Much ado about egg tarts

Pasteis de Belem. So well-loved all over Southeast Asia as the Portuguese egg tarts.  When in Portugal, I have to have ’em every day!

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The original egg tarts

The original pasteis tastes incredible!  I have a bit of a history with these egg tarts.  One of my assignments during the KFC launch in Myanmar was to sample all egg tarts across town (about five bakeries in total in Yangon) and study their price points and diameters.  You see, in some parts of Asia Pacific, egg tart sales make up about 22% of the chicken shoppe’s top line during festive times.  I find the butterfly effect simply fascinating: monks used egg whites to starch clothes and make pastries with leftover yolk; then separation of the state and the church forced the “conventional” pastries to the open market; centuries later, there I was, accidentally ended up with the duty to sell them to unsuspecting Myanmar consumers under a U.S. name.  I find all of it wacky and fascinating at the same time.

Continue reading

An Imperial Kitchen

Kitchens are the heart of a household.  One can assess a family’s internal matters by the organization of a kitchen.

At Seoul’s Changdeokgung Palace Complex, a similar idea holds true.

Constructed in the early 15th century, Changdeokgung Palace Complex today still bears the palatial grandeur of Korea’s long civilization, complete with detailed art work on panels and multi-layered roofs.  Visitors admire the royal garden and stately rooms with soft aesthetics found in numerous patterns showcased on the walls, partitions and lanterns.

My impatient local guide from an organized tour tells me about the special sand used in the palace compound, designed to create sound so that an intruding assassin can be immediately detected.  She also tells me about the designated seating chart in front of the main hall where advisors and aides sit in hierarchy denoted by the marked distance from the King’s throne.  “Will the King have to yell?” I ask.  It is a massive court after all.  The guide’s response: “NO!  The King does not need to do anything!

But I don’t care much for all that.

What really stands out to me is the imperial kitchen.  A medium-sized structure with minimalist interior work: white-tiled and sun-soaked through large glass windows.  Locked to modern day visitors, the kitchen’s traces of indoor plumbing and electricity are easily visible.  The kitchen’s classical artwork on the exterior masks the highly modern and simple arrangement of the interior space formerly used exclusively by royal servants.

Changdeokgung Palace is already famous for its indoor heating system through stoves built under each pavilion with smoke channeling out from a standalone chimney next to the structure.  Modern electricity came to South Korea just seven years after the invention of incandescent light by Thomas Edison.  Changdeokgung Palace was already electrified by 1894, which is quite impressive.

Yet, it is a curious thing to see that the modernity of electrification is often masked under traditional design elements as is the case with incandescent light bulbs in the main hall, or relegated to servants as is the case with the sophisticated kitchen operated only by servants.

Of course I am assuming this, but changes have always been uncomfortable.  Changes bring even more discomfort to those who are on the better end of keeping the status quo, like the royalties.

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Changdeokgung Palace Main Hall after electrification

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A proper industrial kitchen with plumbing and electricity

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Changdeokgung Kitchen

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A Korean guide explaining the palatial heating system but not too happy with my questions

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Doing some major lurking

Travel Perspectives – Bagan, Myanmar

Nietzsche said that there are no facts, only interpretations.

That is the sentiment Bagan reminds me of.  Visits to the ancient ruins of Bagan year after year make me realize how I have palpably changed.

Bagan is heralded as the epitome of the Burman national superiority in Myanmar.  The military draws its inspiration from Bagan heroes, proudly placing their statues as a backdrop in official ceremonies.  When I was a young kid, I was told that there was nothing quite like Bagan anywhere else in the world.  I was told that Angkor Wat was great, but it was just one temple.  Bagan is all other civilizations combined and on steroids.

Then we travel to places and read books outside of classrooms only to find out that my childhood teachings have been a lie. Continue reading

Chin mountains like to move

Update: This post was written some time back when I was in Falam, Chin State in early August and in fact, I had thought that it was posted successfully.  It turns out my 3G phone Internet did not actually do the trick.  Eventually posted with success a few weeks after.  For better pictures taken with a real camera and a more complete story, please read my friend Griffin’s post at Chinland Herald website here.

As of this morning, Chin State has been declared a state of emergency.

One slight problem.  I happen to be here, enjoying my break from work as well as volunteering part of my time here at Chin Institute of Social Science.

