Tag Archives: Burma

A train, a monkey and a fiesta

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It’s still Friday somewhere in the world. Happy Friday!

This was one of those weeks. Catching the cold that is sweeping through city offices. Photos disappearing from the SD card (huh?). Scheduling this post to publish on Friday 15th rather than Friday 8th (huh??).

A Fiesta

Belatedly, may I present some photos from Myanmar (Burma), as I dash over to take up my duties as co-hostess of this week’s Fiesta Friday. My co-host Margot @ Gather and Graze has been there for hours, pouring out her signature Dame Edna cocktail, and generally being wonderful. Think of Margot as your on-time, organised, gracious chatelaine. And me as the sitcom-style comic relief (“icing sugar!” “monkeys!” “photo disappearing trick!”).

Please come and join us, last week there was a flood of zucchinis and chocolate and a cat dressed up as a human as a cat. I can’t wait to see what this week’s party will bring.

A train

Not many train lines in the world become attractions in their own right. One of them is the train over the Gorteik viaduct in Northern Myanmar (Burma). When it was built, was the largest railway trestle in the world, and has been described as one of the most beautiful train rides. It also featured in Paul Theroux’s book The Great Railway Bazaar.

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The journey starts at 4am in Mandalay. It is 12-15 hours to get to the mountain village of Hsipaw, and several more hours to the end of the line in Lashio. (The same journey to Hsipaw is 5 hours by bus.)

We ambled, lurched, stopped, reversed, shuddered, lurched and even went forward! It was so bumpy in “ordinary class”, we may have been airborn. Something to do with narrow gauge tracks, and the train not fitting perfectly – gulp.

And, it was one of the highlights of my trip. Where else would you sit with a group of sleeping soldiers, with durians and clay pots under your feet….

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… feel extremely brave as you lean out the door of the train, holding the handrail, to get the obligatory “we are going over the Viaduct!” photo? We comforted ourselves with the thought that, if we fell off, at least there would not be a slow lingering death …

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… and catch the first glimpse of Hsipaw as you roll in, slightly battered, 15 hours later?

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And a monkey

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Wanderlust: Yangon, first impressions, pomelo salad

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My taxi wound its way through an endless arterial road. We were heading towards Yangon downtown. Whenever the car stopped, which was often, I fanned myself – in vain – with the city walking map I found at the airport.

It felt like 90% humidity and close to 40C (100F). This is not Sydney winter anymore.

I was travelling alone, going into a country that I knew almost nothing about. When we were flying into the airport, I looked out the window and saw rice paddies, with golden stupas (pagodas) that stood out for miles around. If I were a child, I would have held my breath from sheer excitement. I whispered to myself, I am looking at a Burmese stupa. I am in Myanmar. I am a traveller in Myanmar. Exotic, humid, colourful, unknown Myanmar.

The taxi wound its way past concrete walls inscribed with the curly, circular Burmese script. Past men and women wearing longyis. Past a school where girls and boys wore white shirts and green longyis. Past more people, fruit stalls, durians, traffic, and there was my hotel.

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That afternoon was a jumble of noise and wires and food stalls and people and more moments of holding my breath – as I walk between street stalls, past more durians, into the traffic to cross the road. Streets of British colonial-era buildings, decaying before my eyes, fern and moss reclaiming them for the swamp that Yangon was built on. Footpaths covered by street stalls, pedestrians walking, fearless, slow and longyi-clad, on the road.

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Wanderlust: Myanmar and the people

You guys, you are awesome people. I’ve been away for what seems ages with the occasional peep, and you have still come to visit. I’m just starting to catch up on all that’s been happening in the bloggy space – as well as start a newish job. Watch out for me, soon.

And what a trip that was! The colours, sounds, smells, sights, the sensory overload. The derring-do of solo travel. And the sheer fun.

I’ve just packed away the suitcase, realised I’ve really lost my phone (sob – it had so many food photos on it), still trying to revive Patrick the Sourdough Starter, and sorted through those 2500 photos. Now, how do I start to talk about the trip?

Perhaps, we’ll start with the people. Locals and travellers, only a few caught on camera but many more remembered.

