moment is evanescent

July 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

“So much would not have been possible without you”, he said.

As I walked away from a space that held so closely with my heart; I walked into another with the same passion and resilience for it.

I visited Burma again for the third time in two months. One would question what had attracted me to be in a country where mineral water comes in big plastic bottles, traffic rules are bind by their own eccentric driving culture and a serious addiction ~ chewing betel nut, until their teeth turn red.

But beyond the dark clouds, there is often a silver lining; more than not, Burma has a  long-lasting optimistic streak of light.

IMG_0186As the country lines between the Tropic of Cancer and Equator, the weather is a cross between four seasons and heavy rainfalls through out the year. We were  caught in the chilly night and got drenched in thunderstorms. But that didn’t stop us from exploring the one for the most sacred sites, Golden Kyaiktiyo Pagoda.

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Many had warned us about the slippery roads, difficulties of getting to the mountain from base camp and not being able to capture a good view. They got everything right to the tee but we still had a beautiful experience. My mum and I had just arrived at Aung Mingalar bus station at 5am after a bumpy overnight bus ride from Inle Lake;  I had found a private cab driver from Trip Advisor who is willing to take us from the bus station to base camp, which was another 3-4 hours of bumpy rides.

Our cab driver was extremely friendly and spoke good English. Something that every foreigner should not take for granted is the absence of fluency of this universal language. When the British withdraw itself from the government, most of the education focused on their own language and culture. Hence a large popular only understand very basic English or perhaps nothing at all. Body language and hand sign language silence out our confusions, well most of the time.

At the Kin Pun Sakhan base camp, we hopped on an open-air pick up truck and cramped with the locals. The truck, lined with 7 wide wooden planks, only allowed 6-7 people on each ride. Once it’s filled, the co-driver collects about 2500 kyats from everyone and hit the road. The one hour journey seems longer than it is. The rain came and went, we covered ourselves and backpacks in cheap ponchos, struggled to balance on the wooden seats. The bends on the road were sharp so we swayed our body sides to sides just like trees in the autumn wind.

We checked into a simple hotel, then made a little hike to the top. We took off our shoes and carefully walked on the wet white dirty tiles, being very careful not to slip and fall. When we reach the site, it was gloomy; so we waited, and waited for the clouds to clear and pray for the wind to come. Standing beside the rock, there is an unconscious quiet ceremony,I kneeled down,  put my hands together and gave a gentle bow. Nothing religious but a spiritual acknowledgment of gratefulness for allowing us to be there. IMG_0358

We returned to Yangon the next day. The erratic city ignite our senses, we devoured ourselves into endless meals and culinary experiences over the week. IMG_0202

Burmese eating etiquette is similar to the rest of Southeast Asia. Small plates of sautéed meats, seafood, vegetables and rice or noodles as staple. However, what defers them from rest of the countries is in the hands of the people.

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They are never shy of fresh produce. Myanmar is rich in agricultural and land. The locals have a way of preparing and pairing flavours, which preserves food (due to lack of refrigerator) and enhances the culture. One would complain about the excessive usage of oil and sugar, but that’s they way it has been for the longest of time. Nevertheless, the more modern restaurants have alternatives to saccharine or greasy food; making it easier for us to enjoy the purest form of Burmese cuisine.

My favourite mid day pick up dish is Pennywort salad from Rangoon Tea House. Fresh pennywort leaves mixed with sliced shallots, garlic, shallot oil, lime and chopped peanuts. Simple and, very refreshing.

IMG_0439Because of the longitude this city sits on, it has one of the most beautiful picturesque sunrises/sunsets. One that would steal the hearts of many and yearn for them to revisit the country again. Perhaps this is how I started loving this country. First the beautiful sunrise to start the day, then the endless amount of fresh produce, the opportunity to experience something pure and sincere, taking the road less travelled, rooting good intentions and embracing the moments as they come.

