Saturday, January 30, 2016

omg it's chinatown in yangon

so the other day we went to the bogyoke market to feed my insatiable appetite for fabrics and baskets. carsten yawned and followed all bored but i told himhe should probably stay home and it's his fault he didn't. we found a post office. open on a sunday! staffed by a nice little lady with no teeth. i bought stamps with photos of the capital on it and sent postcards to my friend's kids kindergarten, who had just learned about geography and the parents are getting postcards sent from all over. so far they've gotten cards from exotic florida and spain, wait till the teacher has to figure where burma is!
then we bought our weekly staple of grapefruit/pomelo. huge grapefruits, ok, but what's even better? These ladies peel them completely and remove the seeds. it's just pure, juicy, plump grapefruit flesh with none of the mess and it's the best thing ever. my brother would go apeshit over this.
we crossed the pedestrian bridge over bogyoke street, past the dude who has little birds in a cage, whom you pay to free the birds. the birds look all stressed and tired and then he kicks the basket every once in a while to check they are alive. i've heard that when they get released they die almost instantly of exhaustion. doesn't really jive with the whole Buddhist thing in my opinion, though everyone is super nice to all the street cats and dogs. they get fed and have their heads rubbed all the time. even the gross mangy ones.

anyway, the other side was chinatown, and i was ending my three day quest for a bathing suit (i forgot mine in bangkok). until now i have seen lots of places that sell totally slutty underwear, and when i say swimsuit and make a swimming motion, they show to a pile of hideous burkinis. like with knee coverings and a turtleneck and frills everywhere. the first time i totally laughed, and felt bad when there was a lady in an actual total face burka next to me. i would have atually bought one to get a good laugh but no one has my size. they do not condone showing skin, apparently. so i'll be swimming in my new slutty underwear thankyouverymuch.
so chinatown. fascinating, depressing. all the cheap as can be electronics, (carsten bought a new smartphone for 50$), pastel colored plastic as far as the eye can see, mis-spelled bags and t-shirts, you name it. i saw a woman, with a mentally challenged child and three other babies in tow, and her shirt spelled "DIRTYFUCKINGKIDS". but it was all in sequins so i guess it's classy. there's a lamp street, a cable street, even a rug and hardware street. we bought a pair of home-made scissors that smell really bad. 

and then there's a food street.
now this was crazy, you have a block just chock full of open stores, and vendors either behind little booths or on the ground all with barely enough room to squeeze by and amidst the people, the carts, and then, in this mess - the fucking cars drive through. i noticed this one night on 19th street, it's a block full of restaurants and patios, and bbqs, where you fill a basket with mystery meats and they cook them for you - well the cars actually come through there. oh, and then honk aggressively while doing so. so every ten minutes you have to pick up your plates and drinks, and grab your plastic table and chairs while some taxi or whatever comes through, horn blaring. game off! wayne's world style. and then game on, you put your drink down and sit down and - damn! another car!
everyone says how two years ago, there were no cars. none. you waited an hour for a taxi. so in 700 days, not only has the number cars soared and choked the streets, but the drivershave alll learned to assholes. there are two points in my daily walk to work where i have to frogger it across four lanes. you can only really do one lane at a time, and often i get stuck in the middle between two lanes and they honk and don't even try to swerve and the rearview mirrors swipe my backpack. it's crazy. i have never, ever, once seen a car let someone pass, even when it's an old crumply hunched over lady who's holding my wrist as she gets ready to RUN. oh man, and do these people HONK. all day, all night, honk honk honk! i often daydream of the upcoming inauguration of aung san suu kyi, where i imagine her proposing to bring peace back to myanmar..but outlawing unncessary honnking.
anyway, back to chinatown. so this is a narrow street with a row of people selling their goods, sitting on the ground and everything in these little backets, some of which are placed precisely in the middle of the street..leaving two tire lanes? yup, so that the cars come and actually drive over everything and no one has to move their goods. i can't imagine what the exhaust, oil leaks do to the live fish, or the chickens with their yellow feet up in the air, but this is how it goes.

