Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mandalay vs. Lake Mary

I'm about mid-way through my summer vacation.  I've loved being back in my Lake Mary, FL home.  I miss my Mandalay, Myanmar home.

I've been quite the social butterfly since arriving home - lots of time with friends and family, catching up.  It has been wonderful.  The most common question I've gotten is "What's the best thing about being home?"

My nephew and his youngest son.
Clearly, the number one thing is being with the people I love.  It's wonderful to catch up and find out what's new and the joys and dreams of the people I care most about.  I enjoy the people I work and live with in Mandalay but we don't have the history.  And, we don't have a similar life path which leads us to similar experiences and views.  But they're right there, willing to play cards and listen to me bitch about school and they totally get it because they're dealing with the siblings of my kids.

I'm also loving the freedom that comes with a car.  I'm paying a fortune for a rental car and insurance for 6 weeks.  It is worth every penny.  The freedom of being able to go where I want, when I want, in comfort is fabulous.  If I want to get up at 3 a.m. in the morning and drive to the beach with no prior planning, I can do it.  Radio blasting.   Being able to pull into my garage during a huge thunderstorm and then carrying groceries just a few feet into my kitchen.  But  I don't have the company of my sweet young driver and his willingness to carry my groceries up 3 flights and admire the view from my apartment.

The food.  You just have to look at me to know I appreciate a good meal.  I'd forgotten the myriad of choices available in America.  Right now I have artichokes steaming on the stove.  I had some lobster bisque for breakfast (don't judge!).  Restaurants, huge choices in the grocery store, there is no food that I crave that I don't have access to.  But I can't get a delicious and huge meal for less than $3.00 in Lake Mary.
Fried shrimp and oysters on the coast.
Mexican food.  Real Mexican food. 

I love being in my home.  I bought this house in 1994.  My brother helped me move in and get settled.  It has a lot of memories.  I have a small, private pool, a convenient gas grill (that's getting quite a workout) and my own stuff around me.  But I don't have a view of pagodas or water buffaloes or rice paddies.

I love not working.  The luxury of no alarm clock. Waking up and then just luxuriating lounging a bit in bed.  No rush to shower and head to school.  But I miss my kids smiles and hugs.  One of my kids who tried to crawl inside my skin every morning when he arrived at school.  Their excitement in telling me what had happened since they'd seen me the day before.

I'm so lucky to be home.  And I'm so lucky to be going home at the end of the month.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Where is Home?

Three weeks ago I arrived home, in Florida.  From the hugs at the airport to cruising down the road with music blaring, it's been great to be here. 

Not long after I got back I was shopping with a good friend and pointed at something and said "I wish I could take that home."  She said "You can, it will fit in the car."  But I meant my Myanmar home.

This month, I'll be heading back home for my third year in Mandalay.  Until then, I plan to enjoy my Florida home - friends, enchiladas, beach and more.  I'm lucky to have two places that feel like home.

I'll miss my comfy couch when I'm back in Mandalay.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

New Taste at the Market

Typical Saturday at the market.  It was hot today, over 100 degrees and over 50% humidity.  So I felt fresh for about 30 seconds after I left my air conditioned apartment.

I'm leaving for home in Florida in 9 days so I didn't want to buy too much at the market.  But, it is mango season and I need to eat for 9 days.  I bought a couple of potatoes, some corn and several tomatoes.  I also was looking over the wares of one of the ladies near the entrance to the market.  She held up a baggie filled with something.  We share no language.  But I raised my upraised palms, as in "what is it?"  She opened the bag and offered a piece to me.  I took it, of course.  It was soft, a bit gelatinous and tasted like banana, pineapple and a bit of fried chicken.  It was jackfruit.  I've seen them often.  They are huge and hard to ignore.  But I've never tried it.  On the outside, jackfruit looks very much like durian.  Durian isn't horrible but it's not a favorite of mine.

After tasting the jackfruit, I paid $.50 for a baggie full.

Later, in my apartment, a couple of friends stopped by.  They are experienced travelers.  I offered them a taste of my new jackfruit.  One refused outright, based on smell.  The other tried one bite and said he was done.

After having it in the fridge, I like it even better.  It's sort of like a banana pineapple custard with a side of fried chicken.  I'll buy it again, although it is expensive, compared to the rest of the fruit in season.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Another Example of Why I Love Myanmar

Today was typical "chore day".  Not that I have a routine, but my driver knows without me saying anything where I want to go.

