I keep thinking about how they describe Burma back then, and it's helped me to understand why it still has a ton of problems now (military dictatorship, democratically elected leader under house arrest, isolation, etc). Back then there was torture, death, and misery imposed by a despotic leader and very corrupt system. I seriously don't know how people have managed to survive in such countries.
What's also struck me about that country back then was how Michael Symes, the first British emissary there, was treated. I found a good article that mentions his trip in the late 18th century and compares the despotic Burmese royalty back then with the current dictatorship.
In the Judson biography, he mentions Symes' account of his trip, An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava (1795) (which you can download for free). At first Judson was impressed, but once he was in India, he found out that
Symes, in his ignorance of Burmese customs, had not realized that, instead of being treated as a distinguished visitor, he had actually been led about with subtle mockery, and dealt a succession of calculated insults in the guise of compliments. The Burmese court had silently rocked with laughter during his whole mission.
I've read that a number of times, and I keep wondering what that "subtle mockery" and "calculated insults" looked like.