honk honk!

all your meat, freshly hacked

more meat and fish, kept warm by exhaust and the tropical sun...

in between these streets i noticed these dark alleys people were coming out of so we took one. inside was a totally trippy covered market, grimy, dirty, dusty rows of meat on one side, cheap fabrics, food coloring, you name it. i have never seen anything like it. there seemed to be barely any customers, but plenty of rathter friendly vendors who were just surprised to see white people who might potentially buy 2 gallons of glue. yes, here in yangon white people are still a novelty, especially in these hellhole parts. on my way home from work i get waived at by little girls all the time who scream haiiiiii! you actually wonder how long this innocence will last...    

Thursday, January 28, 2016

what we eat

so it's safe to say it's actually more expensive to cook at home than to eat out. mostly because you either get your vegetables at the supermarket, which is stupid expensive, or at the little market stands who have no qualms about ripping me off with these totally random prices. the other day i paid 10 cents for some red onions, and the same for a head of cabbage, and then i felt bad because i only had a 1000 kyat note, so added a carrot to round up the price, but somehow it cost about one thousand times more than all the rest. still, i made some noodles and rice once in a while, but the rest of the time, we just eat out.
our vegetarian roommate has shown us the little south indian neighborhood. a little 10 minute walk where you pass through rows and rows of street samosa vendors, and the delicious samosa salad, which is actually samosas cut into pieces with scissors and served in a soup. why is it a salad? then everyone sits on these miniature stools, which i can't wait to see 1m95 carsten on one but these places are a food poisoning gamble. once i buy some activated charcoal tablets we'll be trying that out.
so there's one place, that serves dosas or chapati on a metal prison-style tv platter, with the little compartments. a guy comes around with a slop bucket under his arm and a ladle and dumps as much potato and veggie curry onto your dish as he can. free refills. it splatters all over the place. orange is the new black style. it's best not to look into the kitchen. total cost: 1000 kyat. less than 1$. which is the same price as a watermelon juice. to compensate we'll often go to the fancy coffee place and get a 2500 kyat coffee.
most places have convenient menus of pictures, and no prices. but it doesn't matter because it's all cheap, and your meal costs the same as a beverage.
for lunch i place an order with the office receptionist, who translates whatever i want into myanmar and hands it to the cleaning lady who goes to some street stand nearby and brings everything back in these mini plastic bags with the little handles tied into a slip knot. rice, too. most of it is unbearably spicy, and also meat in a bag is somehow unappealing to me so i've mostly ordered the vegetables. which are delicious. watercress, corn, bok choy, and the cauliflower. sometimes i get a perfectly fried egg, all for under 1000. i was a bit troubled about all the plastic waste (every restaurant serves their take-out in styrofoam, which makes me cringe) so i bought one of these metal hot pot thingies which everyone carries around, especially the monks, like when they walk up to someone's door and start singing, they hand over their hot pot so it gets filled with yummy food.

i got a little one with two tiers and kinda small, which will keep me from stuffing my face like a slob. i showed it to the cleaning lady and via translator asked her to get my meals in it, and she smiled gracefully at my assimilation. it also helped that i was also wearing my new longgi, one of those long skirts even the men wear. but man try walking up the stairs in a longgi, and you step on the front of it on the upper step, and the only way to free yourself is to sit down and walk backwards and did i mention we have this grand stairway in our office like in a mansion? yeah they all saw me. anyway, i put my name on my hotpot and i eat out of it with all the other people who bring their lunch to the office. everyone likes to share and offer me stuff, like, have you tried this sour fish (awful)? how about some spicy beef balls (my face was on fire). but all with a content do-gooder feeling of reducing my garbage just that much. until one day, i saw the lady bringing the food back from the street stall, all in plastic, and then putting everything into my hotpot with her filthy hands. so much for trying.      