I left the place knowing it wouldn’t be my last, as I’ve left a piece of myself there. Sometimes you just can’t choose which direction you are heading, it chooses you.

a month’s hiatus

July 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

Hello readers,

It has been quite sometime since I last wrote something here. If you follow my Instagram, you would have travelled a fair distance with me. I have been away for just about a month: exploring Bangkok & Burma (yes again). The beginning of the trip was gathering collective memories of the Thai capital city. I haven’t been back in 20 years and while everyone around me seem to visit it at least twice a year; I have been in a hole.

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Its unforgettable kind hospitality, creative simple delicacies, attention to details, dynamic shops, multi-layered urban structures and traditional living, left me awed and yearning to go back for more. It is no wonder why one never gets tired of the place. Perhaps even plan to stay in different neighbourhood, explore the grounds, get lost in their habits and if it gets too foreign go back to Siam Square to regain “normalcy” (a bite of Krispy Kreme or touch of H&M).

I stayed in the quaint Yard hostel located in vibrant Soi Ari. The hostel resembles much like an extension of a colonial family bungalow with shipping containers for their teenage children. There are private rooms as well as shared dorms, free breakfast and friendly staffs who stay in the compound too. Just down the road from us follows a few sporadic streets, congested with local/international restaurants, bars, cafes (look out for a dog cafe), salons, and massage parlours (why else would you go to Thailand?). My morning routine didn’t fall far from walking to Ari Crossfit box , passing by the local food market which gets into full swing of frying up bananas, chicken wings and other local snacks; enjoy a workout with the heartwarming community; returning back to the hostel with the same route and devouring myself with snacks . As one of them said, “train hard, eat harder”.

The locals enjoy life as it is and should be. They thrive on each other’s creativity as well as support/promote their own art work. There wasn’t a shortage on small galleries  or street graffiti. Artwork were seen in eateries, gyms, abandon spaces and just about anywhere your feet could take you.

Of course, visiting MOCA highlighted the amazing local talents: an integration between modern and traditional views. A struggle for any developing country/city: to retain history by prolonging its habits/culture or adopt foreign views to better (or worsen) the present. The museum sits tall on the edge of the main BTS line, away from central but not too far from Chatuchak market. Grab a cab, enjoy the sights of little sub-urban residential sites, wide billboards and long highways.

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On a few occasions, my evenings were spent at Mikkeller bar . No stranger to any craft beer fanatic, this Danish microbrewery first helmed its way to Asia and placed themselves in a residential home. A double-storey house convert into a bar/restaurant has been a watering hole for many fellow beer drinkers and culinary gourmet. They have a whole range of beers on tap as well as an extensive selection of beer snacks/dinner and a private food pairing session, Upstairs Mikkeller Bar. How else could one enjoy the truest form of any beer/local food other than from a degustation menu from the tapmasters and kitchen crew? Nothing beats a fresh pint of saison on a hot day after hours of trekking or braving the monsoon rain for sour ales….the things I do for beer.

I also had a sweet coffee affair at Hands and Heart, a recommended place from the coffee folks back at home. It is a small cafe under a residential condominium with forgiving white pure walls and simple interior just enough to keep it cosy. View and his partner, Monwa welcome customers with great smiles and cheerful spirits. I had the wonderful opportunity to taste their home roast, View’s personal stash of Coffee Collective Kieni and Has Been Coffee’s Bolivia. He had just returned from the World Barista Championship in Dublin and generously shared them with other coffee enthusiasts.

Another coffee roaster I frequented during my short stay was Ceresia Coffee Roaster. Nested at the very back end of Sukhumvit 33/1, it caters mainly to the local Japanese expat community surrounded with fellow Japanese shops. The owners support independent international coffee farmers and collectively select specific growers who are passionate about both beans and the brew. Making it even easier for us to enjoy the sheer joy of a delightful cup of coffee and understanding the complexity of a simple brew.

