Lotus fabric, silk weaving, betel leaf, and cheroot production.

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Lotus weaving is a speciality of the Intha people who live around Inle Lake, whose shallow water is ideal for growing lotus plants. The weavers work in the red-topped buildings dotted together on Inle Lake The spiky stems are cut and the two ends pulled apart and twisted to collect together the fine fibrous threads inside. The resulting woven fabric is linen-like and gets softer with washing.

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Silk is brought in from other states in Myanmar, then tie-dyed here and woven into fine fabric. Preparation of the silk threads ready for weaving seems to be the preserve of the older ladies here.

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The streets of Myanmar are splattered with red blobs which come from the chewing, and spitting out, of betel leaf. We had a long chat with a lady betel leaf maker/seller in Chauk market, Bagan, and Lawrence got the chance to try some in the Ywa Ma market, Inle Lake. You can chose between sweet and bitter-tasting mixtures. Lawrence chose the sweet one and quite enjoyed it.

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Cheroots are the favoured smoke of the locals. The cheroot leaves are grown here but the tobacco comes from elsewhere in Myanmar. The leaves are sorted, cut to shape, then filled with tobacco, chopped betel nut, and flavourings. The ladies are working to piece rates, so they work fast and furious, and cannot stop for a photo or a smile.

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© Helen Gray 2020