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

a typical day at the office...

so i'm in the office, where i sit on the second floor. instead of the air conditioner aimed right at my face i like to open the door to the sunny balcony, and see some of the happenings on the street below. the swaying Palm trees with birds, ladies with painted faces walking by scream-singing whatever they are selling from a big basket on their head. usually pineapple. a utility truck comes and a bunch of guys in uniforms come out and start inspecting the telephone/electric pole which has a huge mess of wires at the top. the guy climbs up in his flip fops and he's perched atop, sifting through each wire like he's untangling a braid. he's almost exactly at my eye level, chilling there, and i see the beads of sweat on his temples. i go back to my emails for a bit, and i look up and he's still there sorting the cables, connecting some, and then picks one and he pulls out a big pair of clippers from his back pocket. he's still sorting, sorting, re-sorting until finally he finds the one and clip!
and out goes the power, followed by a huge grumbling throughout the building as the air conditioners choke up. his colleague now in a mini tractor thing who was digging a hole yells up something, and then he sorts again, looking for the right wire this time. Which is apparently our fiber optic internet cable and so then our people come out, and the dude on the ground gets all angry and so they switch and well, a bunch of other stuff happens but our internet is out for 3 days. and so everyone hotspots their phones and you can see all these wireless networks pop up when you search and you can see who has an iphone. i say to shoon, who sits behind me, you don't have to brag that you have a 6S dude. then he tells me he has a better provider and can stream movies while i can barely send a 6kb email. previously we had a good laugh with shoon, whom you can address by saying "co shoon" which means brother shoon. though with the belgian guy we say "cochonne" and shoon asks what it means and i say well google it with your fancy 3g 6s and a second later i hear, hey, that's a lot of porn. i thought at least a pig would be top billing on the results but it wasn't. who knew.
i went to the bathroom and shoon warned me you can't use it when the power is out. so that's how it goes here, you quickly adjust to things. like eating rice at every meal. every meal! i buy coconut sticky rice from a nice street vendor lady in the mornings for 500 kyat. so after i used up all my data plan in a few hours and the power didn't come back, i went to the fancy shanngri-la hotel for a toilet, a 5$ watermelon juice and the fastest wi-fi i've seen in weeks. you have to know where to find the few things you need to stay sane. like the kushmi green detox tea and aveda curly hair products that were the best gifts ever from mother that keep my stomach and hair in lines but are quickly running out...the cold showers every morning, i actually like them now and was able to stay in for a whole three minutes today. everyone has been warning me, that in less than two weeks the heat will be so unbearable that cold showers three times a day will be blessing. so soon it will be hot, my hair will be a mess and i'll be drinking lipton. i guess we'll wait and see.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

a little trip to Twantay

since we have so much time here in Yangon, we're not in that much of a hurry to see and do stuff. just as content to hang around the apartment and cook cabbage and any weird stuff i can pick up from the street vendors, which i've gotten really good at.
so one sunday, i finally motivated some friends to take a trip across the river, which i have heard is an easy escape to the country side. we took a ferry from a dock downtown, where this little girl came up to us and shows us how to buy tickets, and was eagerly practicing her bits of french, nearly fluent english and we were teaching her german. i was asking her what there was to do on the other side of the river and she was like a human travel guide. my friend john said hey you should come with us, as a joke and she was all, ok i will! for 20,000 kyats! and then we agreed it would be a little strange to have this young girl with us, and she would probably have to ride in the trunk of a taxi since we were already four so we declined. the ferry was fun, full of all these people selling bits of food. these ladies carry around the little stools and when you order they sit in front of you and chop the mango, or put the little hard boiled quail eggs into a bag. there's a "foreigner only" section which we stayed clear from and instead sat in the cool lounger plastic chairs. there were clearly no life vests and the two-level ferry was overwhelmingly full but you try not to think about these things.

