Friday, September 30, 2011

Burmese Deliciousness!

A couple years ago a guy at my church recommended that I try his favorite restaurant when I visited San Francisco - Burma Superstar.  Besides having the coolest name ever, this restaurant boasts some of the finest food I have ever had in my entire life.  If you are ever in SF, you gotta check it out!!!!

There's usually a line because it's SOOOOOO GOOOOOD!!!

The food is a sort of fusion of Asian flavors - Thai, Chinese, Indian - to create somewhat familiar yet striking flavor combinations unique to Burma.  I've enjoyed some of their curry and noodle dishes as well as their salads, so I attempted their Rainbow Salad (although, I  made mine veggie - no shrimp...they look like bugs, and no fish sauce  - I used half and half soy sauce and worcestire...which technically has fish in it though, so I should have just got the fish sauce!!!)

P.S.  I also attempted Burmese Curry with noodles:

Recent News: Burma

I usually sign up for Google Alerts for daily emails of top articles related to the country that I am researching each month. The articles from Burma have been more varied and related to really significant change compared to any other country I have virtually traveled to so far. I have a feeling that the people of Burma themselves are talking a great deal about some of these topics as it seems their country's status internationally is at a moment where it could go one of two ways - gaining respect from some of the peace-keeping/humanitarian allied countries, or drawing increasing criticism for the oppressive leadership and human rights issues.

A crowd of relatives and friends wait in front of Insein Prison in Rangoon on May 17, 2011, eagerly looking for their loved ones to appear as part of a general prisoner amnesty release.

Here's some recent articles if you want some more detailed info on recent events:

US and Burmese Diplomats Hold Rare Meeting in Washington

Bringing Burma's Nuclear Secrets to the Table

Rechecking the Number of Political Prisoners in Burma

Monastic Education the Only Choice for Burma's Poor

US Urges India to Wield Influence over Burma

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Recent peaceful protest in Burma - sign of change to come?

Protesters in Burma offer prayers at the Sule Pagoda after they agreed to call off a rally when asked by the authorities to do so, in downtown Rangoon on September 26, 2011
An article was just posted at that is worth a read - a great rundown of recent events:

Burma: Could a Small, Peaceful Protest Signal Real Reform?


Padaung Women of Eastern Burma

Eastern Burma has a lot of diversity with many ethnic minorities from neighboring regions, including the Padaung people who are a small subset of the Karen ethnic group. You are probably most familiar with the Padaung because of a particular accessory:

In Padaung culture, the tradition of neck rings being worn by girls starts young - around the age of 5 or 6 - and by the time they reach adulthood they usually have 20-30 rings that measure 10"-15" from top to bottom.  They aren't actually rings that are added independently each time - instead it is a coil that is added to that wraps up around the woman's neck.  The weight of the rings pushes down the collar bone and upper ribs, giving the illusion of a longer neck.

X-ray comparison of a typical woman's collarbone versus a Padaung "long-necked" woman's pushed down collarbone.

Although the accessories appear elegant and beautiful, they come at a cost. Women with neck rings often cannot drink from a cup because by tipping their head back they become unbalanced and can fall over - thus drinking out a straw becomes the only option.

I've not been able to ascertain exactly when this practice started, but it is a longstanding tradition linked with the tribal group's mythology. According to folklore, the rings were first a protective measure to keep  tigers from breaking the necks of girls and women in the tribe.  However, modern critics have put forth the idea that the rings make the women less attractive to slave traders, or conversely that they are a tribal sign of beauty and wealth that will attract a good husband.  The neck rings play a pivotal role in some of the punishments of women in the tribe; adulturesses have their rings forcibly removed, and usually their neck muscles have atrophied to the point where the women can no longer hold their heads up and must spend the rest of their lives lying down or finding some alternate neck brace.  As you might imagine, adultery and divorce rates are low.
Padaung woman driving a car!
 In the last couple decades, many Padaung have left Burma while it was under oppressive military rule and fled across the border to Thailand, where many women have become a tourist attraction.  Some visitors come to marvel at the women's elegance, while others find the practice to be an abomination and do not support tour operators that visit Padaung villages, likening them to "human zoos."  I went to Thailand last year and didn't make it up to the area where the Padaung refugees are, and now I'm not quite sure how I feel about visiting them. I think the practice is both beautiful and horribly sexist, but I think that by boycotting the villages it takes away their main source of income...however it also encourages the practice to continue. Tricky tricky. What's worse is that the refugees have been offered resettlement land in New Zealand and Finland, but the Thai government won't issue them visas because they bring in tourist dollars. Awful!!! I tried to find a non-profit/charity that benefitted these women, providing education or support for not putting their daughters in the same position, but I couldn't find anything:( It would be great if there was a way for them to sell more of their traditional crafts or textiles instead to make money instead of having to suffer physical deformity to bring tourists in. Sad.