First, Mingalar market for produce.  All I wanted was corn, mangoes and cooked garbanzo beans.  When I asked the "bean lady" how much for the beans (it was $.40 for two cups) a middle-aged woman passing by stopped to translate for me.  Actually, she wasn't translating so much as making sure the "bean lady" was not cheating me.  The "translator" hadn't seen me put the first bag of beans in my basket and thought I was being overcharged.  After that she trailed me through the market to offer her assistance, in a very subtle way.  After about 15 minutes she seemed to realize that I was a market regular and the vendors were helping, not cheating, me.

As we prepared to leave the market, a group of "boy monks" who were busy collecting food and money for their daily meal came to an abrupt stop when they saw me.  I wasn't sure if it was just the way I look or if it was because they knew I'd given money to several of the other young monks.

One little guy (perhaps 7-8 years old) was lagging behind the group and was a bit surprised when they stopped short.  Then he looked up at me.  And let out the cutest "Oh!" sort of exclamation.  Seems the last thing he expected was a very large, very blonde foreign woman to be looking down at him.  The other monks laughed (the oldest was about 12).  The vendors laughed.  It was one of those moments that is hard to explain but was so sweet and cute.  Made me smile for the rest of the day.

A few stops later, I was at Ocean Center, better known as "new Ocean".  As we walked into the mall, I noticed a family taking photos of themselves by the fountain.  I thought it would be amusing to casually join their family photo.  I would NEVER do that in the U.S.  But here, people frequently ask to have their photos taken with me so what could be nicer than offering a photo opp?

As the photographers (who appeared to be daughters in their early 20's) switched places, I sat down next to the woman I assumed was their mother.  She was very surprised and immediately linked her arm in mine, scooted closer and posed with a big smile for the camera.  After a couple of photos, we all stood up and the woman put her arm around me and asked her daughter to take a photo of just the two of us.  She was easily a head shorter than me and about 100 pounds lighter.  After more photos were taken she started commenting to her kids about me.  Clearly she was commenting on my breasts and over all fat.  Yup, I'm large and squishy.   If I were younger or more sensitive, I might have taken offense.  But, she was correct - she is tiny and very, very thin.  I'm very, very not.  We shared a hug and a laugh and I moved on.

A few minutes later, I was waiting for a friend and people watching.  And being watched.  Families and kids were fascinated.  One group of 4 kids just stood off to one side and stared.  Then two kids I know from school came by.  They were casual about screaming "Teacher Nancy!" but also seemed to appreciate that they were famous with the other kids just because they knew me.  Yes, fame does rub off.

I love shopping in Mandalay.  Aside from paying $.15 for a bag of basil and $.30 for a huge bag of tomatoes, I love the people.  I'm so excited about being home in 16 days for a long vacation.  But really - what am I going to do without people getting excited just because I say "Hi!" to them?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

It was Going to be Just Another Thursday

Today started like most days.  I got to school just before 7:00 a.m. anxious to get some work done before an 8:00 a.m. meeting before school started at 8:45.  Of course, the internet wasn't working but for the past week I've been having computer problems so that wasn't unusual.

After wasting 1/2 hour to get 2 pages printed, I raced to the meeting, which was quite productive but ran a bit long.  I dropped off my stuff in the classroom where my terrific assistant teacher was supervising the mayhem of 21 enthusiastic first graders putting away their things and getting ready for the day.  As I ran down the hall to use the bathroom before class started, I ran into one of my kids walking slowly toward our room, looking decidedly dejected.

I spent five minutes drying his tears and assuring him that even though his "momma" (what families here call young female servants who help their children) was nowhere to be seen and had his book bag, she knew where his class was and would get their eventually.

School started, as usual, with the National Anthem, followed by the school song.  During the school song I noticed someone peering through the small space in the doors.  I went to check - yup, it was the momma, with the book bag.

Five minutes later, someone else came to the door, asking me if everything was set for the 10:00 meeting (during my regular break time) with teachers from another department.  Yes, as far as I knew, we were set and here are the handouts.

Two minutes after that, someone else came to the door, explaining that the room we'd planned to use for the meeting was no longer available so where would I like to have it and could I inform everyone, please.

My trusty AT took over our morning routine while I ran down to make sure everyone got the message and we'd all be in the same place for our 10 meeting.

Back in the class, I resumed the routine with the kids.  Then the internet died again so I ran up to let IT know there was a problem.  I found out later it was only a problem with my computer.

