Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day in First Grade

I made a sample Valentine's card.

They really got into it.

Look closely - on the bottom right, he tells his mommy he loves her in English.  He repeats it in Chinese on the lower left.  He also speaks Myanmar.

I did not expect goodies but was so lucky.  Ivy (a student) brought a rose and box of chocolates.  Kids made me cards.  My Assistant Teachers gave me a necklace, bracelet, chocolate bar and roses.  A few other people dropped by to each give me a rose.  So grateful.

Photos of Mandalay

The Rain Forest Cafe.  It's a popular tourist spot which serves good Thai food.  Prices are higher because it's been written about in Lonely Planet.  I had vegetable green curry which was tasty and full of big chunks of a variety of vegetables but next time, I'll ask for really spicy, since what they served had no heat.

View from the Rain Forest Cafe.  A humble home but they've got satellite!

Longans and oranges.  $1 worth.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Day Off

Today is a Myanmar holiday so school was closed.  I think everyone should have every Wednesday off.

I went to Zeygo market to buy paper for school this morning.  When I finished, my driver wasn't where I expected him.  I assumed I'd taken more than the 15 minutes he was allowed to wait at the curb.  I was waiting at the corner where I could see him either from the front or side of the busy market.

A guy asked if I wanted a motorcycle taxi, in English.  I explained that I was waiting for my driver.  He noticed I had about 40 pounds of paper, so ran off to see if he could find my driver.  He couldn't, but he found other drivers who knew my guy (and me, apparently) and said he had driven around the block and would be back.  Just then my driver drove off.  The guy who'd run down the block offered to carry my paper for me but I assured him I had it.

He didn't want a tip.  He was just being friendly and helpful.  Myanmar people are like that.

My driver then showed me something in Myanmar and asked if I wanted to go.  The only word I understood was I-Phone and said I didn't want one.  Then he explained that it was only open for another 30 minutes and could we go for him.  Of course.  And, of course I totally misunderstood the situation.  What he showed me was an invitation for a grand opening for a new telecom store.  There were lots of people.  There was food.  And, as the only foreigner I was honored.  I also ran into the mother of one of my students.  The food was good, I looked at a few Samsung phones (I am in the market) and, like everyone who attended, was given a smartphone "jacket".  It was quick and fun.

Then we headed to get my hair cut.  I was planning on one of the many air conditioned, fancy salons in town.  My driver said he had a better plan.  I'm committed to saying "yes" to suggestions.  Part of being here is getting out of a rut so if someone offers an experience, I try to accept.

He took me to a local barber shop for women only.  It was very small and very busy so there was about a ten minute wait.  But that worked in my favor since one of the neighboring shops was a seamstress.  I discovered that if I bring her the fabric, for $1 she'll sew it into a longye.  Excellent.  Fabric will cost about $5, unless I got for silk.

I was surprised that my hair experience began with the cut rather than the shampoo, but when in Mandalay... I was pleased that after the first cut in the back, my stylist showed me how much she'd cut off to make sure it was right.  Her English was extremely limited and my Myanmar is nonexistent.  That needs to change.

After the really good cut, I was led to the back of the salon and pointed to a bed to lie down.  At the head was a large plastic tub with a house.  It was rudimentary but clean.  Then I ascended to heaven.  While she shampooed and massaged my head, two other women massaged my hands and arms.

After being relaxed completely, I was led back to the salon chair for my blowout.  Two women - one with a brush and one with the blow dryer.  I looked and felt spectacular.  When I asked how much to pay, one of the young patrons translated.  4,500K.  $4.50.  I believe I'll be heading back Saturday with fabric for my longyi and another shampoo and massage.

Another day in Mandalay.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I Confess!

I'm a food hoarder.  Ok, there it is.  In writing on the internet.  I can't hide it anymore.  I've decided to stop trying to ignore it or recover from it.  I'm now embracing it.

My hoarding impulses started early.  I always helped my mom with the grocery shopping.  I liked to put away the groceries.  She kept a tidy, complete larder with cans neatly stacked in the cupboards.  Everything in it's place and always at least one back up for everything.  Not just one box of detergent...two so that you'd never run out.  And if things were on sale, we bought them.  She wasn't a hoarder, just frugal and organized.  But she introduced me to the pleasure of having all the food you could possibly need.  Full fridge.  Full freezer and full cupboards.

