When I went to CityMart the other day (the big grocery store near us) they had a stand that was selling these green triangles. I have seen them around town a couple times and thought it was about time to try them. I knew that they were banana leafs wrapped around sticky rice, what I didn't know was what was inside of them. Watch the video to find out how we liked it.
Note: I later found out that we were in fact not supposed to re-heat it like we did. I still don't know what was inside this dumpling but I would be willing to try it again but defiantly with something different inside this time.
Saturday. Our adventure day. Kim was pretty set on not going to see more Buddha statues, “I’ve seen one so I’ve seen them all” which made for quite the challenge of finding an adventure for us to go on that didn’t involve Pagodas, there are quite a lot of them here. After searching a few websites, I came across a giant man built cave that sounded very promising so off we went.
It didn’t look too far on our little map, and it was right on our road, so we took off on foot. Kim has spent a good amount of time walking around the neighborhood making it a fun time of her pointing out things that she has noticed and places she has visited. Eventually we walked out of the range of her journeys and continued on down the busy road that we were following. We walked for a while along Inya lake which was a nice break from the buildings and cars.
In the park we found what looked to be a playground but upon closer investigation it was actually a "workout station" including directions on how to use each piece of "equipment" to get fit.
After we left the pagoda we were getting hungry but Kim was determined to (still) not eat on the street. Being a chef she was very concerned about the sanitary of the food environments of the street stalls – I really can’t blame her. So we found a small indoor restaurant to grab a bite at. I ordered a strawberry milkshake which was quite tasty. They told us that they had “one chicken” left so we went for it and ordered that. It came as a heaping dish of fried rice with a large chicken leg on top. As is the norm here, we also received a slew of unknown side dishes. I believe these are used to mix with your main dish to make it taste more individualized – either more spice or more sour, etc. You also almost always receive a bowl of clear-broth soup with green vegetables.
Refueled, we decided it was time to figure out the local transportation system. Although I certainly do not understand the buses here (there are no bus maps or bus schedules), we were informed that there was one main bus line that ran down our road all the way to downtown. Since we were actually still on our main road we thought we would give it a try. Looking up and down the street we found a group of people standing together and assumed that they were waiting for the bus. After only a minute or two, sure enough, a bus came rolling through. Lots of people got on and off but we decided to pass this one up because it was PACKED. This is the norm here because so many people ride the local “Ferry” as it is called. We waited for the next one to come along only a few minutes later and flagged it down. I’m pretty sure the bus did not actually come to a full stop, instead it slowed down and the man that was hanging out of the makeshift door reached out and pulled us each up and in. As soon as my second foot left the pavement, we were zooming down the road. The man pushed us up in the bus and I stumbled as the locals scooted over to give us room to sit. I practically fell on a man sitting on the bench I was going for but managed to get situated.
The buses themselves are ancient creatures that are certainly from a by-gone era. Almost all of the cars/trucks in the city are on the newer side. I was told that this is because the government wanted to clean up the city so they told everyone that if they had a vehicle over 20 years old they would have to turn it in, but in return they would receive a voucher for so many dollars off a new vehicle. This happened just a year or two ago when they changed the import regulations. So if you have read any stories of visitors riding in cabs with wooden floorboards, holes in the ceiling, non-working windows or doors, etc. I will gladly tell you that this is no longer the case (at least not in Yangon). The busses however are a different story. These are very old and designed for different environments. The doors on most of these are on the left side of the bus, meaning that one would have to exit in the middle of traffic (since we drive on the right here). Luckily most have chosen to create their own right-sided doors – solving at least that situation.
Each bus has at least three people working on it at any given time: the driver, the doorman, and the money collector. After we got settled we noticed a guy who was holding a stack of money and others who just got on also, were handing him a payment for the ride. As he came over to our area I asked how much and he said 100. I dug a 200 note out to pay for me and Kim. That means that the entire ride was a whole $0.10 a person. Yes TEN CENCE. We will defiantly be riding the bus more often.
The ride was speedy and got us downtown in only about 20 minutes. Although their method of getting on and off was a bit hectic, it provided for a much quicker ride. Happily they actually came to a complete stop to let practically the entire bus off at a main bus stop just short of Sule Pagoda, the center point of down town. Since we had only gotten a bit to eat at the last restaurant, we were still hungry so we thought we would try out one of the places in the Lonely Planet (aka the bible for anyone traveling through Myanmar).