Once again back in class, we continued with the lesson, which involved the kids working on our week's work on writing opinions and giving reasons to support them.  This morning, while I'd been running around the school like a madwoman, they'd spent 15 minutes writing their opinion on who their favorite person was.

As the kids shared what they'd written, I was touched.  They'd done a good job and while I expected to hear mostly about parents, many of the kids had chosen me.  And they had some delightful reasons for choosing me.  "Tr. Nancy loves me and has very soft skin."  "Tr. Nancy keeps me safe and teaches me and she's funny."  Awww.  Actually, several students mentioned my soft skin.  I should do ads for skin creams, apparently.

While we were finishing up the activity and I was mentally transitioning to my 10 meeting, more adults arrived at the door.  This time, it was the school founder, the head of school and several strangers.  While the kids watched, I was introduced to the Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar, who was touring the school.

The group stayed for about five minutes, looking around my classroom and watching the kids at work.  Hopefully the Ambassador noticed that part of our class decor were pictures the kids had colored of the United States, Samoa, and China.  We just finished our world cultures lesson.

The rest of the day went a bit more smoothly.  We did have more visitors.  Most days, we have no visitors during class time.  After the last, I asked my AT to shoot the next person who tried to come in the room.  If you've ever taught young kids, you know that they work best with routine.  We had 11 different interruptions to our class today, which didn't make it easy to keep our usual daily flow.

But flow it did and the kids left, happy and excited as ever.

I got home, did a bit of cooking and was relaxing when a HUGE sand storm blew through.  It was sudden and violent and the birds were going crazy, trying to figure out which direction to go since the wind was swirling and blowing clouds of dust sky high.  I felt particularly sorry for the young couple on a motorbike who were parked outside my apartment, necking when the storm suddenly hit.  They must have felt sand blasted as they waited for the storm to abate enough for them to drive off.  I felt even sorrier an hour later for one of my favorite local staff who waved (as she does every day) as she rode her bicycle home past my windows.  At least the wind had lessened by then.

Now, it's time for relaxing and bed.  I felt honored to meet the Ambassador but am hoping for a less interesting day tomorrow.  Then again, it's a full moon and Funday Friday, so who knows?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Photos - Shopping and People in Mandalay

The internet is never fast in Myanmar.  The last couple of days have been particularly slow.  Even using my cell phone as a tether, it has taken hours to upload a few photos.  It's now 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.  I'm going to give it another shot to share some photos from my errands yesterday.

Typical local brooms.  I use one every day and it is very effective at getting rid of the fine dust during the dry season.

The street outside Mingalar market.

One of the friendly vendors inside.  She's wearing thanaka on her face, as most women and children in Myanmar do.

A water cart.  I missed getting a photo of the middle-aged woman who was pushing it around.  She was busy hauling buckets of water into the market to sell to the vendors.

We have a variety of fresh vegetables.  

This is the man I buy my garlic and potatoes from.  He's a little person (only one I've seen in Myanmar) and always has a huge smile.

That's the smile that makes my day - every Saturday.

Myanmar cuisine uses a lot of dried fish.  Here are bags of it.  I'm not a fan and never buy the stuff.

As you enter the market, there are various aisles you can use to get to the main part of the market.   This one is filled with dried fish and spices.  The floor is uneven and usually wet, so I have to be careful walking.  The smells are amazing.

Garlic and red chilis.  Can you guess the staples of Myanmar cooking?

She was so friendly until her mom insisted she have her photo taken - then she turned shy.

As I took photos, I realized that people I didn't take pictures of felt a bit left out.  This isn't one of the vendors I usually buy from (there are so many!) but always smiles and says hello.

Another vendor.  Big smiles until the camera comes out, then looking more serious.  That's thanaka on her face.  For beauty, cooling and to keep her skin young.

A row of spices.  Most, I've never heard of.  All smell amazing.

The friendly spice lady.  She doesn't speak English.  I don't speak Myanmar.  But, with sign language and effort we're able to communicate about her products.

You know the expensive pink Tibetan salt?  Here's a bowl of it.  $1 for a huge piece.  The camera didn't do well in capturing the pink color.  And yes, the vendor encouraged me to taste a piece so I knew it was salt.  Apologies to whoever buys the piece with my saliva on it.

I smelled this to confirm it is cinnamon.  Saundi bought this large piece for fifty cents.  Next time I'm in Publix, looking at a tiny tin of ground cinnamon for $3.00, I'll be laughing out loud.

