Returning to Myanmar shortly after the Government had changed the capital away from Yangon immediately confronted me with this military-controlled nation’s new adjustments. The electricity in large parts of Yangon is cut often so the new Capital Naypyitaw can be provided with electricity. Although I had seen all the News broadcasts about this political change, it quietly happened amongst all the world drama elsewhere, and no news station honestly reported about the tragic neglect of Myanmar’s youth, lying starved on the sides of their streets. Begging, these uneducated youth pester the few daring tourists visiting center districts. Schools are closed, and most teachers are jailed and claimed to be political enemies. The only chance for some education is becoming a monk… That requires more begging and living under straightforward conditions. Some of the monasteries can be abusive.
Straight out of the airport, where uniformed guys try getting a “tip,” one instantly understands the dire situation that invites corruption and unfair dealings. I gave away a pair of sports shoes and got away. I traveled further to Mandalay, the city of crafts and artists. Again, I was humbled by the economic circumstances and the many kids with no hope of education, healthcare, or a prosperous future. The many beautiful and old Temples become the only heaven for many to find rescue by committing themselves to a Monk’s rigorous and stern lifestyle. They are a valuable part of ancient Burma’s society, and I am surprised about their well-organized and groomed appearance. I steered up some quite unusual discussions with a few of them. One young monk did offer sex in exchange for money; I declined but gave him some money anyway.
Within the first day, I picked up a hammer and tried out the labor-intensive preparation of gilding gold foils. It takes three years to prepare such precious material used to color the temple domes and Buddhas, not to compare with the “fake” gold used in the souvenir market products.
Very trim and half-naked monks swing an oversized hammer over their heads precisely onto a stack of leather-wrapped gold nuggets until they expand and become super thin gold foil. Not easy!
I learned about snakeskin production and stone sculpting and even squatted on the peanut fields with the farmers harvesting the delicious nuts. But the most memorable moments were spent with wood carvers, a dying-out trade that fascinated me. The little village I visited is built on poles because the area floods during monsoon season. When that happens for two months, the livestock, cows, and chickens live upstairs in the homes. I felt utterly strange disrupting their day, but this visit clearly showed that I had nothing to complain about. Life is beautiful, and beauty is where we make it. I helped create a salve from candlenut leaves, turmeric, and galangal roots with peanut oil for the insect-infected skin, and the local people cautiously agreed to apply this to their wounds.
I will come back to Burma. It needed more of a trip in the future to fully appreciate the people and the very healthy food served splendidly in the villages. The cities are in disarray, and dirty and criminal activities at night make it unsafe. I hugged so many kids, laughed a lot, and, foremost, saw so much talent and respect. Contrary to political struggles, People living in Myanmar are exemplarily friendly, caring, and inviting. There was a sense of walking in past times, visiting a culture that existed in the past, and I never felt unease or uncomfortable amongst them.
I will post a little video of my trip here soon.
Back in Singapore, I am cooking for Asia Channel TV, a two-episode promotion for red white & pure with Host Cheryl Fox. She is a hoot to work with; she is professional and incredibly talented! The producer, Mark Pestana, showed great interest in cooking with TCM, which shows… Here is a link to the video clips.