Laminated dough

There is a Burmese saying that goes, “If you want good tea, let the picker climb the slope slowly.” Allow people and events to unfold in their own time. Don’t rush.

Which is why I am a coffee addict instead. Which is probably why Myanmar has been taking this long to hold (semi-)democratic elections or legislate basic social measures. Not in a rush at all. The country laid dormant for a good chunk of the 20th century and awakened to a new world of smart phones and severe opposition against genocides.

If you are like me, a third world native in and out of separate worlds with multiple visa stories, you will likely already have a degree of patience for ambiguity. Things take longer at checkpoints. Your weekend getaway plans have to be laid out with some advanced oversight. Waiting is part of the game. You are somewhat used to it.

Yet, my patience for ambiguity has never been tested to this degree as during this period. It is a common feeling for others right now. I have been trapped in dire circumstances before, even worried for my personal safety but there was also some novelty and adrenaline involved. Right now, it is just going through a protracted transitioning process day in and out. I would rather a quick snap, like ripping off a band-aid. People, teams, and flights are just taking a little while longer to get back to me. Just have to wait them out. Waiting.

The thing about waiting only for a future outcome is that you cannot find happiness in that corner of your head space. Happiness is neither in the past nor the future. Pursuit of happiness is present. I think I will be happier if I start viewing the act of waiting as an act, rather than just something that happens to me.

In the Burmese saying, you are allowing the tea picker – the external circumstances – to take their time and fall into place. Sometimes, you forget that you are that tea picker. You have to wait on yourself, too. Stillness is the move, but I just do not know how come I view my own time as so limited. It is a type of mania – this worrying about how I am running out of time to do and see things I want.

As I type this, I am waiting on my laminated dough so I can make breakfast croissants on this cool, rainy morning here in East London.

Whenever I am letting the dough stretch and rise, or when I am pickling something in a jar, or watering my seedlings to grow, I am usually able to practise what Buddhists call Upekkha – a form of gentle and loving detachment. I am not ignoring the dough or the plant. I am not trying to fight off something in fear or in restlessness. This is not a fight or flight mode. I am in care of a certain part of the process, while keeping my distance but switching my focus to something else that requires more active attention…like washing the dishes or writing this note while letting the dough thaw or rise.

Why can’t I do more of that in my day to day life?

Serial Monogamist

Winter in Yangon!

It is 63 degrees this morning! SIXTY THREE. No more rain and flooded streets. Yangon is gorgeous when it wants to be.

This week, I’m truly a free woman. FREE woman. Just to top things off, today is the day to claim my free tenth coffee at Bar Boon downstairs from my office, after I have purchased their coffee at exorbitant prices for the past nine times. Love it when things work out like that.

Today, I want to write about boys. Through the lens of an ambitious, heterosexual female.

Length of breakup negotiations: This really cute baby was born around the same time of my breakup.
Been a lifetime: This really cute baby in his sailor outfit was born around the same time of my most recent breakup.

When you are in early twenties, it’s easy to dismiss boys as unimportant or trivial. There is still graduate school to worry about, and you’re still learning the ropes at your workplace. Yet, at a time when Myanmar is going through a historic transformation, the society as a whole is changing. When it comes to dating, there is more than one protocol to follow for us Burmese ladies, and we’re getting pickier than to say yes to someone your parents ask you to. Arranged marriages are falling out of fashion and yet we also do not yet openly discuss dating with your parents – at least my family does not.

So amidst this change and confusion, where do we look to for guidance and advice when it comes to boys?

But we are not alone in feeling clueless.

David Brooks of New York Times comments that “[Society] is structured to distract people from the decisions that have a huge impact on happiness in order to focus attention on decisions that have a marginal impact on happiness. The most important decision any of us make is who we marry. Yet there are no courses on how to choose a spouse.”

Even if marriage isn’t your end goal and you are focused on your work, new studies suggest that you should not underestimate its role.

Upon one of the many long rural car rides, my former boss Jim Taylor of Proximity Designs, memorably said that my career trajectory will inevitably change depending on my life partner. Then, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the most badass woman alive ever, has popularized the idea that “the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.”


