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For our Myanmar [Burma] in London post we asked Htein Lin, a Burmese artist who was part of last year’s last year’s Burmese Art Festival, to write this roundup of where to find Burmese people, culture and food in London. Htein Lin is a former political prisoner who moved to London in 2006 on marrying the British Ambassador to Burma. He lives near the Oval.
There are thousands of Burmese living in London, most of whom have arrived as doctors, students or refugees since the military took over in 1962, as well as many others of Anglo-Burmese and Burmese-Indian heritage tracing their roots back to the colonial period. While there is no Burmese quarter, many live near to the five Burmese Buddhist monasteries in Wembley, Hounslow, Colindale, Whitton and Beckton.
Both the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum have some Burmese items on display, mostly Buddha statues, including a large early 19th-century Buddha which forms the centrepiece of the BM’s Hotung Gallery.
Nobel Prize winning dissident Aung San Suu Kyi studied at SOAS [University of London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies] in the 1970s, and it is the only place in the UK where you can learn Burmese as part of a full degree or in evening courses. Her father Aung San visited London in 1947, staying at the Dorchester, and signed an agreement with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in 10 Downing Street. Longstanding dictator General Ne Win used to holiday in a house in Victoria Road, Wimbledon and visit the races.
The Mandalay restaurant on Edgware Road is the best-known Burmese restaurant in London and good value. During the daytime try the Yadana Café near North End Market in Fulham. For take-away and outside catering we recommend Mum’s House, which also stocks Burmese ingredients like leq-peq (pickled tea), as does the Shwe Mandalay Oriental Supermarket in Hounslow.
The Britain Burma Society meets six times a year at the Medical Society in Chandos Place W1 bringing together people with an interest in Burma for a lecture and social event.
The London monasteries are the centre of Burmese cultural activity and events, including the Thingyan New Year Water Festival in mid-April, Buddha Day in May, and the start and end of Lent in July and October. Ethnic Minority students also organise New Year’s events such as the Shan (December), Kachin (January) and Mon (February).
The other Burmese social centre is the pavement outside the Burmese Embassy at 19A Charles street W1, which regularly hosts demonstrations against the military government by exiled Burmese: 4 January (Independence Day), 27 March (Resistance Day) and 18 September (when the military came to power) are likely days for a demo.
Have you experienced Burmese culture in London? Tell us about it in the comments below.