December 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
For the last 30 days, I’ve been on the move with a crew for a cause; well to be specific, men’s health. While others grow a moustache, host an event, donate or go for a ride; I joined my best workout instructor, Jev, to move for a month. He is known to program bootcamps that leaves us sweating or laying face flat on the floor. Every Saturday for the last 6 months, I joined Kilter Crew at Fort Canning for an hour worth of WOD & stairs. I have never felt so motivated to exercise in my life.
So when I heard that Jev is had started a team for Movember, it didn’t take me a second longer to join. I started the month with a stretch on the mat with my partner. He had promised me to try his very best to join me for this movement, despite being overseas.
I have done yoga for the last 10 years. Somedays, I go through the motion of doing it without second thoughts; it is almost unkindly to not do a stretch or pose at some point in the day. Somewhere along the way, I did stop practicing yoga mentally. My body could move along the poses easily but my mind/heart were not in sync. I was quick to anger and get frustrated with little things. I pushed people and myself away. Through these little notches, I grew increasingly aware of my emotions. Seeking solace in mediations, new yoga classes, and motivated myself to step outside my comfort zone.
I started running a year ago. The first 500m was extremely difficult. I couldn’t even hold my pace and breathe consistently. My feet always kicked higher than they were meant too, leaving me with knee and hip injuries. My ex-boyfriend would ridicule me with my determination to run because I couldn’t even get the basics right. How could one learn how to run before walking right? Needless to say, I threw all the bad habits out of the window (including the asshole) and invested in taking 500m to 800m to 1km. I threw out the old pair of fancy running shoes and got to know my sole better by consulting the local running store; read up about distance running and motivated myself with personal stories.
Since then, the morning/evening sun I look forward to waking up early or reserving my energy till the evening for a run. 6km/8km seems like a breeze and I am more determine to do a marathon just to check it off my list in this lifetime.
Half way through Movember, I moved to Yangon, Burma. There was work, but more importantly there is someone. And like all change, there come challenges. I lost my workout community. I lost my running routes. I lost the ability to mediate properly. What was it to sit still, close your eyes and focus on the breath? I became somewhat a monster to others and myself. Throwing tempers, feeling anxious, projecting an unconscious self to the world.
The negative state of mind, is an ego.
The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist. – Eckhart Tolle
It was hard to turn myself into the cell of awareness. It’s a place of vulnerability and truth. No one likes to be told that they are wrong or are something they don’t perceive themselves to be. But at the same time, it is also a place of love and freedom. A place where you dwell your unconsciousness and make sense of your actions. That there is really no where else to be but the present moment; no one else but your own very self that needs to push all the clutter away and make way for pure light.
I found a local yoga studio, Yangon Yoga House, which became my little sanctuary for quietness. The receptionist and yoga instructors became my little community of joy, vegan foodies and smiles. They have never failed to close a session with great closing lines and encourage me to feel lifted after a tired day.
I have also found a great workout buddy in my partner who keeps me grounded with not pushing myself too much. Our weekly routine to run around kandawgyi lake before a hearty dim sum breakfast meal, has became our thing. I am only hoping that these little steps and habits becomes our lifestyle; also bringing friends together and instilling a sense of well-being for others.
We close Movember at the lake with a short run and 30 pushups, 30 sit ups and 30 burpees. The Move-mber team came in 7 for the National ranking. We are worlds apart but this has kept us close for the last month. A crew that sweats together, stays together.
Here is a lovely quote from my favourite yoga instructor, Jojo, who constantly check in on my practice:
Give gratitude to this breath and this body, remembering it is the only one we get for this lifetime, so let’s treat it with the love, kindness and care that we would treat any other object we wish to keep for an entire lifetime. Be grateful for these legs and feet for carrying us millions of steps to where you are in this moment, to this breath for carrying us from this lifetime into the next.
November 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
Home is where the heart is. I detest this phrase. Where is the heart? Where is home? Why must it be located in a physical sphere or bound to an emotional space? I’m missing home a lot more than I would imagine. I’m missing our usual Sunday mornings coffee runs and getting into work tired from the whole week and looking forward to a beer session.