Monday, September 19, 2011

In the Quiet Land - a poem by Aung San Suu Kyi

Shepard Fairey's portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi
In the Quiet Land, no one can tell
if there's someone who's listening
for secrets they can sell.
The informers are paid in the blood of the land
and no one dares speak what the tyrants won't stand.

In the quiet land of Burma,
no one laughs and no one thinks out loud.
In the quiet land of Burma,
you can hear it in the silence of the crowd

In the Quiet Land, no one can say
when the soldiers are coming
to carry them away.
The Chinese want a road; the French want the oil;
the Thais take the timber; and SLORC takes the spoils...

In the Quiet Land....
In the Quiet Land, no one can hear
what is silenced by murder
and covered up with fear.
But, despite what is forced, freedom's a sound
that liars can't fake and no shouting can drown.

Exposure Project: Burma {Art Activism} Voices From Exile

US Envoy visits Burma

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Web restrictions lifted - Burmese gain access to BBC and YouTube:)

I try to keep up on the news for the countries I am checking out for my blog, and I was happy to read that some website restrictions in Burma have just been lifted! This is a step by the repressive government to show that they are attempting to lift some restrictions and improve international perception of Burma and boost internal morale. 

BBC, Reuters,  Radio Free Asia, and YouTube are some of the websites that have been blocked since a time of protests in 2007.  The lifting of the censorship coincides with a recent visit from a U.S. envoy as well as the United Nation's "International Day of Democracy" which celebrated Nobel Laureate and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who said she believes "changes are on the horizon."  

Aung San Suu Kyi

Although the lifting of web censorship is a positive step, TV broadcasts still remain tightly controlled by the government and foreign journalists are mostly barred from reporting in the country. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"On the Road to Mandalay"

When I think of "Mandalay" my first thought has always been the Mandalay Bay Casino in Vegas....but that is far, far from the real  Mandalay, which is located in north-central Burma.  In the 1890s, a young Rudyard Kipling (you probably remember him as the author of The Jungle Book) was inspired by the region and wrote a poem, which led to the song "On the Road to Mandalay," which in turn is thought to have inspired the Mandalay Bay Casino.  Here are some sights in the real Mandalay:

Sandamuni Paya

Shwenandaw Monastery

Ruyard Kipling hasn't been looked upon completely favorably recently, as he is sometimes considered to have imperialist and racist qualities in his works. Others feel there is evidence in his writings that he has respect for the peoples who came under British control during Imperialism.  Either way you feel, it is impossible to deny that his time in Asia had an enormous impact on him and that his works can give insight into some of the prevailing thought of the day. 

In his poem "Mandalay" he presents the viewpoint of a British soldier who describes his longing for Mandalay upon returning to dreary England. Here is the text of the poem (if you don't feel like reading it, skip down to the video of Frank Sinatra performing the song written for the text - a pretty random combo if you ask me!!!):

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat -- jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o'mud --
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd --
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "~Kulla-lo-lo!~"
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin' my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the ~hathis~ pilin' teak.
Elephints a-pilin' teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago an' fur away,
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and --
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be --
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Burmese script - my new favorite written language

Myanmar or Burma???