Just a street or two over from the bus stop we tracked down 999, a tiny shan noodle house that would have been easy to pass by if we weren’t looking for it. Shan Noodles are a Myanmar dish developed in the north of the country in Shan state. Similar to true ramen noodles it is carefully made in a flavorful broth that holds a handful of long, thin noodles. These are topped with some red, paste stuff and include some green vegetables that Kim says is napa cabbage. We were both served quickly and enjoyed our warm bowls of soup. While eating we saw many other foreigners come in. It was probably the most foreigners I have seen in one place (besides people that I work with) since we have been here. All in all, 999 is a tasty place but I defiantly prefer the other shan noodles that we got when we were on the walking tour of downtown.
Leaving 999 we decided to go in search of cheese. On the walking tour of downtown we found this ah-maZe-inggg frying cheese that was sold to us from one of the street stalls that we passed along the way. However, in our 5 hours of walking we must of passed hundreds of street stalls. Luckily I have a fantastic spacial memory and had an idea of the area of town that we found it in. Map in hand we began to meander along the crazy streets of downtown. Retracing our footsteps from our walking tour was similar to a scavenger hunt of sorts where we were on constant look out for things we might have previously seen to tell us we were on the right track.
Eventually we found a corner that I knew we had turned down, shortly after we saw the JDoughnuts that I was certain we had passed, and finally we came to the street with THE CHEESE! Although the cheese lady that we had originally purchased from was not there that day, we did find a similar looking cheese in the same area – woohoo!!! Here is me, triumphant with our much-sought-after cheese.
After a busy day we were happy to find our way back to the bus stop so we could get a lift home. We waited for the right bus a jumped on as it passed by. There was no sitting room as the entire bus was so full of people so we held onto the bars above our head tightly as we swerved through traffic. When the money collector guy made it to us I handed him a 200 note. He took this and asked for one from Kim. I told him no, that it was for the both of us. He said that 200 was for just one of us. I responded that we had just ridden the bus and it was 100 for one person. We continued to argue as he began telling us that it was a special price because it was a special bus. Well it didn’t look all that special to me. I know it was only $0.20 but it was more about the point that they were trying to scam us because we were foreigners – which does happen here fairly often. Eventually he stopped arguing with me and we gladly got off at the stop near our building. Later I did find out that the buses will charge different rates based on the bus, the time of day, and just about anything they feel like. Ooops.
Sunday we did our usual routine of lazy morning followed by grocery shopping. For dinner we decided to go out and find some Dimsum (super tasty chinese dumplings). Kim had seen a Dimsum restaurant when she had visited a shopping mall earlier in the week with Sharon, so we went back to Dagon Center to try it out. Dagon Center was the first shopping mall I have been to here in Myanmar and it was truly a different world. You enter from the dirty streets that are bustling with street stalls and vendors of all sorts to a clean, white, florescent lit, sterile environment. There were 6 floors, plus the ground level, making 7 floors of shops at Dagon Center. Rather than the wide open expanse of shopping space that I am used to from the States, here they build up so the actual area of each level is fairly small but they still manage to cram a lot into the space. There were all sorts of shops including clothing, shoes, handbags, cell phones, stationary, gadgets, and restaurants. The very top level hosts a children’s play area similar to that of Chuckie Cheese as well as a movie theater (we will have to check this out sometime).
On the fourth floor we found the Dimsum restaurant. This seemed certainly like a chain place but ended up being quite tasty. I’m sure people who have had “real” chinese Dimsum might not agree but we found it delicious. We ordered 6 or 7 different dishes to share that included everything from red pork rice dumplings to ramen rapped dumplings. After we devowered those we asked for the menu again and ordered another 5 or so dishes and continued to munch. Each dumpling was fresh, hot, flavorful, and just yummy. We even tried some fried dumplings and some sweet cream filled ones. It was a delicious meal that we are certain to enjoy again! The best part being that we can since the check for the two of us only came to $11. Oh happy day!
Afterwards we popped over to the ice cream parlor next door called Swensen’s. We had seen this restaurant around town and wanted to try it out. We decided to share a sundae together and it was so rich with hot fudge, caramel, and dense ice cream that between the two of us we couldn’t finish it. It was unusual having such flavors after not tasting anything like it for so long. It was a great treat but at a high price of $5.60 for just the sundae. I hope we can return here again also maybe next time just a cone will do. I will say that the ice cream is pretty amazing, just like home – which is saying something because so far we have not had good ice cream experiences here.
Monday quickly came and began my second week of school. I’m working on getting to know my kids names, the class schedule, planning for classes, and just getting into a basic routine. Developing material for a whole new curriculum is quite exhausting. I’m still in survival mode right now, just getting enough planned and prepped for the next class or day. I’m looking forward to when things begin settling in and I have some long-term plans set. Until then, wish me luck.