I miss working out with my kilter crew/crossfit crew. Even though I haven’t been entirely close to them, the community has always been there to support my workout regime and push my physical strength to a higher level.
Most of all, I miss my Mother. My anchor to the everyday routine and journey. She is there for the sad times, to hear me yell or laugh about unforgettable moments. For quiet meals when we don’t feel like talking; laughing at stupid jokes; understanding my needs and keeping me grounded to the heart.
Coming to a new place is difficult. I moved for personal reasons. Reasons, I would think are difficult to find or place an attachment to. Reasons, I think would be unfair to keep them. Sometimes when reasons fail to make one happy, one loses hope in keeping up with this journey.
The culture, the language, the cuisine, the everyday surroundings and faces are all different.
Over the last few days, I have fought with everything unnecessary. The smallest dirt in the kitchen, the unplaced laundry in the basket, the dirty feet marks on our temporary homestay wooden floor etc. The slightest mistakes in the words would hurt me and make me feel like the smallest person on earth. Unable to feel vulnerable because I was told to be strong. To be strong around men, to hold my ground in the military-kitchens and remain steadfast with setbacks.
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness- Brene Brown.
Ironically, I miss the closer love we have had. Perhaps like any new bond, the initial exciting courtship have ended and we are much more like ourselves with distance apart. I got caught up with wanting my rights, ways and usual routines; I got lost in finding a meaning to be here. I voiced my opinions and forced gravity against the flow. I could not see from a different light. I was only fighting with myself to make life more difficult than it already is.
And at the end of them all, I became someone unrecognisable to my own reflection.
When I look at my own timeline, I didn’t recall myself being so anxious about a move. I remember embracing every wave, and held on to the heart like it was a surfboard.You either ride the way or duck dive there.
What happened to the old self? Did I get so complacent with trying to adapt to a new place that I forgot to bring the embrace-it-all/wabi-sabi attitude towards this new journey?
I never missed home so much more; yet just a year ago, I wanted to leave so desperately and never come back to stay again. How can one be in a same place but have extreme feelings? The disenchantments of a new surrounding, the distance between two hearts, finding a new place and building a business together set in very heavily.
Two weeks have passed. Its getting easier. I’ve realised that home is where you found yourself to be and it will always be there; missing it, is merely just missing yourself. “Come back home”, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. Make the best out of it and even if it fails, at least you gave it your very best.
So here is the beginning of devoting myself to making honest food for my crew and building a new community.
October 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
“For an introvert, you really make an effort to seek for a community.”, he said.
I protest of course. How could an introvert who spends most of her time finding ways to be alone with thoughts and the sun or a book, wants to be around people? How could someone who enjoy her own company more than sharing with awkward strangers enjoy big dinners or crowds?
Meeting Pamela today from @Hyggesg put my partner’s words into perspectives. Pamela and I connected via Instagram, even though we already know some mutual friends before hand, it didn’t change the fact that I initiated a meet up via a portal with a perfect stranger. It is odd that for someone who craves space and get energised by spending time alone would want to stretch her social circle. I cherish silence wholeheartedly yet I spend my weekends either working out with a group of high active trainers or stretching out on a mat in a yoga room filled with new comers/regulars yogi practitioners, and look forward to having beers every Sunday evening with my kitchen crew. Plus, if I have the time, I would search for exercise events or community meditation/yoga classes and spend an hour or two surrounded with, new faces.
Some of my radical life events happen because of these meet-ups or initiating a conversation. Writing a cookbook, getting a job at a vegan bakery etc.. Nevertheless, I simply could not put it his words into my head.
Foremost, an introvert isn’t one who avoid social events. Misunderstood. We like people, if they are to our likings. Second, I usually spend the next two days hiding after a big party. All my energy has been drained on one occasion and if I may warn you, I will spend the next couple of hours getting agitated on anything that doesn’t seek interest to me or resonate to my heart. In another words, if I don’t reply you, wait; if I flare up at you, give me space (or dark chocolate, whichever is more convenient). Thirdly, we actually like meeting new people. Because I have so little in common with the other folks, when I find someone who share the same ideology or philosophy there is no turning back in conversations! You are literally in my books, for life!