Inspired by the Seinfeld clip in my last post, I will now tackle the Myanmar/Burma name debate, so I can move forth this month using the correct name (unlike in January when I erroneously called the Democratic Republic of the Congo simply the Congo for weeks).

Map of Burma

Officially, the name of the country is Pyidaungzu Myanma Naingngandaw,  which is translated by the US government as the "Union of Myanmar."   Part of the confusion around the name of the country stems from the usage of both terms by the Burman people. "Myanmar" is the term usually used in forma settings and in written sources.  When speaking, the term "Burma" is most commonly used. 

Pyidaungzu Myanma Naingngandaw in Burmese.....
I don't think I could learn this language if I spent the rest of my life working on it!

In 1989, a ruling military junta changed the name of Burma to Myanmar, also changing the city Rangoon to Yangon.  The United Nations and some countries, such as France and Japan, recognize the new name, while the United States and the UK still use the name Burma.  Due to the familiarity of the older names, many news outlets still use "Burma" and "Rangoon."

In a statement, the British Foreign Office commented "Burma's democracy movement prefers the form 'Burma' because they do not accept the legitimacy of the unelected military regime to change the official name of the country." Sometimes the usage of the name Myanmar by individuals or organizations is taken as relative acceptance of the military regime.   Although there are calls for democracy in Burma, some thing the name will continue to be Myanmar even if the military junta is ousted and democratic control comes into power.  A linguist at the University of Western England, Richard Coates, feels that the adoption of the name Myanmar is an attempt to break from colonial past - from 1824-1948 the country was under British control.

Soooooooooooo, what am I going to call it.......well, although I think Myanmar is a funny name to say, I think I'm going to stick with Burma.  I made this decision not particularly based on political reasons (although I will spend some time in an upcoming post learning more about the political situation in the Union of Myanmar), but more because in my blog I celebrate the culture of different regions, and "Burma" seems to reflect the culture of the Burmese people better and is a less formal, more colloquial term, which is closer to the spirit of this blog!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Leaving India and moving on to Burma....or is it Myanmar????

Well, my two months in India has come to an end.  I slacked off a bit in the last two months and wrote about half as many posts as usual, which is why I stayed in India double time. I hope to be back on target  in September!!!

It was fun learning more about India. I certainly spent a lot of time learning about food. I probably cooked Indian food six or seven times and visited a few Indian grocery stores. I looooooove Indian food, and Indian leftovers are even better with age:) I was blown away by not only how many spices I used in the food, but by the quantity of those spices...tablespoons sometimes!!!!  I will definitely keep cooking Indian food and thanks to sweet Manjula for all the great recipes!

I listened to some Indian music off and on during the month - mostly off "The Darjeeling Limited" soundtrack, which first introduced me to my favorite Indian soundtrack duo - Shankar Jaikishan. If you haven't seen it yet, check out my post with a clip from one of their movies that features a song of theirs and some groovy underwater scenes.

I started reading a couple books by Indian authors and I'm sad to say I have as of yet not finished either, but I will!  I'm reading "A River Sutra" by Gita Mehta, which is the story of a retired Indian bureaucrat  who  retires along the banks of a holy river and encounters varied passersby who tell him the stories of their lives. I also am reading "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy, which tells the story of two fraternal twins growing up in Southern India in the late 60s and shifts to them being reunited in the 1990s. The book touches on the impact of communism and the caste system, weaving these themes through the stories of the well crafted characters that enter into the twins lives.

Altogether, I enjoyed my time exploring India in the last two months, and especially eating a ridiculous amount of Indian food.

For my next month, I'm not traveling to far afield from India. Due to my monthly blog dinners, cousin has requested Myanmar as my next country - no good Burmese restaurants here in San Diego, so it's time to take our love of Burmese food into our own hands!!!

I've gotta be honest - the first time I can remember hearing about the country of Myanmar was because of the show Seinfeld! Here's a clip to refresh your memories.....

Hahaha! Man, I love Peterman. But, why the name switch?????   To find out, check back in with my blog in a few days - my first post will look at the name change and a bit of the history of the region.