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Last updated : Nov 2009
Yangon Culture Guide
Yangon Culture Guide - TravelPuppy.com
Art has always been inextricably related to royalty and religion in Burman history. Temples, pagodas and palaces showcased the artistic talent of painters, sculptures and wood carvers. Temples and pagodas were customarily made of brick and a lot of them are still existing. The great palaces, however, were constructed of wood, and only one badly deteriorating example of these exquisitely carved structures still exists today. Architecture and art which relied on royal support, declined with the collapse of the last royal kingdom.

Though court culture has disappeared, popular street-level culture is alive and prospering. Drama is the important part of this culture, and any celebration is a good excuse for a pwe (show). Performances may tell or describe Buddhist legends, or be more light-hearted shows with slapstick comedy, dance, huge puppets or ensemble singing. Burman music is integral to a pwe; it originates from Siam and accentuates rhythm and melody. Instruments are largely percussive and include drums, boat-shaped harps, bamboo flutes and gongs.

More than 85% of the Burman people are Theravada Buddhist, although not the official state religion. Since the Ne Win government took power, it has actually officially occupied only a small central role in Burman life. In the Rakhine region, towards Bangladesh, there are quite a few Muslims. Christian missionaries have had some degree of success amongst hill tribes; however, many remain staunch animists.

Burmese is the main language with its own alphabet and script. Although you are rarely going to have enough time to learn the alphabet, it may be worth studying the numerals, if only so you can read the bus numbers. Some Burmans speak English, especially within the older generation.

It is easier to sample authentic Burman dishes from food stalls rather than in restaurants. Chinese and Indian eateries predominate, and hotel restaurants usually extract much of the chili and shrimp paste from their Burman dishes. Rice is the staple of any Burman meal. To this is added many curry options and a spicy raw vegetable salad, and just about everything is flavoured with ngapi - a fermented and dried shrimp paste. Chinese tea is preferable to the over-strong, over-milky, and over-sweet Burman tea. Sugar-cane juice is a very popular street side beverage, and stronger drinks include lychee wine orange brandy and the alarming-sounding white liquor and jungle liquor.