Back to Pamelia and Hyggesg. She isn’t a coffee person, so we opted for a common ground where I thought would be resonate with her approach in cooking. Simple ingredients, cosy atmosphere, friendly service and quality. She walked comfortably into the dining room and we sat down in welcoming brown sofa. We shared our kitchen experiences: a fair amount of standing in front of sterilised stainless steel tables, cooking standardised food, surrounding ourselves with males/a testosterone filled environment and, unconsciously affecting our daily lives.
“I’m a home cook at heart”, as she takes the pillow from her back and starts to hug it in front of her chest.
We both are. The cookbook and this blog kept my sanity in check while I go through the daily grind. For her, it’s Hyggesg. Feeding people because deep down, beyond the french brigade, sous vide machines, and cling wraps; we cook because we enjoy watching people dive into flakey croissants that makes a new tie old or bite into a thick juicy burger that oozes cheese out of their mouth and into their cheeks so that their partner/date can wipe it for them. Creating moments that hold a special spirit or a new ritual for a couple.
“For someone who’s been in the industry for ten years, how do you cope with juggling a balanced life?”, she wonders.
Unintentionally, we share the same impatience or quick temperament. The kitchen to us, is a very time constraint and precise environment. We are getting nagged and scolded all day long by our chefs. “Turn it off now”; “place the garnish on”; “that’s wrong, do it again “. If you watched Burnt the movie, the scene with Sienna Millar throwing the raw fish to her fish boy isn’t a joke, it’s just another day. A calm day is when there are no praises, just quiet cooking and the sounds of burners going on and off.
“Why are you so slow?”
I certainly did not anticipate for us to question that. In a commercial kitchen, we watch each other’s movements and dance in sync. So if one person slows down, the whole crew slows down and there is really no time for someone to slack off. But as time flies, you build a layer of skin that gets numb to yelling, shouting and physical pain. You desensitises yourself and become less human. A control freak.
Remember how Kat Kinsman spoke about Chefs with Issues at MADFEED? Cooks who work so much suffer with unspoken anxiety issues, alcohol abuse, depression etc…. It’s funny to think of how many of us spent hours in a confined space that strives for perfection become out of whack? Is it really worth it?
I have my first taste of bitterness when I skipped on a reunion dinner for Lunar New Year. It was the very last meal I could have had with a close cousin, whom I lost to a heart attack. I had to service to run. I fed families who spent their holidays together but couldn’t do that for my own. The years that followed had more of these empty chairs moments around the dining table. Birthdays dinner get postponed, no more lunch dates with friends (who eventually gave up texting me), family visits were off my calendars, holidays were packed with churning out extra cakes for customers, you get the idea.
Her current boss lost his girlfriend for five years because he was too focus on his job. Sure it got them a one star, but the sacrifice was his and if I could dig more, I am sure it was the crew as well. We do our fair share of sacrifices, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
As she sipped a cup of hot chocolate made with coconut water, she frowned upon knowing this might possibly be her future.
I reassured her that it is a choice.
The awareness you put into your daily life to differentiate what is personal, work and social becomes natural only if you decide to take an action to it. Many lose touch because they consume or get caught in the pursuit of perfection that they forget the imperfections of nature. Some can’t even remember why they even started cook at all.
Writing Kitchen Stories: being in touch with our feelings/moods and relating it closely to cooking; feeding the crew/my family; working out and meditating, are all steps to keep myself in check. Putting myself out there in the open waters, to be vulnerable and allow vulnerability. Gather a community or be part of one that strives on good causes.
While as introverted as we may be, we take time to express ourselves. To pause for a moment before talking and rather do the walks. Because we all know too well that less, is always more.
*film photographs were taken in Burma earlier this year.
September 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
But before that drop by Koppi, at Helsingborg, for a cup of kaffe. Walking into Koppi felt like a subtle déjà vu, only because I have heard about my friends’ experiences, read about it and followed them on Instagram for almost a year. The feeling of meeting a pen pal whom you have been writing, and finally meeting him/her for the very first time. A comforting yet novel encounter. Standing at the door near the wide clean bar countertop, I was welcomed with friendly hellos from the warm crew : Klas, Rie and Charles.
