Back from Myanmar (Burma)

Chinese New Year for us means more school vacation and this time we decided to spend (at least some of it) in Myanmar. What a most wonderful destination it turned out to be: friendly people, great (read warm/hot) weather, unforgettable landscape and of course….. delicious food. DSC_0282 The first thing I noticed upon our arrival was the yellow ‘face paint’ that all of the women and many of the men had on their cheeks. It turns out that the cosmetic paste responsible is called ‘thanaka’ and is made from grinding wood on a stone slab with some water.

Our first stop was in Bagan to the north. An immense plain featuring temples (around 3000 of them so they say – some dating back to the 12th century) all connected with a vast network of bumpy dirt roads and trails. The highlight of the trip was taking this all in at sunrise from the basket of a hot-air balloon (the transport in the pre-WWII Chevrolet buses made of teak was pretty memorable too).

Thank you to my dear husband for the surprise. DSC_1914DSC_0204

Then once on the ground we were able to DSC_0382get lost on the trails on electric scooters (thankfully there was often someone around to ask for directions) and were able to get a close-up look at the temples and the drying plamberries on the ground – that from above had made brilliant crimson  ‘stains’ on the earth – see below.

DSC_0361DSC_0341DSC_0432DSC_0423DSC_0410 These beautiful pots (above-left) are used to collect the sap from palm trees which is drunk as ‘toddy’ or boiled up to make ‘jaggery’ (the sugar that is served as dessert – see it boiling above) or fermented and then distilled to make rather a tasty drop. Left: peanuts and sesame seeds are ground – with the help of an ox – to extract the oil. DSC_0038DSC_0108DSC_0026DSC_0006

 

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We then headed south to the Inle Lake area:The beautiful skirts worn by the women across the country are woven from mostly cotton or silk

DSC_0788 DSC_0617DSC_0887 Most of the manual work is performed by hand – young monks making a road, women collecting rice seedlings (above left), collecting seaweed to use as a fertilizer to the right (we were wondering how this boat didn’t sink!) and fishing at sunset (left) using an ingenious cage with a moveable net on the inside. DSC_0930

 

And we finished our trip in busy Yangon (Rangoon) for a day before flying home. the men seemed to be addicted to chewing little packages of betel leaves which left their teeth and the pavement stained a dark red (from spitting).

Now for the food! Speaking of which, Myanmar has the best peanuts I’ve ever tasted.

The cuisine of neighboring countries seem to influence the food here:  Thailand (tamarind, coconut, salads) , China (noodles, bamboo shoots) and India (curries, chick peas, tumeric, okra) and we feasted on noodles, curries, rice, and a vast array of vegetables: DSC_0151_2DSC_0749DSC_0268 ‘nangyi dhouq’ – salad of rice noodles (left), grilled fish, tomato salad and fish and rice (above) and a curry and all of the accompaniments – (right). Hin – clear soup was often served at meals. DSC_0936 One of our favorite street foods in Yangon were the pancakes: ‘bein moun’ (sweet) and ‘moun pyar thalet’ (savory). Probably the most famous dish in Myanmar is ‘mohinga’ – thin rice noodles with chicken or fish – which we ate very often for breakfast along with ‘oun-no hkauq-sweh’ – noodles with coconut broth.

DSC_0141_2 In our travel guide book it was suggested that foreigners do not speak to the locals about the government – I got a sense of the strength of the army when we passed one of the barracks and I swear I saw ‘Move, Shoot, Communicate’ emblazoned on the wall (my poor eye-sight, possibly lost in translation, ……or a warning!). In any case, a man did speak to me at the airport about the next elections and he seemed rather optimistic that they would be ‘fair’. Let’s hope they are for the sake of these wonderful people.

‘Good job!’ versus ‘You’re garbage’ parenting.

Have you read ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ – Amy Chua.

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It was very controversial when it was first published about 4 years ago and as I  flicked through it the other day at the Foreign Language Bookstore I could see why.

Chua herself was raised in America on the Chinese parenting model, and her view is: “Childhood is a training period, a time to build character and invest in the future.”

Hmmmm, I like to think of childhood as a period of ….discovery, freedom, fun……..

Chua spares no detail in recounting her early methods:  refusing sleepovers and playdates, drilling academic activities for hours, insisting on lengthy daily practice musical instruments including weekends and holidays. 

I found this paragraph of the book very interesting:

“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.”

I’d never looked at ‘forcing’ children to ‘achieve’ in this way before….it actually sounds somewhat… justifiable….. 😉 It is quite a contrast from what I witnessed in America where children where very often praised with ‘Good Job’ for ….well…..anything.

In case you think that Chua’s approach is outdated……’Asian households make up the demographic group most likely to produce stereotypically successful kids’. (The Guardian). A couple of months ago my friend Mel in Santa Barbara forwarded me this interesting related article:

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I’m not sure where Australia might fall on this graph….

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/magazine/inside-a-chinese-test-prep-factory.html?_r=0&referrer=

It describes a “cram school” — ‘a memorization factory where 20,000 students train round the clock (with a 3-hour break on Sunday afternoon) for China’s national college-entrance examination, known as the gaokao. The grueling test is the lone criterion for admission to Chinese universities’.

‘Nothing consumes the lives of Chinese families more than the  gaokao.  Today, more than nine million students take the gaokao each year. But the pressure to start memorizing and regurgitating facts weighs on Chinese students from the moment they enter elementary school. “To be honest,” one of my Chinese friends, a new mother, told me, “the gaokao race really begins at birth.”’

In the streets of Shanghai I often see grandparents cajolling their really little ones to recite the numbers 1-10 (at least!) and I know a few Western families here whose children attend Chinese (versus International) schools and who have 2-3 hours of home-work every-night….. this is in primary/elementary school. These parents – whose native language is not Chinese – are obliged to hire a tutor for their children for every night of the week to help their children.

‘China’s treadmill of standardized tests has produced, along with high levels of literacy, some of the world’s most scarily proficient test-takers. Shanghai high-school students have dominated the last two cycles of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam. Yet even as American educators try to divine the secret of China’s test-taking prowess, the gaokao is coming under fire in China as an anachronism that stifles innovative thought and puts excessive pressure on students’.

This paragraph illustrates that nicely:

“Yes, you can brute-force any kid to learn to play the piano—just precisely like his or her billion neighbors. But you’ll never get a Jimi Hendrix that way.” (Wall Street Journal s Web site). …..Yeah maybe……but the kid could be valedictorian/dux of his/her class before heading off to study at Harvard (ha ha)

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 ‘Shanghigh‘:
 My new favorite ingredient is bamboo shoots. To prepare them I remove the tough husk, boil in water for 10 minutes than slice and pop into the wok with some greens.
Shanglow‘: Accidentally ordered a soup with congealed duck blood. That can happen I suppose when you know the word for ‘duck’ but not for ‘blood’.
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 ‘Shangunusual‘:Here is the Chinese equivalent of the Christmas Tree: During Chinese New Year mandarin oranges and tangerines  are considered traditional symbols of abundance and good fortune.