Then I met wholesale clubs.  They reached deep into my psyche and pulled me toward them.  It's not the free samples, it's the sheer volume of the stores and giant packages of stuff.  It's the inner bliss of knowing that I am buying enough toilet paper to last into another decade.  Enough chocolate chips to cause diabetes in a small village.  And let's not even go into the cheese.  I must confess, even as I was buying a round of Brie meant to feed a large cocktail crowd, I knew it was just for me, me, me.  I did some amazing mental gymnastics as I rolled the ten pounds of cheddar down the aisle to justify purchasing that much cheese for one person.  And three ripe pineapples.  I could buy just one at Publix but it was so much cheaper to buy three.  And more importantly, carrying those three pineapples, destined to begin rotting in a day or two, made me irrationally happy.

Living overseas has taken my hoarding to a whole new level.  In Samoa, there were many food items I couldn't get on my island.  When I went to the capital city, I stocked up.  Canned tomatoes, cheese, corn chips.  I had the luxury of two cabinets in my kitchen in Faga.  One cabinet was for regular food.  The other was for hoarding.  Boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese that my friends (AKA enablers)  and the goodies brought back from Apia went into the "special" cabinet.  Every time I opened it and saw the rare goodness stocked there it made me smile.

I believe that the store owners in Myanmar are secretly controlling me.  It's a form of mind control.  There used to be three grocery stores.  Not many in a city of over a million people, many of whom are multi-millionaires.  If Ocean didn't have olives, no worry - City Mart did.  Or vice versa.

But City Mart closed.  There are rumors that it will reopen, closer to the school.  Please let that be true.  But in the meantime, Ocean controls me.  There used to be bacon.  Then it disappeared for a couple of months.  Then it was back.  I bought a package.  A week later I noticed bacon is gone again.  Next time I see it, I'm buying three packages.

Same thing with baking powder and baking soda.  And olives.  And canned tomatoes.  I live in a small apartment.  But it has very high ceilings.  I'm thinking of building a kitchen loft.  A perfect storage place for all my food.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I Love Mandalay

When I return from vacation in April and it is 120 degrees and humid, please remind me of this post.

This isn't a one-way street, where we happen to be going the wrong way.  It's just Mandalay, where people drive "as they like".

Beautiful, decorated fabrics used for formal traditional longyis.

Fresh tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes.  How about six for a dollar?

Red tomatoes, green tomatoes.

Carnations, roses, greenery.

This is the lady who handles the money at one of the stalls we bought from.  She handed change over via a long handled fan.

When I asked to take her photo, her husband wanted to get in the picture.  It is rare to see physical displays of affection in public, which is why she is laughing so hard..and trying to get away.

These women were watching as I took photos.  Taking a break from shoveling sand.  They were surprised that I wanted to take their photo.  I think they're beautiful.  By the way, they're bundled up, because even though they were doing physical labor, they were chilly.  It is winter, after all.  I was wearing a t-shirt and sweating because it was about 90 degrees.

I love to try new foods.  This is a vegetable.  It only cost 50 cents so I bought a bag.  It can be stir-fried, usually with other vegetables.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Longan and tangerines.  $1.00 worth of fruit.

Today is Sunday and I had a lot to do.  I was up early, ready for shopping for school and home.  About ten minutes before the taxi was to arrive, a friend stopped by to ask if I had plans for the day.  I invited her to join me.  She hesitated for a second then ran up three flights of stairs to wash her face and brush her hair.

First we headed to Zeygo Market.  On our way there, I experienced the normal and wonderful experience of connecting with the locals.  Making eye contact and smiling as we sat in traffic or passed each other.  One guy, about my age, was passing my taxi (he was heading in the same direction but in the lane of oncoming traffic) and we made eye contact.  I smiled.  He smiled.  Then he tried to wave while swerving back into the proper lane and almost wiped out on his motorbike.  No worries, he regained control, smiled and waved as he headed past us.

