms a major part of their diet. A spicy, pickled fish paste called Ngapi is served with all their meals. Two common Burmese dishes are Mohinga and Ohnnukhaukswe. Mohinga, the national dish of Burma, is fermented rice noodles in fish soup and is usually served as breakfast. Ohnnukhaukswe is chicken cooked in coconut milk and served with noodles. In the coastal areas, seafood is a common ingredient and in landlocked cities like Mandalay, meat and poultry is eaten. Despite having many fast food restaurants in the cities, most of the Burmese prefer salads in their diet. The Burmese eat food with their hands rather than using a spoon or a fork. Green tea is a popular drink. Drinking of alcohol is frowned upon. However,very few Burmese prefer alcoholic drinks as it is not permitted within the doctrines of Buddhism.
Burma is one of the poorest countries in south-east Asia. Although being rich in natural gas, wood, precious stones, opium and crops such as rice, Burma has not seen much economic development mainly because of its government policies and lack of economic management. Natural gas is one of the major sources of legal export revenue accounting for about 30% of the country’s exports and may see a further rise with demand for energy increasing, particularly by neighbouring countries like India, China and Thailand. Its agricultural products include rice, pulses, beans, sesame, groundnuts, sugarcane, fish and fish products and hardwood. Agricultural processing, wood and wood products, copper, tin, tungsten, iron, cement, construction, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, garments, oil and natural gas, jade and gems are the industries that contribute to its development. It exports natural gas, wood products, pulses, beans, fish, rice, clothing, jade and gems to Thailand, China, India, Japan and South Korea whereas it imports fabric, petroleum products, fertilizer, plastics, machinery, cement and construction materials, crude oil and food products from China, Thailand, Singapore and Japan.