the clear waters of the irawaddy

unknown Food for sale
the ride was a short skip to the other side. upon arrival at the dock we were overwhelmed my rickshaw drivers offering rides, people with food, just a mess of people, over which carsten's head towered...throughout the crowd we managed to find a dude with a cool straw hat, very hip arm tattoos and passable english. we negotiated with him and hoped he would be our driver and guide for the day but it turns out he is just a manager/arranger/negotiator for a fleet of taxis. i felt like i was in a cock fight, me and the guy negotiating amidst a circle of spectators, including my useless friends. i finally thought i was getting somewhere when john just pulled out a bunch of bills and was like, let's just go. amateur! he ruined my game and who pays a taxi first? The guy is totally going to ditch us somewhere now. anyway, we get in the all the guy does is just smile, smile this huge smile, he's the happiest. i see a guy on a bike carrying like, 20 chickens and i scream chicken! and he screams chicken! and then every time we see chickens we all scream chicken.
this is the extent of our communication. then he says "snake pagoda!" ok! and then we went to the pagoda in the middle of the lake that was 27 fat burmese pythons and you can barely even see their heads they are just knots of snake. very weird.
nice window Dressing
there were goats and friendly little kids. the taxi driver did not bail on us and in fact he stayed with us the entire day and just brought us places without even being asked to. he kinda just led the way.
goats, snakes, whatevs.

so we did this little tourist tour but saw only one other set of tourists, an old german couple who have been to burma like a million times. they were on motorbikes, poor fools.

our trustworthy Driver

pagodee monkee
my companions got quickly tired of visiting towns, markets, pottery places, and pagoda after pagoda after pagoda, unlike me and so they voted to give the driver the universal sign for "let's drink a beer." so we stopped for a few beers, and the day was clearly winding down, but the taxi eventually stopped on this street and just said walk! walk!
extra large pig crossing

i was sure we were going to have to hoof it or hitchike back to the ferry, but anyway we took our things and walked. there was kind of nothing to see, just some random little villages and stuff until finally we saw some sort of parade, with people all dressed up, gold parasols and pushing these little kids on bikes. a woman at the front is throwing Little bills into the air and all these little kids are scrambling to pick them up.  the highlight was the music float, another bike setup with MASSIVE speakers and some drunk clown dancing in front to this repetitive, awful tune.
bumese Techno Parade

your lucky day, bud
little held me back from wanting to jump in and play the baseball theme because the keyboard was totally on "stadium organ." but we stayed respectfully at a distance, and just enjoying the scene, which was quite the highlight to our day, and to our delight our taxi showed up and took us back. unfortunately, he immediately drove right through this lovely procession, impatiently honking at everyone to move out of the way, which they did, scramling terrified into the dusty roadsie, which was rather embarassing. we found out later it was some sort of ritual for young monks. we drove back 70km/hr to the ferry and hesitated before the thousand or so bike shops, wondering if we should buy one when we thought, eh, we can come back anytime! because we live here!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