Koppi sources quality coffee beans and roast them at their new relocated roastery. Like other excellent coffee roasters/cafes, they strive to extract full flavours and aromas from the beans-to-brew. Klas asked for my current flavour preference and went ahead with what he believes to be accommodating, a Bildiimoo Guj Ethiopia and a Karimikui Kenya. Bright, black tea-like and fruity.
“You brought the sun with you”, she said.
I had arrived late in the evening and was immediately warned that the weather has been very gloomy. However the next day, a ray of sun shined through the window stills and greeted us with much delight. I spent most of my time cooking for my host and exploring the city while she was at work. She took an unexpected day off, brought me for a mini tour in the city centre on the small hop on-off boat and made our way to Ekebergrestauranten for dinner.
A typical tourist day out ~ visiting Opera House, designed by Snøhetta (a masterpiece of its own, an architect’s dream and playground); Kon Tiki Museum (a must visit for the wild at heart); Nobel Peace Centre (for very good reads).
View of Oslofjord, the islands and boat, before dinner at Ekerbergrestauranten.
Antique vintage furniture, cocktail bar and espresso counter. Oh and don’t forget the fresh croissants. Fuglen.
I like chancing upon independent cafes and boutique retail shops while walking around town. Further up north towards Grüners gate, there seems to a relaxing yet contemporary atmosphere to the air. People are sitting by the road side drinking coffee, running their errands with their babies on child bike seats or simply admiring the street art.
sharing a pot of Kenya brew and blueberry bread pudding outside Java Oslo whilst enjoying the summer afternoon
a gluten free bun at a neighborhood bakery before visiting Tim Wendelboe , the highly admired coffee roaster and espresso bar with a unique coffee tasting selections.
Norwegians love their coffees, and wines; but they certainly enjoy good design, quality lifestyle and sometimes too much seafood, just sometimes.
September 12, 2016 § Leave a comment
Aspiring actor Hans Christian Anderson was not known for his acting career; his interest fell short but soon found fascination with words. Since, he had written many poems, plays and other fairy tales. In 1837, one of his unique fairy tales was published and 72 years later, it inspired Carl Jacobsen, son of Carlsberg. After an adaptation ballet performance; he commissioned a sculptor to create a bronze statue of the main character that now sits quietly by the waterside of Langelinie Park, Copenhagen. The Danish fairy tale is Little Mermaid and a century later, Den lille Havfrue is still one of this hygge city’s most attractive tourist spots.
The secret to the world’s happiest city derives from the very tender word, hygge, the Danish way of life. They embrace the softness of velvety handwoven cushion pillows, craft dainty jewellery, preparing meals from scratch, gathering close friends to your home and savouring the present moments.
Granted that this visit wasn’t solely for the city, I still had the opportunity to explore and soak in the lifestyle. It was also my first time staying at an Airbnb. Honestly, there is no better way to understanding the local lifestyle but to live like one.
Having accommodation at Nørrebro district is a blessing. Just on Jægersborggade street alone you can find, to name a few: Relæ (an organic Michelin star restaurant), Coffee Collective (quality coffee roaster/cafe), Vanishing Point (a craft shop with handmade jewellery and artwork), Meyers Bageri (a very good Danish bakery) and gågrøn (a sustainable retail shop). We ventured through the lane and had coffee before a long lunch at Relæ.
I had been following Chef Christian Puglisi and his unique organic restaurant for almost two years. A typical meal orchestrates around wholesome vegetables from their own farm outside the city; meats & seafood from thoughtful local farmers/fishermen practicing sustainable methods; dairy bottled the night before it gets delivered to the restaurant in the morning; carefully selected equipments, table settings and even apron. Read more about their report here.
Romaine lettuce, plum sauce, red wood sorrel
lemon curd, yogurt, marigold
dark chocolate mousse; aubergine, white truffle, hazelnut praline
A casual, simple meal with graceful finesse, greeted with kind waitress/cooks. They spoil us with endless servings of sourdough bread & Sicilian olive oil throughout the course. Bread, which is made from their sister bakery, Mirabelle, just around the bend from Hans Tavsens Park on Nørrebrogade. In other words, there is no excuse for you not to take a slow stroll over and tuck into a warm loaf of sourdough bread or pizza at Bæst, or have a pint at Brus
But before that please drop by Mikkeller & Friends to enjoy some local craft beer, at the very corner of Husumgade. It’s as fresh as a first dew in the morning on the autumn flowers in the park.