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I truly appreciate that both coffee shops steer customers away from wifi or any technology. For one really ought to slow down, sip coffee, communicate with one another or simply soak in the vibe of the space. After all, why else do we travel?

This is Bangkok for now, more about Burma the next post.

tempeh

May 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

also known as fermented soybeans. Before it was labelled as one of the world’s most sought after plant-based protein, this traditional soy product was a trademark in most of my Malay meals. Every Saturday evening, my parents would pay a visit to the local pasar tani (night food market) beside a football stadium. Arriving at 5 pm, we would consider ourselves lucky if we found a good parking spot. Most of the market would be filled with residences walking around, window shopping, buying cincau bandung (grass jelly in rose syrup) or ais limau (iced-lime juice) to keep the body cool or, for the rest of us, wait at the significant empty spot.

This spot is reserved for a very well-known family owned nasi campur (mixed rice) store. They served nasi lemak (coconut rice), nasi kerabu (blue pea flower rice), nasi biryani (turmeric-spiced rice), assorted curries (either lamb, beef, or vegetables), sambal telur (fried egg in samba, my personal favourite and you can find it in our cookbook), archar (nyonya pickle vegetable)  and of course, sambal tempeh goreng.

Deep fried cubbed tempehs, fried in hot sambal with long beans and ikan bilis (anchovies) until the dish turns to maroon. Doesn’t it sound heavenly? Well, at least to me (even at 7 years old). Mum and I would squeeze our way through the crowd and wait for our turns. We would pick three types of rice, a few curries, and for me, sambal tempeh with a fat chicken drumstick and some archar. Then we would pick some kueh-kuehs (mostly coconut or tapioca steamed cakes) and iced soy milk.

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When I visited a tempeh shop/factory in Gainesville, Florida, there really wasn’t any amusement.  Perhaps only for the fact that there were no makciks behind the counter but young white late teenagers. The real eye-opener was at the vegan/vegetarian restaurants that served tempeh in sandwiches, salads, fried rice, stews and so on. My great friend was kind enough to drive us there for an unforgettable day trip before I left the East and headed West.

Now, I eat tempeh in every possible way. Fried, steamed, baked, boiled, and sometimes if it’s really very fresh, raw. The makcik (Malay auntie) at the wet market would sell it at RM0.30 for one lovely piece and proclaimed that it is as fresh as good yeast could get. Big soft warm leaves (hibiscus leaves) still slightly moist from the fermentation, a white fluffy velvety mould holding the beans together, nicely folded with newspaper and tied with a rubber band.
A beautiful nostalgic ingredient and a staple in our refrigerator.

Anicca

May 22, 2016 § 1 Comment

I first got acquainted with this word while learning meditation last May. It was a poignant time of the year, when all the unfortunate events had seemingly become more acceptable than, unfortunate.

How did that happen?

Anicca in Buddism translate to impermanence. A notion that all things exist without exception, is transient and in a constant state of flux. Life is like water, fluid to change and follows the flow of the tide.
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During my trip to Burma last week, I chanced upon Anicca while reading up about an old temple in Old Bagan. Amongst the 2200 pagodas and temples scattered all over the flat plains, there weren’t one that did not signify the importance of impermanence. The beauty of sunsets and sunrise was encapsulated by the majestic horizon along with layers of orange hues, tints of red and shades of yellow. The glowing circular star gently falls and rises upon these plains while transforming colours of the trees and comings of mammals. A bird could fly to seek shelter before it gets any darker; a rooster might crow to its heart’s desire at the break of dawn; families walking down the dusty roads chewing on betel nut leaves. An event cannot happen without the other to make a lovely picture of this heritage site.

It is hard to imagine that this beautiful quiet village was once a cosmopolitan centre for religious and circular studies. We were told to keep our activities to the minimum at 10pm and behave ourselves around the city. A much unlikely behaviour for hostellers traveling from bigger towns like Bangkok or Phnom Penh, where clubs or pubs don’t shut till wee hours in the morning and alcohol is cheaper than sparkling water. Nevertheless, we found ourselves back in our rooms early in the evening, all ready to tuck into bed for the 5am wake up call to catch the sunrise.