And remember, Sheryl is not talking about hypergamy. Marrying up has lost its cool in 2013, as this Financial Times piece aptly articulates. Out with hypergamy, and embrace equal relationships. Grab this book written by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober to hear their research on how to get to 50/50.

Lean In
Defining Decade

While Sandberg tells you to remember the professional impact of your pair-bonding decisions, Dr. Meg Jay tells you to be intentional about your love life as you are with work and get out of relationship ruts.

She says that most of today’s twenty-somethings grew up in broken families and unhappy marriages so we tend to be skeptical of this institution, but Dr. Meg Jay claims that marrying late is not necessarily marrying better. Did you know that statistics show that divorce rates stabilize once the age of marriage hits 25? Some of us don’t want to get married next year but it’s never too early to becoming aware of what you would make you happy ten years down the line.

Of course my mother prefers for me to date one person and marry him, like she has done and like so many Burmese men and women aspire to. Lucky for them. When my mother gets freaked out about my dating decisions, this is what I repeat to her from Lean In:

When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is to date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious.

If that’s what you want.

Happily successful

I have a teacher.

His name is Jim and he came to my commencement.  When I first told him that I wanted to study architecture, he told me I am better suited for something else, and taught me modern world history.  Four years later, I graduated from college with political science. Yes, he is so spot on.

Like all other good old teachers, Jim likes to encourage and cheer on my work.  And like all human beings, I need to hear every once in a while that everything is going to be alright.  When I have been unemployed and homeless (from the virtue of graduating), he tells me that I am a go-getter and that I am enterprising.  Then, today, he adds that I will be “happily successful.”

Which gets me thinking.  This maybe just what I have wanted in life after all.  To be happily successful.

Success is hard to define and measure.  In conventional terms, success usually connotes a rather public facet and a solid product of tangible, material achievement that can be boiled down as a statement and measured with a yardstick.  Let nonprofits be an example.  For a nonprofit, this is where hard statistics comes in.  For survival, every organization needs to boost of facts and figures, like the number of mosquito nets that get distributed, or the number of participants in a healthy cooking workshop.

Then, there is a softer form of measuring success.  For social organizations, anecdotes do the trick.  Check out the picture of a credit borrower at website, or a heart-warming story of a happier underdog that Pisgah Legal Services tells to a grant-maker.  We need to assess something less official and more human.  For individuals, this maybe love, happiness, meaningful fellowships, trust, connection, company, you name it.

Wanting the best of both worlds may seem pretty straight-forward to some, but for others, it’s not at all obvious. Especially, when we are young and full of ambition. We want to advance ahead of our peers, even if they are friends.  At this point and time, we have not yet tasted the hard success, which is the focus of our life right now. Most of my friends have dreams of an executive – working for World Bank, getting promoted, taking up prestigious fellowships, eyeing on a large sum of money from an innovation, and making important allies.

At the same time, there is a vague sense of distance and distrust in some quarters.  Issues of intimacy maybe the most trite and therefore banal problem of our modern society.  Among my Burmese friends, it’s due to accredited wealth, in such a cash-strapped society with various material pressures.  They therefore tend to retract into families, which is not a bad thing in itself.  Some of these individuals may be socialites, with hundreds of followers and friends, but at a deeper level, they open up and entrust themselves only to a few family members.

Then, my American friends, with American guilt.  The United States has a large footprint in the world and the youths feel the shame.  The father may own a household name company that makes tools for cutting timber when the student specializes in a discipline that aims to prevent such acts.  I knew from growing up in Burma that poverty is difficult, but I hadn’t realized that being so privileged is not easy either.

In the end, when you don’t know who to trust, how much to open up and what to love, it’s also hard to be happy. People my age and folks I know seem to be on the right track to ‘success’ – the hard power, the tangible – but we are so lost on how to be balanced and happy.  That is not to say that I don’t know loving, trusting individuals that are also aggressively successful.  I mean, look at my lady friends Brianna, Rachel, Amy or Jessie!  It’s my belief that there is a way to protect myself and find my way up while being open to meaningful company and trusting relationships.  Like Jim says, I aspire to be ‘happily successful’ … not a happy but starving idealist, nor a confused, manipulative careerist.  Seeing Jim today was quite nice.