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.
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 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.
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.
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.