This friendly woman sells dried fish.  Which I never buy, but she always says hello anyway.

Can you tell what it is?  Dried fish!

Some of the fresh vegetables.  Baby carrots (real ones, not the adult, ground down things we buy in the US), pea pods, okra, asparagus, sprouts, etc.

It's asparagus season!  Almost every vendor had asparagus this week.  Not cheap - $1 for a bundle.  But so delicious.  I bought 3 bundles from 3 different vendors.  Gotta share the love.

This lady sells eggs.  I buy them, she puts them in a plastic bag.  Refrigerated?  No.  I've never gotten sick from them.

Another vendor I say hello to every week but don't shop with.  She sells this dessert.  It's like a firm jello, with grated fresh coconut on top.  Tasty but I'd prefer bakery products for dessert.  People here LOVE all things gelatin.  Agar Agar (a type of gelatin) is sold in bulk at grocery stores.

After walking through the spice aisle, we enter the main part of the market.

Fresh produce is always available and very inexpensive.  If I avoid the pricey asparagus (just coming into season) I can spend $5 for all I can carry.

Local sausages on sale.  I'm not a fan - too greasy for my taste.

In the wet part of the market - this man sells butchered goat.  They call it mutton here but it is goat.  And very tasty goat indeed.

Notice the smile?  She didn't care if I was buying or not.  She was just happy to say hello and have her photo taken.  Chicken and goat for sale.  There's an issue here now because bird flu has been found so the price of local (not infected) chickens has gone sky high.

Prefer seafood?  No problem.  Fresh fish from the Irrawaddy river.  There's a wholesale market there that I've visited and need to take photos of.  An amazing experience and more friendly people happy to show their wares and say hello.

I love the fresh water prawns but they are expensive.  The ones on the left are $4 and $5 for the ones on the right.  For that price you get about 4 prawns.  Enough for a meal for one.

Selling fish.

This monk was collecting alms for the day's food.  He was happy to have his photo taken.  I was happy to contribute.

This is what foreigners look like shopping.  Ok, there are no other foreigners shopping - this is my friend Saundi with one of our favorite vendors.  If you are thinking of visiting Myanmar, this is why you should come now.  Foreigners are a novelty and are happily accepted.  As happy as I am to go to the market each week, the vendors seem equally happy to have the foreigner come back each week. I've been shopping here for almost two years.  Today, as I took photos, they seemed so happy to be included.  It slowed the shopping experience but made for a great day.

My favorite tomato lady.  She always greets me with a huge smile.  After Christmas, when I was out of the country for 3 weeks, she expressed great concern and joy that I was back.  She is one of the many reasons I love living in Myanmar.

These girls were walking by and saw me taking photos of my "tomato lady" friend.  They were happy to have their picture taken.

The smile that comes with every tomato.

I had a tough time connecting with this vendor.  She sells mostly avocados.  The first time I found her, I asked for 3.  She had a huge stack but would only give me 1.  WTH?  I realized later, only the one was perfectly ripe.  Now, we have an agreement.  She will sell me several and uses hand movements so I know how many days until each is perfectly ripe.  She is always dead on.

This lady is across from my avocado vendor.  She sells only dried fish and accepts that I love vegetables but not her products.  She always says hello anyway.

My favorite avocado lady.

This is thanaka.  You grind it, make it into a paste with water and put it on your face and body.  It prevents sun burn, makes the skin cooler, looks nice and helps the skin.  Mostly used by women and children.  

So many shoes and not a single one in my size.  Imagine my excitement when, later in the day, we went to a mall and I found wonderful shoes in my size!

Beautiful Myanmar girl.

And her friend - the girls are slim, polite and beautiful.   Grace and beauty are important in their culture.

This vendor is also beautiful but she was busy and I couldn't get a great photo of her.,  The vendors track their sales in notebooks like the one she is holding.  

Saundi, silly girl, thought she could buy undies at the market.  The one she is holding is an extra large.  XL for Myanmar butts is teeny tiny for Western butts.

Another beautiful Myanmar woman in a traditional longyi, tracking her sales in her notebook.

Ok, I love kids.  That's why I teach first grade.  But really, a toddler with charm and matching beverage?  Too cute!

The toddler had been saluting for me but I couldn't catch him on camera.  Got this photo of his mom and (aunt?) as they got my strawberries in a bag.  Perfect, amazing strawberries, $1 per kilo.  That's over two pounds.  The season is short so I'm gorging on strawberries now.  The women are wearing thanaka on their faces.