As I faced my chest towards the sun in tadasana, my heart is lightened with the bright sunlight; as I inhale the fresh dense air and reach down towards my feet for the first sun salutation for the day, I feel grounded as the exhale travels into the roots of my body. How can one not find solace or peace in the quiet moment with the rising sun?

 

The night before my arrival to Bagan, I took an 10 hours overnight bus from Yangon’s hectic Aung Mangalar bus station. JJ express bus ride was amazingly comfortable and affordable. I arrived at Ostello Bello Bagan in the wee hours, but was treated with a warm welcome. There were showers and beds on the rooftop for early guests and a huge locker room to keep our belongings safely. Bike rental shops are just across the street and restaurants are in abundance. I took the chance to explore new and old Bagan with the e-bike. It was no more than 4000kyat (which is USD 3.50) for the entire day.

 

A fellow German hosteller said “one can never be done with Bagan”. She is right. There were just too many temples and pagodas to explore. Though the view from the top is almost similar, every building tells a different story. The style varies as empires or monarchy changes. Yet they preserve a certain ornate charm which symbolises the holiness of Theravada Buddhism. Golden status, red paintings on stone walls, large chambers and so on. We climbed to the roof top through hidden staircases, and waited for the sun to set.
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Suppose yourself gazing on a gorgeous sunset. The whole western heavens are glowing with roseate hues; but you are aware that within half an hour all these glorious tints will have faded away into a dull ashen gray. You see them even now melting away before your eyes, although your eyes cannot place before you the conclusion which your reason draws. And what conclusion is that? That conclusion is that you never, even for the shortest time that can be named or conceived, see any abiding color, any color which truly is. Within the millionth part of a second the whole glory of the painted heavens has undergone an incalculable series of mutations. One shade is supplanted by another with a rapidity which sets all measurements at defiance, but because the process is one to which no measurements apply,… reason refuses to lay an arrestment on any period of the passing scene, or to declare that it is, because in the very act of being it is not; it has given place to something else. It is a series of fleeting colors, no one of which is, because each of them continually vanishes in another.

— Ferrier’s Lectures and Remains Vol. I, p. 119, quoted in Sarva-dorsana-Sangraha, London, p. 15

 

Marie, a 22-year-old French girl, spoke of her work experience at a sports news channel. “I love my job, but the people were fake, and the reports were all fake”, spoken in her thick French accent. Her English wasn’t very good and she admitted it with a hysterical laugh. We had no other language in common but carried the same spirit of a seeker. After Bagan, she planned to ride a horse through Russia and move to Argentina for a new chapter of her life.

Back in Yangon, I met a Burmese journalist who recently just quit his job at a news agent as well. He spoke deeply about his experience and the country. “No discipline, bad spirit”, he pointed with his index finger while squinting his eyes. The Burmese are very peaceful people but they can be very lazy. Spending most of their time, drinking, chewing betel nut or sleeping. Sometimes praying. “Pray for change, pray for freedom but no discipline”.

Why?

“Education”. The level of education has increased significantly but not enough to catch up with the rest of the ASEAN countries. He continue to compare the schooling systems  between Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and China; how the next generation are much more driven than the average Burmese.

It’s a scared nation. Although they have given the freedom to speak up and practise their human rights, they are afraid to take adequate steps for a better tomorrow. How can one blame them after being colonised and ruled under such strict laws for decades? At it’s best, Burma is still a teenager with an old soul.

Aung San Suu Kyi has given “strength and unity”, but the rest is still up to the people.