It was a very exciting day on Wednesday when we decided to finally go get some kitchen equipment. I have been amazed at what Kim can do with only a 2 burner hot pot and a rice cooker, but to make our lives a little easier and better we knew we would need a bit more. We set off in search of a toaster oven and blender. Heading to the “new Ocean,” since that was most recommended for household goods like these. This is another large department store similar to Walmart in the way that it has everything from fresh fish and food goods to clothing to electronics and everything else you could need. We had only one option for a toaster oven so that was an easy choice. For the blender we got one that doubles as a food processor as well as a juicer (supposedly). I know it doesn’t sound like much but we were ecstatic bringing home our new kitchen toys.
A week of so ago Kim began looking for job opportunities. This proved quite difficult because a lot of job positions here are filled by word of mouth. Kim knew she didn’t want to work in one of the big hotel restaurants opening up but those are also the ones that would be able to pay her what her experience is worth. The positions available are slim to none but she did respond to one add in particular looking for a chef for a new western restaurant opening soon. We hadn’t thought about it much until she actually got a response asking for an interview this week. Yippie!! So Kim went off to a café to meet up with one of the investors of the restaurant. They instantly hit it off as Kim explained her cooking experience and philosophy (no microwaves and no oily food). Obviously Alex, the part owner of the restaurant absolutely loved her – who could blame him? But there was a problem, they were only prepared to pay a small salary to who they hire. Kim stood her ground, knowing that she was worth much more than that, and said that she needed to be compensated accurately. She left the meeting with good vibes but no position.
About an hour after the meeting Kim received an email from Alex saying that he couldn’t think of anyone better to fit the position and he wanted Kim no matter what. He offered her the salary that she had asked for along with some perks if she would take the job.
That is how Kim became the Head Chef and Kitchen Manager of Smoothie Foodie, a western smoothie parlor and café. She will be focusing on making good western food with – wait for it – no rice! And no noodles! And no oily foods! The restaurant is still under construction currently but they are hoping to open by the end of September or early October. Yay!
To celebrate we went to see the restaurant space on Friday night where we met the other owner Austin. Austin is a local Myanmar, but lived in Toronto for 7 years so he is fond of the western way of life and western food. He returned to Myanmar not too long ago and began importing vehicles for the high class along with making some very strategic (and very profitable) real estate choices. They all sat down and talked about menu options, general food questions, and what kind of equipment and supplies Kim wants. After listening to Kim talk about food for an hour we all got very hungry! Kim can do that to people.
Austin decided to take us to Sharkies – a very nice western restaurant that we had heard about from a bunch of different people. The specialize in making their own ingredients like cheese, pasta, and sauces. They serve amazing handmade pizza and pastas. It was a delicious evening.
As Austin was dropping us back at our apartment I mentioned that he should take us out and show us the night life at some point (since he was fairly young and obviously knew what there is to know about the area). His response was “Okay, I’ll pick you up in an hour.” We were super tired but honored by his generosity and always up for a good adventure so we agreed. So began an evening that I would have never imagined to happen – let along in Yangon, Myanmar.
Austin and Alex picked us up in his fancy car after a quick shower and change and swooped us off into the night. Speeding down the road he asked if we would like to have a pre-drink. Sure, why not? He jacked the wheel and did a u-turn in the middle of the busy street and slid into a spot in front of a place called Cask 81. We were immediately greeted by men opening our doors and holding umbrellas for us on the short walk to the entrance. When we came through the doors it was as if we were stepping into a completely different world separate from the dirt, rain, and poverty that was right outside. This place was nowhere like I had seen here, nowhere like I had ever been. It made me think of a smoking parlor that would have been on the Titanic, minus the smoking. The lights were dim; the interior design was Asian fusion; the servers looked fancier than I could any day. We were led to an area with plush true leather seats surrounding glass coffee/side tables. I was so glad that I decided to dress up a bit! They handed us menus of all drinks served only by the bottle – to clarify they were almost all whisky. This was a top of the line whisky place. All of my assumptions of this place were made true in the dollar amounts of the menu items. The only things that were cheaper than $200 were the mixers that were about $5 for a can of soda. At least it was easy to decide what I was going to have since that was obviously the only thing we were going to be able to afford.
