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BURMESE DAYS17 NOVEMBER 2015

I was born on 25th October, precisely half a century after George Orwell’s first novel Burmese Days was published, in 1984. In Burma, there is a joke that George Orwell wrote not one but three novels about Burma: Burmese Days, Animal Farm and 1984. Rangoon, Mandalay, Bagan – these names conjure up irresistible romance of lost oriental kingdoms, tropical dreams and misty glass palaces. Being in Burma however, often feels like walking onto an aban- doned stage-set where the poetry of life has long ceded place to the prose of daily survival.

Nagar Glass Factory, nested behind a thick tangle of bougainvillea and violet trumpets of flowering morning glory, off Parami Road in north Rangoon, is a shattered glass factory and a supplier to Bếp Haus in the most peculiar way. Since Burma’s worst natural disaster in history, cyclone Nargis, came up the Irrawaddy in May 2008, over thirty members of the fourth-generation family business now live off the proceeds of washing up soiled glassware that visitors pick up from treasure-hunting amongst the thousands of glass pieces. Fight- ing off mosquitoes as I walked amidst fallen and still-standing tamarind trees, I found fifteen kerosene lamp bottles to be used as flower jars, three large glass trays to be used as salad and summer rolls platters, and two bell-shaped hur- ricane lamp glasses to be reclaimed as retro-industrial pendent lights.

The real reason Nagar was closed, and the same reason that Burma fell into anoth- er episode of torment and struggle, the Saffron Revolution in September 2008, I am told by the proprietor Soe Soe, was not because of Nargis, but rather gas prices. They are now 32 times higher than what they used to be, in a country that is build- ing the longest natural gas pipeline to China and at a time when gas prices are historically lowest in a commodities downturn.

As I held up the Nagar glasses in the midafternoon sunlight, the beautiful clarity and colour of the glass, past down for generations from the Murano-trained great-grandfather, sparkled and made me squint for a minute. A trishaw with a large white umbrella arrived in front of my eyes, letting an elderly lady off together with her basket of tiffin boxes. I felt like I travelled back in time, mesmerized for a moment that reminded me of the romance of Rangoon. I am glad we chose to come now, at a time that could be considered the country’s dawn, after more than five decades of a very dark past.
Love,

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GLASSES FROM NAGAR GLASS FACTORY WILL FEATURE IN BEP HAUS NEXT LOCATION IN THE CITY OF LONDON, TO BE OPENED IN THE SPRING 2016. PLEASE FOLLOW OUR SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES FOR REGULAR UPDATES AND SIGN UP IN THE MAILING LIST TO BE INVITED TO OUR SOFT OPENING.