 

In the city, street side bookshops are set up along the alleys. Perhaps to attract foreigners or to encourage locals to read more. Unfortunately, not everyone is literate. It isn’t rare to find a scene of an old gentleman filing official letters for people around government buildings. IMG_7867

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I took the night bus back to the city and arrived at Aung Magalar bus station at 5am. I have no clue how I navigated myself through the messy streets and trusted nothing but an internal compass that lead straight to a bus company office. As I wait for my cab driver to arrive, the sun begins to rise. This time, my surroundings were so different. It was frantic, smelly, dense and delivered a sense of fear. But beyond that, I felt calm. Somehow backpacking or traveling alone has brought a tranquil courage. All the unbeaten paths I took through my life, whether it was driving across the States with a broken soft top or choosing to drop school for a chance to love, were done with no regrets. If I had to do it all over again, I would.

Whilst doing so, I found people who empathise with this journey more than others. Those who does are far and few, and shall only share the love to them.

 

time and space

March 14, 2016 § 2 Comments

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. – Vincent Van Gogh

It’s mid-morning Monday, I am still thinking of the inspiring words and creative stories from Saturday’s U Symposium discussion panel. The community of speakers from various well-established magazines gave so many enriching advices for us to challenge ourselves and look at the bigger picture.

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In this day and age, Independent Magazine is a new-found territory. Not that there hasn’t been any independently published magazines before, but the competition is much more prevailing and people are gradually changing their perspectives. To start, Kai from Offscreen mentioned we have the internet; a big open community filled with information for us to immerse ourselves. It’s fast, easily available and so effective (especially when it comes to hot-gossips). We evolved into having high-speed internet and absorbing quick data that we have forgotten how it feels like to pick up a book/magazine/newspaper.

Hard copies have soft copies edition. Newspapers turned digitalized. People have online profiles. Our identities are constructed onto websites with personal information that everyone else needs to know. We connect so much faster than before, but yet there is a deep sense of regression.

Did we forget how to interact offline? Text over calling? Do we not realize that print is going out of business because we don’t read from hard copies anymore? Instead of telling ourselves that we are saving the earth by going paperless, we are contributing to a bigger carbon footprint movement by draining our batteries so quickly that we constantly need to charge it, even when it is not half-full?

So where/when do we draw the line? Where do we start? How do we pace ourselves to find balance between staying updated and slowing it down?

I find it most difficult to be constantly chasing the bright spotlight. To be at the top or follow trends. The next rainbow bagel or latte art pen. Un-necessities. If we could do without them before, why do we need it now? Certainly down the road we got bored with what we had and soon, tried to compete with the other. So we add something extra to be better. What if we didn’t need that something extra to be better, but to work on what we have and stay authentic. Perhaps then we will have a larger chance to be sustainable in the long run instead of feeding a temporary hunger. Then only to realized it was a hasty decision after it is said and done?

We are going backwards, that is for sure. Embracing crafted handmade goods, taking pride in artisanal products and spending more time in nature. But it does not mean we are degenerating. Taking it slower, embracing time and space or the present moment, allows us to accept life wholeheartedly.

Grab a piece of good read, embrace the contents fully and connect the dots with how we are seemingly interconnected in many ways. Whether it is an offline interview, recipe from female cooks, a long passage about a far away land or just beautiful landscape images of a place set in a particular time; it brought everyone to a room on Saturday/Sunday afternoon. A community, which redefines the way we indulge in literature by being transparent and sincere with their voices.

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Later that evening, I had the pleasure of watching NOMA and got intimately acquainted with René Redzepi’s journey (along with a hundred over viewers). He feels strongly about capturing time and space. The current moment, seasons; the wide space, nature (ingredients). He focuses on foraging for fresh produce, meeting local farmers, staying fiercely loyal to his family and taking care of his crew. How does one have time or the capacity to find such equilibrium in life?

It is not a bed of roses. It is hard work. It is also important to know that you can’t figure everything out at once. It just comes and goes, like tide. The best waves are those you decide which one to ride on.