I bought fresh paneer cheese from this lady.  $.20 for a bag of fresh, warm cheese.  And you ask why I love Myanmar?

Samoan friends!  I was not lying or kidding you.  These are banana flowers for sale and they eat them. They are delicious!

These ladies saw me taking pictures and wanted to get in on the action.  The one is "feeding" coffee to her friend.  We hugged after the photo.

Lots of fresh produce, including wonderful tomatoes from Shan state.  About $.50 a kilo.

A married couple of vendors.

A proud grandma and her baby.

Outside the market, these guys offer rides on their trishaws.  

A close up of the guys.  They were happy to pose and interested to see how they looked in the photo.

Young monks.  Monks, of all ages, are everywhere.  These guys are carrying their lunch pails.

A second before this photo, these guys were 2 inches from our car and we were smiling at each other.

Typical street scene in downtown Mandalay.  Yes, if you look closely, that's a vehicle that's decomposing.

The sidewalk.  That's sewage/water under the sidewalk.  I loved that someone put a heart in the cement.  My toes and my driver's toes.

Have I mentioned I love babies?  And babies with big cheeks are even better!  This family was in front of their very nice store.  I went in and it became a shopping, photo-taking, gift giving experience.  I bought a few things and found a pen with a thumbs up rubber thing on the end. I asked the price - free - a present because I let them take my picture.

Want to see the latest American movies?  $.40 or 3 for $1 in Mandalay. 

Does that look like booze being sold?  Nope, oil, in liquor bottles for sale. 

People carry their entire business on their head here.  They have much better posture than I do.

She's frying a delicious kind of bread. On the sidewalk.

She used an ingenious extruder tooln to make the bread.  Americans are smart but we can learn a lot from the people making a living on the street in Asia.

Cute kid who turned shy when her mom told her to say hello to me.

Oreos are everywhere, including at street vendors in Myanmar.

Creative way to put tables on stairs. 
I admired a baby.  Then I went into their very nice store.  I bought a couple of things (cards/deodorant) then they asked to take photos.

It may be illegal to ride in the back of pickups in the U.S., but it is typical in Asia.

Saundi wanted to buy a cabinet.  Our driver took us to the "rich people" mall for furniture.  He doesn't realize that all foreigners are not rich people.

Sorry, but I'm just not into the Asian aesthetic of decor.

We then went to the "real people" furniture area of town and while Saundi shopped, I met this cutie.

Motorbikes are very common in Mandalay.  Motorcycles, like this Yamaha are treasured and rare.

While Saundi shopped, I sat in the proffered chair and watched the world go by.

As I sat in the shade on a 103 degree day, these folks jammed into the local transport.

High class hotel and local vendor.

The guys who offered me the chair and kept me company while Saundi was shopping.

Let the photo taking with the foreigner commence.  I was the only one not chewing betel nut.

He took the previous photo.  His wife was so embarrassed to be in the picture.

After sitting for awhile and taking photos, I got bored and walked down the street.  This may look like a dump in front of a pagoda but when evening comes, this will transform into a restaurant.

Mandalay is over 50% Chinese, which is apparent in restaurant signs.

I'm going to have to do a whole blog about this place.  I saw the sign and went in.  It's form of Chinese medicine that is free and guaranteed to help reduce weight.  When Saundi asked our driver how long it would take to make her look like the very slim Myanmar girl telling us about the treatment, he said "A year."

After all that shopping we were hungry and tried a new restaurant (there are so many!) in town.  This Thai restaurant, near CitiMart, was good but tasted more Chinese than Thai.

But we were eager for the food - including the pork skin. 

After lunch we went to SP Bakery, where I enjoyed a blackberry cheesecake tart.  I felt compelled to use the glove that came with the tart.

Next, Style Star!  This is where we get our weekly pampering.  The lady in the center is my favorite. You can tell by the uniforms that the other two are trainees.  If you are in Myanmar, take a break from visiting pagodas.  Every shampoo includes a massage.  The best $2.50 you'll ever spend.

Saundi enjoying her shampoo.

After the massage, shampoo, mani/pedi, as we waited for our driver I spotted a cute baby nearby.  I walked down to say hello and this lady asked to take my photo.

Then the family photos began.

We talked, laughed, took photos, gave high fives....a five minute experience while waiting for a taxi in Mandalay.  I can't wait to see them next week when I go to Style Star.