Everywhere I go, they all say that I have come to their town at the roughest time possible.  A cyclone happened to touch us very tangentially.  Eight houses in Falam had been evacuated, which is impressive compared with over thousands in Hakha.  Away from Facebook, radio and TV, I feel none of it inside the insularity and remoteness of the small town and my holiday bubble, happily curled up in my Chin blankie with bottles and bottles of sweet Chin wine at evenings.  With charcoal stove in the room and a thundering storm outside, it actually felt kind of nice.

The outside world begs to differ.  My friends and family text and call me.  My father demands an explanation of why I have come to Falam in the first place.  People in town talk.  Rumors fuel this angst.  All imported goods and several staples come to Falam through Kalaymyo, which is now completely flooded.  The main airport is located at the center of Kalaymyo, with airlines landing there daily till 15th of this month.  I was told that if I could make it to the airport in one piece, they would do anything to get me on a flight.  Rumor has it our President is visiting Kalaymyo this afternoon.  It seems we operate on lots of rumors.

This morning, I took a ride in a loop around Falam (instead of attending church service, which is what the whole town does!).

Here is the same mountain where Falam is located.  Though Falam is safe, the back side of the mountain has seen better days.  The earth also shakes and stirs a little, like how we sometimes do in sleep, creating massive but beautiful cracks along the charred roads.  The resulting landslides are beautifully destructive, disorienting things and make great reminders of human vulnerability.

Mountains do move.

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Falam

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Falam

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This is where roads end.

Kalay-Falam Road on 4 August 2015

Kalay-Falam Road on 4 August 2015

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The Wall

Whenever I am outside of Myanmar, I take advantage of much faster Internet speed and gorge on one thing – Ted Talk videos.  They make the best accompany when I go about getting ready for bed in my otherwise hauntingly quiet hotel room after a long day of meetings.  Ted Talk is a great alternative choice when I do not want to hear about planes getting shot down or the spreading of Ebola on BBC News.  Call it a tool for productive apathy.

The Talk Talk that popped up this time around was by Parul Sehgal and her examination of envy in literature and social media:

“Jealousy is exhausting. It is a hungry emotion. It must be fed. And what does jealousy like? Jealousy likes information. Jealousy likes details. Jealousy likes the vast quantities of shiny hair, the cute little pencil case. Jealousy likes photos. That is why Instagram is such a hit…We live in envious times. We live in jealous times.”

– Parul Sehgal, editor at New York Times Book Review, An Ode to Envy Ted Talk

As a recent owner of an Instagram account, I am obviously very late to the Instagram game for my generation.  Because my job expects me to be just a touch keenly aware of the pulse of the popular culture, I have to have a social media presence, even though I initially find the idea of Instagram particularly perverse. 

We all know life does not look like perfectly touched up Instagram photos.  The social platform itself is designed for neither deeper communications nor expressions.  Instagram is not exactly about shared meanings, but it is about brand promotions, more so than other social media platforms.  The Instagram feed feels like seeing someone on the street without saying hi.  It does not allow for an explanation.

Because there is a thin layer between admiration and envy, I feel I have to tread Instagram waters very slowly, taking baby steps.  This blog post is basically a long-ass cry for help in how to use IG. 

In her Ted Talk, Parul Sehgal concludes that jealousy is a problem with geometry, not emotion.  A matter of where we allow ourselves to stand. We do not need to be resentful of others’ excellence. We can align ourselves.  What a lovely idea that makes you pause to think.

Jealousy is my most disliked emotion.  I do not like feeling jealous of others.  I do not want to be an object of envy myself.  I do not want a jealous partner, nor do I want to become one. It is a subtle form of manipulation when a romantic partner tries to get someone riled up and makes him/her jealous.  Jealousy makes workplaces unproductive.  It is stressful and drives people away.  It is like you are on the other side of a thousand layers of glass walls and there is nothing you could do to make better of the situation.

Paro, Bhutan
A wall at Kyichu Lhakhang, Paro, Bhutan
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Walls TS1 Construction
Downtown Yangon
More walls in downtown Yangon

Thought this song aptly captures the sentiment of this post:

The Wall by Yuck

Trying to make it through the wall
You can see me if you are tall
Looking over…

And I know that I am in space
And I know that it’s not real
It’s just the way I feel
Looking over…