What I love about René Redzepi is that NOMA isn’t his, it is also his crew. They took pride and ownership in the work they do. They got hurt and had fun. He made mistakes, he is human, like we all are ; and at the very least it’s honest. The cinematography is enthralling. Pierre Deschamps, did a beautiful job in capturing the whole essence of the chef’s life. Allowing us to feel the sensations of his every action or thought through slow motion and fine music, brought together a certain closeness/understanding.

Perhaps Claudia Wu, the editor of Cherry Bombe, described us is true: “when we were all living on the plains of Serengeti, it was better to hunt and gather in groups- it’s basically the same now”.

We really should learn to live by creating a sense of community with our five senses; whether its magazines, pottery, music or food; it should bring warmth and a sense of belonging. After all, we all look at the same sky.

Our boss decided to spoil us with a big pot of eggplant, homemade tomato sauce pasta with mozzarella and fresh basil. Staff lunches can’t get any better than this!

1152 oatmeal

February 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

How are they so afraid to live a life
How are they so afraid to fall or hurt themselves even when it means being in the moment.
How are they so dense with their emotions and rigid with their thoughts.
How do they call this living?

Perhaps values sit on cushions that could never be too comfortable.
Perhaps fundamentals were taught with helmets on. Protect and shelter.

When you get to the box or game, you take the safest route. Striving to push with limits. Punching with withdrawal force.

We set our own goals. We draw our own perspectives.

We are our greatest enemy, with the strongest defense.

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Two days ago I turned to a great friend for a listening ear. Over the year, she had become a pillar of strength and vice versa.

“Feeling sad and hurt is not a lack of strength: on the contrary, I think one has to be very brave to know how to cry when faced with heartaches. True strength is defined by the ability to live gracefully, compassionately, authentically. “

Our setbacks had made us closer. All setbacks make friends closer.

I had realized that we truly can’t live without failing. Even so, the greatest way to learn is through falling or getting dirty. Living in this island, I grew tired of people who constantly protect themselves from falling. People who are so fearful of dipping their hands into deep mud and don’t know how to hold their dignity or have their smiles on. It weighs me down that they put a “no” to the unknown.

The relationships we build nurture us. I longed yearn for people who walk more than their talks. Be a friend before they judge. Understands emotions, be good with words and relate to the heart.

And try to live a simple life.

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Let’s start with a bowl of oatmeal.

Flaxseed oatmeal, topped with chia seeds, fresh creamy mango and blueberries. I become hopeless when the fruit stall carries sein ta lone mangoes. They are creamy, full of sweetness and floral flavours. Their skins are so delicate; flesh when ripened becomes almost orange.

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70g of oatmeal
1 ½ tsp of flaxseed
140 ml of hot water
pinch of sea salt
2 tsp of chia seeds
half mango
handful of berries

Place the oatmeal, flaxseed and water in a microwavable or oven-friendly bowl. If you are using the microwave, cook it under medium to high-heat for one minute. For the oven, turn it to 170C and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on how you enjoy your oatmeal. For a creamier oatmeal, reduce the cooking time or alternatively use milk instead of water.

Stir in the salt, let it sit while preparing the mango or preferred fruits.

Slice the mango as closely as you can along the seed. Take a big spoon, scoop out the flesh and drop dollops of them on the oatmeal. Sprinkle chia seeds and berries.

white is warmth

February 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

Being soft has it’s downfall, I have quite forgotten what it feels like to be loved or cared in small ways. The little notes, a kind gesture, an attentive listening ear etc…

Over a period of time, I have stopped believing that someone could give and be affectionate. I stopped seeking for a heart out there, that could speak the same language or understand the soul.

Perhaps it’s just a self-defense mechanism that we put on to stop feeling hurt or allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. So we can learn how to love ourselves or enjoy our own company.

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I don’t know what I did to deserve this lovely surprise. The unexpected little thoughts or actions can send warmth straight to the heart.

And it sure did.

I guess we should just allow life to flow as it is. Focus on being present. Don’t find the means to an end, but fulfilling in itself. Then we can find joy, simplicity and beyond. So thankful for this.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

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