Like this guy, energetically looking after me and a German backpacker on an epic 14 hour train ride, who drives a truck between towns in Northern Myanmar and has a girlfriend in Yangon. This photo caught him in a rare non-chatty moment.

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These women, one of whom offered us some jackfruit and laughed with me as I tried (and failed) to find legroom in between the luggage that filled all the space between the aisles and the seats.

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Another journey, and simple pleasures (aka yum yum squares)

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I’m planning another trip!!! (I know, it feels like I’ve just got back from the last work trip, but this one is a real holiday)

I’m giddy with excitement.

Because, because, because, guy, I’m going to Myanmar!! Think thousands upon thousands of Buddhist temples, giant Buddha statues, rows of novice monks and nuns walking by with alms bowls, slow boats, languid horse and carts, and slower train trips on colonial railways. (See here, this, those and that, and much more. Click on the photos below to go to the original page where I took the images from.)

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This trip will be memorable in other ways, too. Apparently, internet is slow or nonexistent, and there are no internationally connected ATMs outside the two largest cities. And, it’s monsoon season. Friends are expecting lots of selfies standing in puddles, with crazy hair from the high temperatures and 80%+ humidity, and down to my last pennies after failing to find an ATM.

Why Myanmar, you ask?

Reading Naomi Duguid’s book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor (also mentioned here and here) first piqued my interest in the country. While it is a book about food, Ms Duguid also talks about the people, culture, customs, the many different tribes. Most of all, she made me want to go there, taste the mohinga, shan noodles, thoke, tea leaf salad, curries, eat pomelos, mangoes and other tropical fruits, and have a real Burmese meal with all the side dishes.

I wish I was going with Ms Duguid, not the least because, um, I don’t speak Burmese. Instead, I’m hoping sign language will go a long way. Ones like, I’d really like some food, preferably an awesome bowl of mohinga? Or, could you drive me to the massive Buddhas that you can climb into? Or, is this a scheduled stop or are we just sitting here for a wee bit while the overnight bus gets fixed?

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I decided on this trip barely a week ago and paid for the flights on Friday. In between international flights, hotels (thank you Tripadvisor!), visa (fingers crossed….), bus schedules, train fares, calculating how much money I’ll need, and finding the perfect Colonial era hotel for the last night in Yangon, it feels like I’ve barely had time to breathe.

What does a girl do at a time like this? Make something simple, comforting yet utterly indulgent, of course. May I present to you Yum Yum Squares?

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It’s (not) easy being green: Burmese green mango salad

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It’s not that easy being green;
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold…
or something much more colorful like that.

This song could have been written for young mangoes, as they slowly grow on mango trees, nestled in the mango flowers (!), blending in with the leaves and other ordin’ry things.

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As we go into late summer, mangoes ripen, and take on the colours of red, or yellow or gold. They become such a luscious fruit, the essence of summer, humidity, sun, and heat like a warm blanket.

But each year, part of me looks back nostalgically on the green mangoes, appearing in the markets so briefly, like that moment between spring and summer. Green mangoes that are fresh and cool, rather than heady-tropical. As Kermit might have said:

But green’s the color of Spring.
And green can be cool and friendly-like.
And green’s the color of green mangoes.
And green can be crunchy and sweet-sour-like.*

* with apologies for the textual travesty

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This year’s green mango season, I made the green mango salad from Naomi Duguid’s book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor.

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A kitchen in January, mindful eating, a recipe for steamed egg custard

New Years Eve

January began with a quiet evening among friends, with blini, pizza bites, haloumi salad, ratatouille, and an Aussie barbecue, welcoming the new year. Do you like the view from our borrowed party pad? 🙂

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Markets

January is a time to restock after the Christmas holidays. Saturday morning, I went to the Eveleigh Markets followed by Paddy’s Markets in Chinatown. Here is part of the morning’s bounty. And, if you want a peek into other people’s kitchens, please visit the “In My Kitchen” posts hosted by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

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Cookbooks

January is a time to dive into cookbooks (that I bought, ie, non-sponsored), three in particular.

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