We went in a side entrance at Zeygo, which was fortuitous.  I'd never come in that way and had missed a whole section of the market.  First we entered the notions section.  Zippers, buttons, sparkly stuff.  A bit expensive, but will be wonderful for crafts for summer school.  One stall had nail polish, buttons, rubber bands and other assorted items.  I'll be going back there since we have no supplies like paper clips or rubber bands at the school.

We walked on a few feet and hit the mother lode of paper.  The vendor was more than slightly surprised when I bought 30 packages of crepe paper.  I explained I'm not a tourist but a "sayama" - teacher.  Ah, she understood.  For Valentine's day we're making a "card" for the parents - a sheet of homemade paper (bought from the crepe paper lady), with a heart drawn on, filled with torn pieces of crepe paper glued on and the kids will write - I Love You To Pieces.  Cute, eh?

Next we moved up a couple of levels to the toy vendor.  Sadly (and surprisingly) some of the cheap toys I bought the kids as rewards came up missing the other day.  I was restocking.  I got small Rubix cubes, sticky geckos, fashion rings and magnifying lenses.  The kids will be thrilled.  By the way, yes, like most teachers, I pay for this stuff out of my own pocket.  But easier here than in the US.  I paid $20 for the art supplies and toys and it's enough to last until the end of school.  The irony is that most of the parents are millionaires and could/would pay for this stuff.  I just hate to ask them for it since they've already paid hefty tuition fees.

Next we headed to Diamond Plaza.  Neither of us needed much at Ocean the grocery/general store but we spent 45 minutes there anyway.  First was the bakery.  I bought a loaf of raisin bread since that was the only sliced bread available and will be good for lunches for the week.  I also bought a couple of pastries.  Total price was $1.20.

While at the bakery, which has a section for dining in, I noticed two guys with plastic gloves on their right hands.  Why get your hands sticky when picking up a pastry when you can use a plastic glove.  Clever.

My grocery tab, which included confectioners sugar, hamburger, gin, cheese, dried banana chips and sushi was $11.  I'd planned to get an iced mochachino to go from the bakery but decided to pass.  Saved me a buck.

Next, a few blocks away from the "Chinese market".  It's an area where vendors set up stalls every day to sell fruit, veg and meats, along with an assortment of kitchen related items.  I love the Chinese market.  Remind me I said that when it is 120 degrees out, and I'm willing to settle for the less fresh, more expensive produce because it means less sweating.

The vendors at the market are delightful, as are the people who just work and live on the streets there.  Yes, I still pay the "foreign tax" that all foreigners pay even though I point out that I'm an sayama.  Sometimes that help, usually it doesn't.

Today, I bought longons (like lychee), tangerines, a perfectly ripe pineapple, cucumber, okra, a bucket and a basket for the shelf in my desk.  Total price was about $5.  I also got to take some photos and exchange many smiles with the people working there.  I also got to buy a vegetable I've never seen before being in Myanmar and had no idea how to cook.  But, it was fifty cents.  I brought it home.  There was another one that I saw for the first time here that I may buy next week.  I love exploring new foods.

When we arrived back at school the guards came out to greet us.  I only have to go up one flight of stairs and could have managed my bags but they insisted on helping.

I asked one of the English speaking guards about how to cook the new vegetable (which looks like a grub) and he had no idea.  He checked with another guy, who also had no idea.  Then, luckily, an assistant teacher was working overtime and explained how to cook it.  Stir fried, usually with other vegetables.  I'll let you know how it goes.

I love it in Mandalay.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Photos From Mandalay

I posted recently about the Indian/Myanmar Friendship Concert, which is a bit ironic since it was sponsored by the armies of the two countries.  I've posted some photos below along with photos from last night's Staff Appreciation Dinner at my school.  I'm happy to share some photos of the people I spend most of my time with.

The Indian/Myanmar Friendship concert, held at the National Theatre.  These guys, along with tv camera crews were walking around taking photos through the entire concert.

Just me, but I kind of expected the Indian Military Band to be wearing military uniforms.

