February 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
There is something special about going back to a vicinity you were born in. A connection of past and present colliding, a series of flashbacks, a solemn quietness and a rejoiced smile for realising the miles you’ve clocked.
A couple of days ago, my mum and I made our way to KL for her company reunion dinner. They were the pioneer crew for an airline company and made their way to the top in the Asia region, by working hard as a team. The diligent long hours in the office, perseverance to be resilient during bad times, occasional disputes followed by forgiving drinks after, setting goals and achieving them have made the bond so closed. Till 20 years down the road later, they still feel like one.
We had arrived at our first Airbnb (That is another story to tell,she was so skeptical! )and walked into the concrete jungle.
Remember how i used to wait for you in the office and we head home together?
Oh look, we used to have drinks over there. Oh geez, that new pub looks terrible.
Mum, remember we always have those little colourful kueh kueh from the macik there? *pointing to the corner near the traffic light*
Those days, were quite gone but memories have a way of capturing our hearts and make us reminisce.
The small reunion dinner felt the same. Everyone spoke of how they were forced to wear suits and coats in the tropical weather, the surbodinates sabotaging one another with corporate politics and of course, the travels.
At some point through dinner, I realized why I love traveling and how I feel in love with it. Mum was constantly surrounded by travel agents, and I was constantly surround by them. I was the little photocopy girl in the office tipping toes over the machine buttons. She gave me little projects to tie calendars, stickers, notebooks and flyers together. The words such as “outbound”, “inbound”, “via LAX” were imprinted my head. The world map projected widely on the walls of the office, eventually moved to my bedroom wall.
Our family holidays were rather ad hoc. An 8 hour drive up to Penang, a 13 hours flight to England, occasional last minute getaway to Hong Kong, a few days hiatus to the Eastern Peninsula Malaysia just so we can get childish feet beneath the brown sands. The wanderlust in me seek for adventures, “in-the-moment” instances, put myself out of the box and eventually formed a free spirited soul.
For the last two weeks, we have been on the road, stayed in a tiny hotel, took a plane to KL and stayed in our first Airbnb; then I took a long bus ride up north, she flew in later, we stayed in multiple relative homes, ubered our way through cities; we parted ways again, and I just got off a 6 hour journey from Malaysian to Yangon.
Our friends have said they can’t catch up with our lives. Sometimes, I cannot too. We are hardly at home but when we are, we become homebodies. The apartment is our little sanctuary of mindfulness and slowing down. We do not get out for days.
I have spent the last few years, getting to know the world, learning about partners and building communities but I have failed to learn one very important person. Myself. How much we have grown into the person we are because of our up bringing; what we need in a relationship, career, a home or even ourselves come from fundamentally the people we grow up around.
Life has its own ways of giving you things you want but making you fight for it. Have you ever asked for patience but find yourself in a line for donuts? Have you ever asked quiet but all you hear is noise? Well next time, if you want something ask yourself if you can handle the opposite. Chances are, you are already standing right in front of it.
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 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.
July 14, 2016 § Leave a comment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
“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.
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.
February 8, 2016 § 1 Comment
Remember about two years ago I wrote about how silence is golden? My late cousin has a bookshelf filled with an old collection of good reads since his college days. I shared how we managed to find a little piece of note with a lovely quote inside. A quote that reminded us how to be present to life and experience love?
Today I took two of his books back home: Jack Keroac’s On the Road and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden & Civil Disobedience (and a bottle of half full Nikka Whisky, very important). This time I decided to read up on Jack Keroac’s life before a long indulgence. He dropped out of university, wrote books that were not well-recognized until much later in his life. As much I would not want to believe that all starving artists only get recognised after they have died or moved on with their current disposition, I just could not help myself to think that the first try will always be a hit. We aren’t all Lady Gaga.
Through this entire writing/baking career, I just felt a little discouraged by how my current society or majority communities perceive certain values as unorthodox. We all want the truth but hide behind inconvenience, comfort zones or complexity. How is it that we all want to find peace or awareness and not realise that happiness/sadness must co-exist?
I started writing a book about my travels 5 years ago and have not come close to even finishing it. Somehow, I just couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge that people would want to read about an adolescence psychology student switching her career to culinary; arriving just two days before school started in the big USA for the very first time in her life.
I was the only Asian girl. Walmart was a freeway with 6 lanes away from my motel. I did not know anyone in the country. School ended at 1am everyday. I made friends with ex-military officers and my chefs ran the school like an army. It was quite awesome.
It has been a long journey since then. Not long enough to be honest. I always feel that I could do more, write more, learn more before I could publish anything or open a bakery. But who knows?
For now I will keep writing.
To my cousin, who constantly wanted to “go back to the roots and see beyond conventions”…
a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives – Henry David Thoreau
Happy Lunar New Year everyone!