Tuesday, February 12, 2013


The sky is limpid, pale blue with touches of pink-tangerine. Sunset was half an hour ago.  Once the sun had disappeared the sky to the west was a glowing orange - not red, not pink, orange – bordered with the purple-blue line of the steep Shan hills that run north-south and frame this lovely Inle Lake world. 

I wrote that short paragraph a few days ago, when I was staying by Inle Lake for three days with the valiant group of people who came on my first immersethrough food tour to Burma.

But we were busy, engrossed with travelling on the lake, exploring around, cooking, talking…and so I did not manage to write anything more. My apologies for the long gaps between postings here. I last posted at the full moon, and since then the old lunar year has ended with the arrival of the new moon.

Of course in all this time I’ve had many thoughts and ideas, things I have for a moment looked at in my mind’s eye as I thought, aha, that would be a good thing to talk about in my next blogpost. But unless I write ideas down or act on them fairly quickly, they vanish into the ether. All I’m saying I guess is that this long gap does NOT mean that I have more to say right now. It may be somewhere in my head, that messy stack of undeveloped thoughts and ideas, but they are not retrievable at will. When they choose to surface or show themselves, as I hope they do, at least some of them, then I’ll have more to work with.

For now, sitting here in Rangoon, in the charmless but confortably familiar lobby of the Eastern Hotel (the place I stay when I’m here on my own; with the group we stay at the Summit Park View near Shwedagon), with the familiar faces and voices of the long time staff around, I’m happy to be sipping a Myanmar beer and eating a ripe avocado spoonful by spoonful. My only seasonings are salt and a squeeze of lime juice. It’s part of my renewing and recharging day. After a week of large convivial meals, I needed a break in the pattern. That meant a simple nan-piar with black coffee this morning, a rice with chickpeas in it and fried egg on top for late lunch, and now this green supper.

Today is a holiday in Burma, “Union Day”. There are many closed shops, and a wonderful shortage of traffic on the streets. They’re even less busy than on a Sunday. And people are out walking with their little kids, strolling through the local markets and visiting temples.

At around noon I walked up to Osaka, a little noodle shop that makes fabulous Shwe daung khao swe (noodles topped with a light coconut milk and pork dressing, with a good broth and plenty of interesting condiments and pickles), only to find it closed for the holiday. I can’t blame them. After all, usually they are open seven days a week, from 5 am to 5 pm. On the walk back, I strolled through Yegyaw Market, quiet today but still open for business, bought some laphet thoke makings (fermented tea leaves in two forms, plus the nuts and crunchies mixture that goes with them), then started across Bogyoke Road.

But there was a large crowd gathered on the side of the road, clearly waiting for something to happen, so I walked over to have a look. It was like a medieval or village festival in feel, as the crowd stood quietly and expectantly waiting in the shape of a large hollow rectangle. In the centre were 16 or 20 poles, in pairs , some about three feet tall, some more than five feet, each topped with a small flat metal surface. A supple coordinated-looking young guy was walking on them, stepping from one to the next, then pausing, testing its stability. Sitting on the ground, holding onto each pole to keep it steady, was a crowd of young men, all in red king-fu club tee-shirts and loose pants.

Aha! Suddenly I understood. This was prep for a lion dance. With all of the poles tested, the guy and his partner, each wearing pink-and-silver-patterned leggings, picked up the fluffy fluncy lion dance lion costume, pulling on the head so that its long-lashed eyelids fluttered, and swishing the body as they settled under the “body” covering.

The drum started, first enticing, then exciting, as the lion twitched and glanced around, the crowd still, attentive, unmoving. Then suddenly the lion leapt up onto the poles, one leg on each, swayed, nodded and rolled its head, then leapt again. It  crouched, wiggled, looked back over its shoulder…  And so it went on, as the drum intensified in volume, then paused, shifting the pace, then picked it up again: all artistry and willing suspension of disbelief. It was magic and enthralling, not just the lion, but the complete engagement of the adults and kids watching.

Chinese New Year has never looked so good to me. And the about-to-vanish-in-modernity charm of Rangoon still lingers… There may be traffic jams now, and SIM cards for cell phones (I just bought my first Burmese one today), and money-change emporia, and ATMs (all very recent changes, in the last few months), but people are not yet jaded, and they don’t take pleasures and treats for granted.

It’s all a reminder that we can all do with a pause to appreciate whatever treat or privilege or pleasure we receive in a day. Often in my rush to move on to the next thing, I forget to take that moment to savour things.

The lion dance moment.

Happy year of the snake. May it help us all shed our old skin of stale dry habits and see life and people and the world generally with fresh vulnerable eyes.

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