Austin spoke easily to the server in Myanmar and he returned with a tasting glass for him, which he sipped and nodded as the man scurried off again. This time he came back with a bottle of whisky – but not any old whisky, a bottle of 18-year-old Glenlivet. They poured a glass for each of us and asked if we wanted a mixer. I ordered sour mix (whisky sours are my absolute favorites) and they gave me the best sour mix I have ever tasted – hands down. We lounged there sipping the amazingness and gabbing about our interests, histories, and restaurant plans. The Glenlivet was the smooth, silky, and beyond delicious. That is what you get with a price tag of $400 for the bottle. Nothing will ever taste the same after that.
Reluctantly I peeled myself out of the comfy state I had settled in as we set off to our next destination. It wasn’t a long car ride before we pulled into a driveway lined with all sorts of fancy cars. Even though it was dark, it was easy to find where we were going due to the blaring music. Stepping through a pair of Porsches we weaved through the people outside smoking and found the way to the door. I followed closely behind our group past the security and into a nightclub. Who would have known they had a place like this here. All of the lights were off and the foggy air (that must have been created with dry ice) was sliced with flashing neon lights. The music was ear-pounding loud and some sort of techno-dance style. Austin quickly found someone to assist him as he must have asked for a table. They quickly escorted us to a very nice high table in a peak area of the room. Shortly another bottle of whisky arrived, this time it was a Johnny Walker Gold Label. I happily accepted a glass. Unfortunately after drinking the spectacular Glenlivet, this tasted like well whisky in comparison. I later found out that they hold the rest of the bottle (that we didn’t finish) at the bar under Austin’s name for when he returns – The Glenlivet they delivered to his house the following day. The night continued with dancing, munching on crunchy snacks provided by the bar, laughing at the actions of the crowd, trying to hold conversations over the music, and generally fun festivities.
I so wish I had pictures of this whole evening but I didn’t want to look tourist-y so I left all of my cameras at home but hopefully my written description gave you a view into the epic evening that it was. It was a night that felt more like a dream the next day – it was so unexpected, so out of place, and so unbelievable.
We started the weekend off by adventuring up to visit the Pagoda that our street we live on is named after; Kaba Aye Pagoda (also known as Kabaye Paya or a combination of the two). Directly next to the Pagoda stands what sounded like a very cool cave. Mahapasana Cave was completely man made for the Sixth Buddhist Synod that was held in 1954, this was a huge celebration of the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment. Both of these are found above Inya Lake, about 30-45 minutes above downtown.
The cave entrance was marked like many special places here - by a tall archway, glinting with gold and swirls. There was no cave in sight as we meandered down a small road lined with grassy spans, but soon, in between the trees we saw an epic entrance. The 30” doorway was dwarfed by the extension of the entrance that spread at least another 50” in the air. We paid the taxi driver and took a moment to stand and admire the immaculate stonework in the entranceway. Leaving our shoes at the small archway we passed a giant bell surrounded by the lion/gargoyle creature that accompany almost any special place. Anticipation grew as we walked the distance to get to the entry way and when we finally walked through the doors . . . we were very disappointed. What lay in front of us was an expansive space not unlike that of an auditorium where concerts and sports games are held. On each side of the open area were rows of chairs leading up to a platform with small golden Buddha statues lining most of the hall. At the front of the room there was a stage area with some fancy chairs and a retro Buddha. That was about it. Besides being massive, it was mostly unimpressive. Perhaps we would have appreciated it more it we would have known a bit more about it but it was hard not to be disappointed.
Walking back out to retrieve our shoes I noticed an interesting looking building across the street. Heading in to investigate, a kind, English speaking lady informed me that it was a place of teaching – a university of sorts I believe.
We continued on down a dirt road and shortly found ourselves at the back entrance of Kaba Aye Pagoda. Taking off our shoes again we carried them inside with us as we began our way around the small circle interior. There was a main room in the middle that was fairly small yet large enough for a good 20 or so people to kneel and worship at. It of course had a lovely golden Buddha figure presented at an alter. Outside the room there were 4 or so large Buddha statues that people were also worshiping at.
After circling around a time or two we stepped out into the white floored open area trying to get our bearings on which way we should exit – there were 4 or 5 exit areas. We chose the exit that looked the busiest, assuming that it would most likely lead us out to the main road. The exit was enclosed and packed with all sorts of goods for sale, most relating to worship but some just random (like a toy dog that walks and barks). I was impressed by some of the salesmen who were carving their goods by hand right in front of us (most of these being small wooden Buddha statues).
All in all it was a fun adventure and a nice way to spend a weekend morning however I don't think I would return here as there is not much more to see or do besides the above.