At the AIS staff appreciation dinner.  That's one of my assistant teachers on the left.  She's amazing and has been an enormous help here both at school and in figuring out Myanmar.

Our emcee for the evening...and my "boyfriend".  Vila is RPCV, Mongolia and teaches high school at AIS.

There was plenty of fruit at the buffet.

Myanmar people like food on sticks.  These were different kinds of meat - marinated and grilled, along with grilled okra and potatoes.  All was delicious.  If only they'd serve food like this in the cafeteria each day instead of the stews filled with bones.

Teacher Jeff.  He's American and lived abroad most of his life.  

There was Chivas in addition to beer and wine coolers.

This is one of the two ladies who clean my apartment and do my laundry every week.  The photo of the other woman and her beautiful daughter was too blurry to use.  I really appreciate what these women do to make my life easier.

Teacher May and Teacher May Zin.  My right hand people.  Co-workers and friends.  

Me and some of the very enthusiastic (e.g., they may have been enjoying the beer a bit) guys who work at the school.  They work hard.  They carry things for me, they keep the school safe, they get rid of the occasional poisonous snake.

I got to choose the first ten lucky numbers.  Ironically, I pulled Vila's number on the first draw.  It may have looked rigged but wasn't.  He won a thermos.

The next morning - the party aftermath.  Most of the trash had been collected the night before (by the same staff who'd just been honored) but looks like someone came back after the official party ended.  The TP was used for napkins.  Typical here, even in the nicer restaurants.

We made a mess.

The back drop for the podium.  

I won a set of three pots.  I made soup last night (chicken, potato and corn in a creamy broth) and used one of my new pots.  Notice anything odd about the lid?  At first I thought they just put the lid handle on upside down but then realize they just screwed up the top.  The other two lids are fine and when I can find a phillips screw driver I'll fix this one.  Chinese quality.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Restaurant in Mandalay

I don't know when the restaurant opened, it's certainly been there awhile but was new to me.  Located near Diamond Plaza, on 77 between 31 and 32 is Singapura.

They specialize in Singaporean food but the menu (in Myanmar and English) has a variety of Asian treats.  I was with another teacher and we had limited time since we were on our bi-weekly shopping trip on the school bus.

I was partly interested in the restaurant because it's owned by the family of one of my first graders.  As we walked from Diamond Plaza, the restaurant wasn't exactly where I thought it was.  Just as we were about to give up and turn around I heard someone yelling "Teacher Nancy!  Teacher Nancy!"  It was Jerome, his siblings and his dad.  They were behind us and also walking toward the restaurant.  The dad asked where I was going and did a double take when I told him his restaurant.

They guided us across the street to a well-lit, attractive restaurant.  As we entered, the aroma hit me first, along with the friendly greetings from a number of male servers.  We were led past other diners (locals) to a comfortable booth and given the extensive menus.

The drink menu included smoothies, shakes, coffee, tea, soft drinks, freshly squeezed juices along with beer and Spy (wine coolers).  No other liquor available.

We both ordered the chicken and rice (an iconic Singapore dish) and a half chicken for take away.  I was leery about the chicken and rice but one of my fellow teachers, a Singapore native, assured me it was what she missed most from home.

I asked Jerome, my student and waiter, what the best thing on the menu was and he said "chicken and rice".  He knows I'm not a big rice eater (something which troubles my students) and hurried to assure me that it doesn't taste like "real" rice.  Hmmm.

When I got home and dug in, I realized what he meant.  The rice had been cooked in broth and was delicious.  The meat was tender and juicy.  Two spicy condiments provided just added to the taste treat and the slices of raw cucumber provided a nice crunch.

The half chicken, which I'll be eating over the next few days is plump and looks and smells delicious - roasted Chinese style.

While we had a brief wait for our food, I enjoyed a fresh limeade.  Total cost for two juices, two orders of rice and chicken (I had mine for dinner and will enjoy the leftovers for lunch today) and two half chickens was $13.40.  A bargain.

If you're coming to Mandalay, give Singapura a try.  Good food and you'll likely get to meet my first grader and his 3rd grade sister who may help the serving staff translate for you.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Random Observations

Stuff happens all the time that I think is funny, weird, curious, whatever.  Here's some of them.

