TO Buddhists in Myanmar, use of plastic bottles reflects a nation that is less kind.

When the bullock carts lugging passengers and produce pulled into Yangon, coated in the umber dust of the countryside, the people on board, if not the oxen, used to be able to count on refreshment.

On many a street corner, often under a shade tree, stood what looked like a doll house on stilts. Inside was a round clay pot covered with a triangle of woven leaves. The pot held drinking water.

Cool without refrigeration, sweet with the taste of earth, nothing slaked the insistent thirst of the tropics better, according to some residents of Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.

''I only drink water from a clay pot,'' said Ma Aye Aye Thein, as she sat on a plastic stool and occasionally fanned herself. ''I feel hot when I drink from a plastic.''

The freely-given water was also a welcome reminder of the hospitality of the strangers in a period when trust was in short supply.

During the height of the military dictatorship that ruled Myanmar for nearly 50 years, people said the walls had eyes and ears. In those times, it didn't take much for Special Branch, the secret police, to turn a neighbor into an informer.

But even as the city disintegrated under the junta, with chunks of mortar falling off once grand buildings and cracking the skulls of passers- by, the water pots were still set out for the thirsty.

It was part of a tradition of meritorious acts embedded in Myanmar's Buddhist-majority culture, with the neighborhood water pots refilled with retirees, housewives or anyone looking for some karmic credit for a good deed.

''Putting water out is a Buddhist ideal to be kind to others,'' said U Canadana Sara, a Buddhist abbot.

Now many of these terra-cota water pots are gone, replaced in some cases by plastic bottles with tin cups chained to them. Some of the little refreshment houses are full of litter or abandoned altogether.

The declining presence of the shared pots over the last few years is just one small change amid great upheaval in Yangon.

The military generals, who now share some of their power with a civilian government, have decamped to a new capital, Naypidaw, a city a few hundred miles to the north, purpose-built to showcase their authority.

Yangon's crumbling architecture is being demolished, with British colonial relics making way for for glass-sheathed buildings. a city once trapped in a slower, poorer era because of governmental neglect is being remade.

Clay jugs, heavy yet fragile, are not made for mobile lifestyles in which people expect to take to take their water them rather depend on the uncertain kindness of strangers. You can't screw a top on a terra-cota pot.

So plastic is now a growing scourge in Yangon. Disposable water bottles float in the Irrawaddy and Yangon Rivers. They crunch under the wheels of the bullock carts, startling the oxen.

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on fading customs of Myanmar, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Hannah Beech.


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