We had the munchies after being sick with colds all weekend, so we went to the convenience store down the street and got a slew of Myanmar snacks. Each snack cost roughly $0.10 to $0.15. I am super excited that I got a video to upload because we just watched it and laughed at ourselves the whole time! Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
These are the snacks that we tried:
Tango "Fine Quality Milk Choc"
Shar Paw Wae
Cake Chat (Pineapple)
On Saturday Zoe (the middle school principle), along with a few other returning staff, led our group of new teachers on a walking tour of downtown Yangon. We spent five hours traipsing around the busy streets of the largest city area in Myanmar. We started at what used to be Trader’s Hotel, one of the highest end hotels in the country, we walked down for a view of Sule Pagoda which is in the center of the city in the middle of a round-about. Turning down another road, Zoe pointed out many of the government buildings and important places including the independence monument (a symbol of Myanmar’s independence from the British).
With the country just recently opened, it is under constant construction on every corner. Literally everywhere you look there is something under construction. Here is one site we came across.
It was such a fascinating walk with so much to see around ever corner.
We came across a few stalls that were selling books which seemed kind of strange. Zoe explained that when the country was closed there was strict control over reading material of all sorts. Now that it is open and the regulations are majorly loosened, the people love to read. It is a privilege to them. So they copy books and prints hundreds of more of them (they certainly don't follow copyright laws here) then sell them at low rates so everyone can afford to read.
There were so many fantastic buildings, bunches of them left over from the time of the British rule of the country. All of them crumbling, peeling, cracking, and covered with vines and/or mold from the tropical climate.
We passed many embassies on the way to The Strand Hotel, another high-class establishment, where we rested our feet and viewed the fabulous art gallery.
Crossing several busy lanes of traffic we passed through a small wet market on our way to the riverside. Zoe showed us where we can take the ferry over to another town across the river.
Only staying near the river for a few minutes we continued through the busy Yangon. There was so much to see! At one point we saw a group of men playing some sort of game on the street. After I had snapped a photo they asked others to please not take any photos so I am lucky to have this one.
We also saw a couple "pay phones." If people want to make calls but don't have a phone they can find one of these stalls where the ladies will let you make a call for a price. These are regular house hold phones that are attached to landlines that run all the way from the street to a nearby building.
There were plenty of stalls selling all sorts of things to eat. From snacks in the form of bagged chips and what not to fried food to meat on sticks that you put in boiling broth to cook.
We meandered through the streets for quite a long while more until we came to the Indian Spice Market (I believe the true name for this is Theingyi Zay Market). It had many tiny entrances all along the walls between stalls selling all sorts of goods, I wouldn’t have even noticed how to get in if they hadn’t pointed it out. The inside of this market was pure madness. It was so cramped and had so many people in it I have no idea how people manage their way around. I barley made my way in before turning back around to come out. Kim had a similar experience went into find the spices with Sharon. It is very overwhelming being around so many people.
I had been carrying around little K who is about two years old and it is amazing how much the locals just LOVED him! Almost everyone we walked by, especially women, would gawk and smile at him. He was given many small gifts, a banana, a flower, a fruit, along with multiple people asking to hold him. Whenever we passed someone who was close enough, which was all the time, they would touch him or squeeze his cheeks. We even got our picture taken. It was a strange experience and I was very glad that he didn’t mind it because otherwise it could have been awful for him. We enjoyed looking at the produce and other foods for sale outside of the market.
After the Indian Spice Market we traveled another twenty minutes or so to Bogyoke Aung San Market. This is probably the second biggest tourist attraction in Yangon (second only to Shwedegon Pagoda). It is a huge exotic place that sprawls over a couple levels and a large area of land. Defiantly designed for tourists it has a huge expanse of shops that include high-end jewelry stores, many shops to buy fabric to be made into clothing, and so many souvenir shops including lacquer ware, shoulder bags, puppets, slippers, gems, and t-shirts. We probably won’t be returning to this market anytime soon because it had a strong commercial feel to it. Plus there were more touts here than anywhere else we had seen in the city (a tout is someone who persistently tries to get you to buy their product – they many follow you around pushing their merchandise in your face for a long period of time and are very annoying).
Right around the corner from Bogyoke we found a phenomenal Shan Noodle shop where we both had a bowl of Shan Noodles that were amazing! We also shared some dumplings that were simply to die for along with some fresh mango juice and fried tofu (that Kim especially enjoyed)! Here, drool over some pictures of the deliciousness:
We were very thankful for Zoe and the others to show us around town but it was an exhausting and over-stimulating experience. I’m glad we kind of have the lay of the land down and we will defiantly go downtown another weekend soon so we can have a (hopefully) more relaxed time getting to know the area.
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world