Near the city centre, you will find a large food market selling everything from fresh produce to artisan chocolates and homemade masa tacos, Hija de Sanchez. Torvehallerne is an international affair waiting for people, both far and near, to devour themselves with gorgeous heartfelt food.
Down the street on Frederiksborggade towards the bridge, there is an authentic bakery, Naturbageriet. Heartfelt, gluten-free and vegan too. It’s classic wooden interior, simple retail racks and piles of baked goods by the window carry a modest atmosphere. It feels almost like visiting a grandparents’ home, which is precisely how the pastries tasted ~ unpretentious, wholesome and comforting. Perfect as a quiet companion during tea time.
In the city, walk along Gothersgade and into Atelier September to enjoy a Danish designer’s Jonas Trampedach collections and dine at the cafe. The clean and elegant art pieces, simplistic furniture and odd vintage decorations retain the nations personality.
Just as their design speaks character and substance, so do their meals. Rye bread with sliced fresh soft avocado and finely chopped chives, generous drizzle of olive oil, squeeze of bright lemon and sprinkle of salt. Sitting by the window facing the main road, I wonder if there could be anything more nourishing than this on a golden sunny afternoon?
More about Oslo in the next post.
September 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
To say that MADFEED was an amazing experience would be an understatement. Rewind almost a year ago, I stopped working full time at the local restaurant. I have always been associated with the job I had and somehow it had integrated so much into my life that I lost my own soul. What is my soul? Was it a food writer/vegan avocate/coffee snob/yoga lover/traveler?
Through the years, I persisted on doing what sings to the tune of my heart. A cup of handmade brewed coffee, an hour long session of ashtanga yoga five times a week, 13 hours work day, juggling writing a cookbook, and so on. The list continues as I pile more things on in search for something meaningful to satiate this large appetite.
I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t full either. I just wasn’t satisfied. I had always thought that in order to make the best chocolate cake, it needed the best cocoa powder. I had always thought of using local produce but there wasnt anything local farmers that would entertain our daily consumptions. I also used to think there needed to be more local yoga studios that didn’t cost a hole in my wallet. Generally, I needed to be part of a community with a more holistic & environmentally friendly appraoch lifestyle. A SoCal lifestyle I had just left and couldn’t find in sunny Singapore.
Unwinding the clock, 4 years later. I am finally settling in. My mindset has shifted to intergrating my own lifestyle and creating a space for a better tomorrow.
What is the better tomorrow? What is Tomorrow’s Kitchen? At the event, we questioned ourselves what could we do better for the next generation or even ourselves. Business, community, creativity, leadership, sustainability etc. But before we moved on to building a better tomorrow, we needed to know our history. I was so grateful when slow food founder Carlo Petrini spoke:
“Cooking has to be, first and foremost, the act of love.”
The basic fundamentals of giving unconditionally, being patient and trusting the process. Remember the very essentials of making a good loaf of bread? Good flour, salt, fresh yeast, clean water and an enormous serving of patience.
Jacques Pepin, opened the event by impressing us with his effortless skills in deboning a chicken for a galantine.
“You have to know your trade. You have to repeat things long enough that you can afford to forget them”
and he did it, quite very much like brushing his teeth.
Jason Hammel, from Lula cafe, giving a talk about Change isn’t Cheap: the sustainbility of food industry.
The idea of slogging for hours in the kitchen and repeating the same techniques until you are bored out of your wits scare new cooks away. The new comers are so impatient with old school cooking, most of them just stand around getting distracted with their phones or taking a smoke outside. Owning a skill takes years, understanding the trade, perhaps will take a lifetime but that is not a destination, it is a journey.
During one of the ad hoc sessions, Aisha Ibrahim started a topic: Millenial chefs. Our idea of millenials in any trade is often a negative connotation(lazy, spoiled). But we spoke openly of the difficulties seasoned chefs faced teaching millenials; in hopes that we can learn from one another, so we can pass on a similar act of love to the next generation. Afterall, aren’t we here to make a point?
