For me it is tea – industrial strength tea, the kind of tea that you could build a house with, or slice up and make a sandwich out of – the kind of tea that would worry a cheap teaspoon. English Breakfast tea, Yorkshire Tea to be precise, Yorkshire Gold if I’m feeling flush. I stockpile those little packets of pleasure as if preparing for Armageddon. Every visitor I receive is encouraged to fill the corners of their suitcase with those little bags of bliss.
Don’t get me wrong 3-in-1 is great at the right time, as a pick me up mid-morning or a quick refreshing drop on the way home from work, but for breakfast it doesn’t quite cut the mustard so to speak. I approach my tea in very much the same way that Bonnie Tyler approaches her heroes.
But sometimes I worry that I rely on this luxury item too much, sometimes I find myself inventorying my stock, rationing my depleting hoard, trying to find alternative sources, panicking that I am going to run out. This overreliance on a luxury item is surely unhealthy.
Some pay no heed to the quality of their tea; their secret desires, their guilty pleasures are of a more substantial nature, and take up more cupboard space. Heinz Baked beans, Vegemite, Kellogg’s Corn flakes, Branston pickle the list of brands is endless, the excess baggage fees ludicrous. Whilst others find ways to replicate their hearts desires; in kitchens across Yangon expats are cooking up Fu-Fu, or Banku, Injera and Tibs, or even Battenberg cake using innovative methods and locally sourced ingredients. Even the most hardened and acclimatised Yangonite expat who has Mohinga every day for breakfast, and entrails for lunch, probably harbours a secret stash of Cadburys chocolate in their desk drawer, or an emergency reserve of liquorice at the back of the bookcase that they share with no one, not even their nearest and dearest.
And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with treating ourselves occasionally, but what if we find ourselves unable to cope, unable to function without the crutch of a consumable item? Is that a time to stop and perhaps have a look at how we approach our life? One of the pleasures of living overseas as an expat, I’ve found, is that life is much easier, much more contented much more satisfying if you can assimilate yourself as much as possible with your surroundings. And by familiarizing yourself with the food and eating habits of a country you gain a better understanding of the rules, social norms, history and culture of the place you have chosen to live in; and you get to meet more people and make more friends as well. That’s not to say we should disregard our salacious food desires completely, but perhaps be a bit more selective about what we can and can’t live without, and not so down-hearted by the dearth of what we consider must-have luxury items, be they parsnips, pork-pies or marshmallow fluff.
If you are finding that living in Myanmar is a gargantuan struggle without your Guinness, Gregg’s pasties, or Jaffles or if you find yourself moaning about the lack of choice of plantains and grumbling about the price of pomegranates at the supermarket then perhaps you are not looking hard enough to find a better alternative. Or perhaps you aren’t giving yourself an adequate chance to let go of the past, and are unnecessarily constraining yourself from the joy of experiencing new things.
A version of this article was published in MY Yangon Magazine – March 2015