Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Astonishing to be here in Burma, in Rangoon/Yangon, let alone with access to the internet. The young tech guys here have figured out ways around the government's censorship and blocking of blogspot and yahoo and etc etc. Yahoo is still tricky though, so I'm asking people to write to me instead at It's always great to get mail.

I don't plan to write much about my travels and encounters right now, just to touch base and to apologise for the gaps in this blog! I've been on the northwest coast, not far south of the Bangladesh border. I flew to a town called Sittwe, formerly Akhyub, which was the capital of Arakan when the British ran it (1826 or so until after the second war). But it replaced the early Arakan/Rakhine capital, a place of much renown in its day, called Mrauk U. Now Mrauk U feels like an extended village, with small dirt paths and lanes, traffic on foot and bicycle, with the occasional vehicle, two hours of electricity a day.... you get the picture.

But before it was a grand place, with rulers wealthy and powerful, helped by the fruitful huge rivers and rich fertile rice growing valleys of the region. They left behind temples and chedis and payas, buddhist monuments of various kinds. So as I cycled slowly around on a one-speed, watching out for bumps and chickens and children, I was pedalling through small hills topped with golden chedis, some small, some grand. It's a hard life for people there because everything is done by hand, with effort, but it's also done with grace, sustainably. I learned a lot, and also, I should say, ate some extraordinarily wonderful home-cooked food. More on that some other time.

The trip from Sittwe to Mrauk U involves seven hours or so of travel in an old wooden boat up a huge river and then up a side channel etc etc. The horizon is vast, the boat, and other small boats that we came on in our passage, paddled by one or two fishermen, say, were insignificant in the vastness. Yesterday I made the trip back down, for the same seven hours, through the same vastness, this time more hazy from the burning off of stubble in the fields. And after that came a prop plane flight from Sittwe to Rangoon.

Such a contrast this morning from that slow ease and lack of hi-tech, to see on the TV in the lobby of my guesthouse a broadcast of Obama addressing Congress, carried live on al-Jazeera. It's a new world, we hope. And even in places where the powers that be try to keep the doors closed, people now seem to have more access to the world... Let it continue!

I'm due to fly north tomorrow, to Myitkyina, for eight days. I'm assuming there will be no internet access, or not much, so that it's most likely I'll next be writing here on March 7 or so, just before I fly out from Rangoon to Thailand. Please keep wishing me luck!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I seem to have been marking anniversaries, sombre ones, in this blog.  Here I go again.  

Today, February 12, is the anniversary of the day 22 years ago when, in the small hospital on Koh Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand, I gave birth to an extremely premature girl baby.  She was at 25 weeks gestation, there were no facilities for even trying to save her, and she died about 5 hours later.  I call her Mali, to myself, which means Jasmine, in Thai, and I think of that time occasionally with a sense of loss but also gratitude.

The hospital was surrounded by flowers, the windows open to ocean breezes.  Everyone was very kind, and also philosophical, rather than dramatic or doing a kind of "there, there" number on us.  It was just a bad-luck case of premature labour, and there she was...  For a week after I was able to swim every day in the ocean, stroking away my hurt and coming to life again.

And because of that, we have a wonderful older son Dominic, born later that 1987, in November, also prematurely, but a little more mature, so that the staff at the hospitals in Toronto were able to save him.  He is now an extremely wonderful intelligent loving 21 year old young man, our bunny rabbit, as we thought of him those first years.  I wouldn't trade him for anything.

So when trouble strikes, I always try to remember that the future isn't knowable, and often out of the greatest sorrow or difficulty comes the greatest joy and wonder.

Sorry to preach.  I'm not trying to, but somehow these anniversaries make me ponder...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


So much has happened since I last wrote.  That is a reflection of packed weeks, but also an acknowledgement that I have not managed to post here for almost three weeks.  How disgraceful!  I do have excuses of course, the largest one being that I've been immersed, immersed in our immersethrough project.

Last week for eight days we had the huge pleasure of engaging with a group of eleven who had travelled here to Chiang Mai for our first immersethrough experience.  (For more on the idea and on the general outlines of it all, please go to and the Chiang Mai page.)  Now they've all gone and we have had a few days to breathe...  And we've also started taking stock.

I was just so delighted as the week was happening to realise how much everyone was enjoying the process, and gaining confidence and learning.  And as the week went on, we could feel the participants gaining confidence and knowledge, not just about food, but about all sorts of aspects of Thai culture.  The mirror to that was the confidence that Ying and Jam and Fern's mother, whom we all called Koon Mae, found as they worked with the group, showing them everything from how to hold a knife, to how to manage a charcoal stove (we cooked on traditional charcoal stoves, nothing else), to how to pound a spice paste most effectively in a mortar.

I'm hoping to post again before I leave for Burma on Saturday.  I just didn't want any more days to go by without saying thank-you to everyone who came, and to let you all know what a pleasure we found you and how grateful we are for your curiosity and enthusiasm.

Moving forward: Now, as of full-moon day, two days ago, I am re-engaging with the camera (it was so strange to leave it at home these last two weeks as we've been prepping and then immersing).  I am reminded of how much I still have to learn just to be more comfortable with the digital technology.  This morning I tried for the first time to download images into  handy gadget I bought before leaving Toronto called "Photo Safe ll", and discovered that somehow the pins are already crooked or maybe I am just not competent (always a reasonable explanation!) so that I am unable to insert the camera's compact flash card into the slot on the Safe.  There goes that good storage idea!.

I am not taking my computer to Burma, so I guess, unless I solve this storage problem, I'll just take flash cards, enough for the trip, treating them like rolls of film, essentially.

Whew!  It's all a little intimidating.

But in fact I just want to hang around in Burma, get to Sittwe on the west coast and the nearby ruins in Mrauk U, and then I also hope to get north to Myitkyina.  Yes, there will be shots, but I am not feeling like it's a now-or-never situation.  I'm hoping to poke around in markets and to just decompress a little, absorbing what I see and feel and not trying to rush things.  I'm hoping to have many chances to travel in Burma, using Chiang Mai as my base, over the next few years, so this is just a start.  Haven't been since Jeff and I and the kids went in January of 1998... Yikes! Eleven years already!

And as time feels flown-by, so to speak, it also sometimes slows in a wonderful way.  For me that happened yesterday and the day before, on two moving and extraordinary visits to a temple just outside Chiang Mai, where there lives a monk who dispenses wisdom.  Ganesh, the amiable Hindu elephant-shaped god, seems to play a huge role at the temple.  He's a good reminder, with his physical ease, so apparent in the statues there showing him lounging and reading a book, or just taking it slowly, that life is for living appreciatively, not a train station to hurry through.