So i'm in Burma

Yeah so i'm in Yangon, Myanmar for the next 4 months. Not too sure how i ended up here, and i think i'm still in a bit of culture (and weather!) shock. How to describe this place. It's a fascinating mess of old delapidated magnificent colonial architecture, combined with the chaotic mess of asia. Huge knots of power lines, stinky streets, mangy stray dogs (though everyone is super nice to them), barefoot monks wearing dark red robes and carrying parasols and their lunch in little stacked steel containers, to keep your rice separate from the rest. I'm totally getting one.
Our apartment is an office guest house for visiting staff. It's a david lynch style thing with flickering lights in creepy hallways, and bugs. We live on the 4th floor, with an elevator, in which the 4 button doesn't work. Given the number of power outages i prefer going to 3 and walking up or avoiding it altogether. Our room is on a bustling several lane street on which honking your horn seems obligatory 24h a day. You can't open the windows because of the mosquitos, though my next purchase is one of those tennis racket bug tasers, and a fan. That should do it. 
Despite the relative classyness of the apartment (teak floors, recessed lighting and fake marble tile, and international plugs which accept virtually any socket type), there are a few oddities, like, all the light switches are 10 cm from the floor? Which is great for me! none of the sockets are grounded so shorts are common, which makes ironing rather scary, and it unfortunately afflicted the hot water heater on day 1. i had one warm shower and it was my greatest moment here. Ok, it gets a little better each day but the bitterly cold shower with brain freeze each morning actually gives me nightmares. I alluded to asking to have it fixed and the roommates are all, what did you say little miss mansion fancy pants? The weather is ok now, cool in the nights, but apparently in a few months we'll all want to dip our heads in a bucket of ice cubes.    
The streets are peppered with shops with very weird names, like "most wonderful everything" and "mrs. Cow sorts" though we found our drinking spot called the "double happiness bar." Yes with two p's. And also the ubiquitous little food stands, next to which people eat while sitting on tiny children's stools, with their knees at their ears almost like they are squatting to poop. Why not just get normal sized chairs? I bought a couple for the balcony though, they are cute. 
Things oscillate between normal asian prices and bare bones cheap. A decent dinner is 5€. But i order lunch from the office secretary and she brings back little plastic bags of rice, curry, veggies for 900 Kyat which i guess is about 75 cents? Which hasn't made me sick yet. I'm going to get those steel pot things and ask for dinner, too. Everyone eats lunch together and share all their food from home (which they bring in warm, which means they cook in the morning? We had a myanmar roommate for a few days, she cooked mushrooms and rice and fish for breakfast) but i can't eat any because it's mega spicy. 

I have stopped trying to negotiate with taxis, instead, i just get in and pay them the correct fare. Until now no one has complained. Though i'm interested in testing out the rickshaws, these rickety bikes with sidecars driven by indians who until they have a customer lounge and read the newspaper, until i get the courage to ride my own bike. The way to work is actually quite mellow, through little side streets. I buy my veggies from old ladies and their kids wave to me and there's a spot under a tree where some kittens hang out. Kittens!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bangkok: so much food on these streets!

i left our house in bangkok one morning to go to an early meeting. all along the way, people sitting outside their little row houses, you can often peek in and see a huge mess and folks sitting on the floor watching tv. so much tv. out front, old guys with no shirts hacking meat, shucking corn, and then, just in front all these little stands with tasty dumplings, women selling fruit, people putting that fruit into blenders to make smoothies, summer rolls, everything! they don't joke when they talk about a street food craze. it's like all people do is eat on the street. i bet they never cook at home, who needs to? 
so i made a mental map of each tasty stop for the way back, to bring some stinky breakfast goodies home. two hours later, i walked the exact same way, but nothing was in the same place, twilight zone, all the people were different, there was no fruit, only nasty meat, stinky spicy curries in big aluminum pots. what happened to noodle lady? i started to think my mind was playing tricks on me, too much jetlag, or maybe i took the wrong subway exit, how could this be? 
well, turns out, this is just how it is. the street food is like an endless conveyor belt of ever ephemeral changing vendors, who come and go like the warm breezes that scuttle through the buildings. even when i asked noodle lady when she comes, i believe she said every day every day! but no one never saw her again. so if you have a favorite, just carpe diem. or carpe waffle on a stick? truth of the matter is stay away from street food anyway, to avoid any potential sidewalk pant explosion. very dangerous for the tummy when toilet paper is as scarce as people with a full set of teeth. i stick with the fruit, blended, and only touched by someone with plastic on their hands. 
yes, scorpion on a stick is food!
my boyfriend carsten however has no boundaries and chose the waffle on a stick. a big long tube kind of thing. there were a few to choose from, chocolate, marbled, he went with plain and when he picked it up the weight indicated that it was certain to explode with nutella-y goodness. one bite and - wait, there's a sausage in it! it was definitely a waffle, and it certainly had a hot dog inside! i'm sure that's not the last secret sausage to pop up during our stay...   
fruit lady