Team bonding, dynamics, repetition, discpline and crafting.
The more I sit on these words, the more I believe in the process more than the end product. Of course, we are here to entice our palates and senses with a beautiful dish, (which by the way, Michel Troisgros spoke at MAD5, his family invented plating!) To what avail do we stretch the process until there is no soul in the meal?
I have since stopped searching for a perfect this or that; or worry about not making ends meet. My perception had taken a momentous shift. If we look too far ahead, or too far behind, we cannot enjoy the moment. We start losing the soul of the journey, taking short cuts, going too fast, losing steam and eventually, burning out (which was also another topic at MAD5, Kat Kinsman started a group @chefswithissues)
I did reach that point, after being in this industry for 10 years. I stopped functioning. I took a break and travelled. One day, MADFEED opening came up and I applied. The evening I found out about the acceptance was after a 13 hours shift (one can never fully take a break from the kitchen #dontkidyourself ) I laid in bed with aching feet and opened my inbox. Sadly, I was too tired to feel excited and it only hit me the next morning that a few months later I would be here. Here, penning down this experience in a Scandinavian Airbnb apartment with the sunsetting at 7 in the evening.
I left the city on my birthday. It was perhaps the best birthday gift to myself. A fulfiling trip and pivitol event in a chefing career. Perserverance, resilience, push boundaries and follow your actions throughly. You know the feeling of waiting for a breakthrough? All your eggs in the basket, the right time, the right place. Yes, that moment came. I met the best chefs in the world and dug their brains. The best personal encounter was meeting Dalia Jurgenson, writer of Spiced. I read her personal memoir in culinary school and never imagined to meet her in reality. So when she introduced herself in the boat on the way to Refshalebassin, I kept my excitement until we got off.
“Are you really Dalia from Spiced?”
She smiled quietly and acknowledged. She, along with the Jenny from Institute of Culinary Education and I spent the next two days having meals and sharing notes. She had inspired me to follow a somewhat similar journey, cooking in ktichens and eventually writing a book.
Of course. It was also fantastic getting acquinted with the folks from Koppi, Tim Wendelboe, JP from Aniar, Max from Momofuku, and to name a few… It came full circle, but this is just the begining.
The real work starts when we get back to our daily routines. How are we suppose to intergrate all talks into our walks?
As René said, “Why dont we take a couple of minutes to stop, to listen and to meet?“.
But after we meet, what are we to do? I took a long walk at a farmers’ market, bought some fresh local ingredients and retreated back to my own kitchen. I turned the gas oven on, and starting to chop up some long red beetroot, oval heirloom tomatoes and fresh chives.Sliced a few sourdough from Mirabelle and drizzle extra virgin olive oil, threw it in the oven along side with the beetroots and left them inside until they were done. Is this my version of tomorrow’s kitchen at home? Simple local ingredients put together to create a meal for one in a foreign land. There is no need to go out to dine as often but get inspired from the local farmers market, observing the different cultures and talk to people.
I noticed people stay in Airbnbs more often these days. Most of them equipped with a basic kitchen. I baked my host a loaf of chocolate avocado cake. So when she got back from Berlin the next evening, she would have something to welcome her home.
At my stay in Oslo, I visited a family friend and we spent most of our evenings, cooking. After I left, she was inspired to get better acquinted with her kitchen and local produce. Did you know warming up potatoes encourage sprouting? When the baby potatoes are done growing, they are picked before they grow into odd shapes because the Norwegian lands are mostly rocky? How does one stay in one place for decades and choose to ignore the surroundings, of farmers, of growers or food purveyors? Yet to have a foreigner come into your home and learn the unnoticed.
René also said, “It starts with one person”. It sure did in my case.
I have yet to return back to the sunny island. But for now, making a change with the way people eat starts with the right next to me.
Found fresh redcurrents in Helsinki Sunday market and spent the evening making jam. Now I can share it with my family!
Next post will be about the places I visited, well mostly ate around Copenhagen, Oslo, and Helsinki .
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.
As 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Because 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.