  • Recently I saw a car completely covered with giant words and pictures.  Disney and Winnie the Pooh.  I don't think the Disney legal folks would find it as amusing as I did.  Today I saw a car with just Winnie.  I've also seen cars completely covered with Hello, Kitty.  I don't get it.
  • Yesterday one of the other teachers had a chair and foot stool delivered.  By a guy on a motorbike.  Also on the bike were the man's wife and five year old son.
  • During the Indian/Myanmar friendship concert last night I sat near a family with several young children. Through the concert they were talking, laughing, playing and wandering around.  Most of the adults in the family just ignored them.  The father encouraged them.  And I wonder why my kids have trouble following the rules in class.
  • Chinese New Year was celebrated on January 31, a Friday.  A few other teachers and I went to Bistro Mandalay for dinner.  As we typically do, we hired a taxi, who took us to the restaurant and was going to wait for us to leave to take us home.  I'd used this driver before (it's the car with Sherri in the luggage area in another post) and he seemed like a nice guy, who speaks passable English.  All was well until it was time for us to leave.  I made it to the car first and as the others chatted outside for a minute, I was in the car listening as the driver tried to start it.  Dead battery.  Which was kind of ironic since my friends went to check on my car in Florida last week and it had a dead battery, too.

    Anyway, the guy made a phone call and within minutes, here came three strong guys to give us a push. There was much laughing and yelling all around as they successfully got us rolling.  We wanted to make a quick stop at a small market near the school and as we tried to explain the location to the driver I realized he was doing a little celebrating while we were having dinner.  The streets were packed with people walking and partying and we were alternately racing or crawling down the road, depending on how focused the driver was on the conversation in the car.  One near miss with a motorbike was so close all of us screamed.  He just laughed and hit the gas.

    He began calling me "mother" and one of the women "sister".  He also insisted that I spoke Myanmar, which was wonderful in his view.  I gave up explaining that I didn't...never argue with a drunk.   I really don't think knowing ten words in a language counts as being fluent.

    We finally made it to the little store and as we drove up, told him repeatedly not to turn off the car.  As soon as we stopped, he turned off the car.  We bought what we needed then headed back.  Luckily, the car turned over.  He almost missed the turn to the school, then started to drive by the gate, with all of us screaming for him to stop.  It was pretty funny, now that we were there alive.  There was a guard and another staff member talking when we finally pulled into the proper place.  They greeted us, we greeted them, we were discussing how much we each owed for the taxi...the taxi driver talking nonstop about me being his mother and then it happened.

    One of the teachers slammed the back door, not realizing that the driver had his hand in the door.  The driver immediately started screaming.  I watched it happen and assumed that he had four broken fingers.  All the foreign staff and the Myanmar staff were asking if he was ok, offering ice and just acting concerned while the driver shook his hand and insisted it was fine.  Nothing appeared to be broken or really swelling but I'm guessing he's going to wake up with quite a hangover and a very sore hand.

    Driving in Mandalay is scary.  Driving with a very happy, pretty drunk guy is interesting but not something I ever want to do again.
  • Three of us headed out today for lunch and then a haircut.  Never got the haircut.  Instead, after lunch we hit the craft stores, then the big market (where I know a vendor who sells cool bronze and wood stuff) and where I wanted to buy toys for the kids.  On our way out I scored.  Plain brown wrapping paper.  Think flip chart sheets.  This is the only place I've not found it in schools.  The paper was cheap so I bought a bunch and will be going back for all the colored paper that will be great for summer school crafts.

    Stopped for happy hour on our way home, we were a couple of hours early but they know our school so gave us the twofer deal...and then we stayed until happy hour started anyway.  I bought half a cooked chicken for takeaway and was disappointed that it's small, a bit burned, chopped into unrecognizable bits with bone in each bite and no roasted potatoes.  I understand the reason for hacking meat into tiny pieces, but I just wanted a nice wing, leg and thigh and breast.  Other than my chicken disappointment it was a spectacular day.  Except for that moment when we realized it was Saturday night happy hour and we were arguing about phonics.  Teachers!