Schwedagon Pagoda

A move in the right direction, and to Yangon, Myanmar

A move in the right direction, and to Yangon, Myanmar

Myanmar

Myanmar

Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
Just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the princess of a town called Yangon…  

Don’t you just love the Fresh Prince? This song just came to me when I was wondering how to start off this post. It reflects my mood at this moment… 😀

You may have noticed my absence of blog posts in recent months, and having promised to keep up with it I’ve not done so well! I have really good excuses though!

Since I took a career break in September 2014, I’ve been travelling and then working to save up for more travelling! I started off waitressing full time in my aunt’s Cantonese restaurant in the Peak District, then I took on some casual freelance work with Cracking Good Food. When I no longer needed to work full time at the restaurant, I carried on working weekends then took on a temporary office admin role. This meant that for a couple of months I was working 6 or 7 days a week and rushing from one job to another. It was all worth it though, for these reasons:

  1. I discovered that I much prefer working in the hospitality industry than in a 9-5 office job
  2. I reconnected with people around me, work was social. Watching people enjoy a meal and socialise with friends and family was a joy!
  3. I was more active and felt like I had so much more energy and control over my own life
Harmoneat

Harmoneat

Now 6 months into my career break, I’m inching closer to realising what the next step is. I’ve moved to Yangon in Myanmar (Burma) to volunteer for a couple of months with a Burmese cooking school and travel around some new areas of South East Asia.

It’s been a bit of a trial for me to get to Yangon, despite booking my flight months in advance, I forgot to apply for my visa! This meant re-booking the flights and wasting a lot of money and time all because of my absent mindedness… you live and learn! 🙂

Schwedagon Pagoda

Schwedagon Pagoda

Now that I’m here, I know it was the right step to take. I feel at home here, even though I’ve hardly spent any time in this country. I found it hard to put into words why it felt so natural to be in Myanmar. Then I met a Scottish guy, Don, who knew exactly how I felt. This is how he explained it…

Most people in Myanmar are migrants. The country is made up of many ethnic minority groups, so nobody really belongs here… everyone is starting from the same position! Tom’s words helped me to put my own feelings into context and I finally understood why it was so easy to while away the hours in this beautiful country!

As a second generation British born Chinese person, I’ve never really felt that I belonged in the UK. Nor did I feel that Hong Kong was my home. The world is such a huge place that I have no idea where it is I belong, but seeing as much of it as possible may lead me in the right direction.

I’ve only been in the country for a few days and already have met a lot of new people through my work and through a ‘Yangon Foodies’ Facebook group. It’s amazing how the expat community come together and freely welcome new arrivals so easily. I guess its because everyone is away from their own families and creating seeking out a new community to ‘survive’ in.

Clandestine-Cake-Club

Clandestine-Cake-Club

One way I’m planning on bringing a little piece of Britain to Yangon is to set up a new Clandestine Cake Club right here in Yangon! I’ve been part of this cake club back home for a while, getting to meet ups when I can. It just seemed wuite natual that I would start a club up in Yangon so I can continue to eat a lot of cake but also share the love of cake with the lovely people of Myanmar! #bringingcommunitiestogetherthroughfood

Clandestine Cake Club Spread

Previous UK Clandestine Cake Club Spread

So this is the start of a new chapter in my life. Hopefully I’ll get some answers to my currently unknown questions… and maybe I’ll finish this post before the battery on my laptop runs out. The frequent power cuts are not fun!

Myanmar

A New Direction, Burmese Food and Obama

A New Direction, Burmese Food and Obama

It’s 10:30 am on a sweltering Saturday morning in Yangon, Myanmar. I’ve already been up since 7 am, hand washed some clothes and had a leisurely breakfast. Life could not be more different than 2 months ago when I left a steady job in the UK looking for a new adventure… I think I found it! 😀

This is a pretty long post, sorry for taking the time to self indulge. The food bit comes at the end…

I’m not usually the adventurous type. I didn’t spend my youth backpacking around the world and I have worked hard, really hard, to build a career in the not-for profit sector in the UK. Saying that I did take a bit of a gap year when I was 27 and headed off to Tanzania, East Africa, to do some volunteer development work. Back then I’d been working for a few years after my Masters degree in Development Studies but I don’t think I had a huge amount to offer the world. Now at the age of 32, and with another 5 years of life experience under my belt I feel ready to make another stab at contributing something positive in the developing world.

Coming to this decision has been fairly easy for me. I’ve been feeling unsettled with my life for a long time, maybe two years or more. But like a lot of people I looked for distractions and kept myself busy so I didn’t think too much about how dissatisfied I was with my life. Don’t get me wrong, I was comfortable and surrounded by loving family and friends! It wasn’t that I was in a crappy job or looking to make more money… I just had a general feeling of discontent. Most nights going home in a bad mood, being no fun to be around and looking for a excuses to justify my unhappiness. I began to realise that I’m the only person who could change this!

Follow your heart!

Follow your heart!

When I started to tell people my plans to leave work and go abroad to ‘do something’, the most common reaction was “Wow, you’re brave!”. And my response was always “Or stupid!”… I made this decision quite early on in the year and as the time drew nearer to leaving my job I began to worry and about the consequences of my actions. But today I know for sure that I have made the right choice…

Right after I finished work, I went on a two week holiday to Sri Lanka. It was planned long ago and helped to cushion the blow of being jobless and without direction for the first time in a long time! It kind of felt like I was just taking a long vacation. Sri Lanka was amazing! We traveled right across the country and back, tasting delicious foods and picking up some new cooking techniques. On returning to the UK, I moved house and started doing some voluntary work. I found that not having a full time job gave me the space to explore working in other areas which I combine my passion for food and my skills in the community development field.

So that’s how come I’ve ended up in Yangon, Myanmar. You may know it by the old colonial name of Rangoon, Burma. I’m visiting a social enterprise called Harmoneat who are ‘Building Communities, Through Food’. Sounds perfect for me right?! 🙂

Harmoneat are currently looking for volunteers to help grow their business, a Burmese cooking school in Yangon, so they can start to raise funds for their community development work. Check out their website, if you have an interest in food you may find their work as exciting as I do!

I’m 7 days into my two week visit to Yangon. I’m here to see how the city is and get to know Harmoneat a little better. I wasn’t sure what to expect since Myanmar has been quite closed off from the rest of the world over the last 60 years. The military dictatorship in Myanmar officially ended in 2011, with the next general elections scheduled to take place around the end of October 2015. Arriving in Yangon, everything felt kind of familiar. My family are originally from Hong Kong and Yangon reminds me very much of Hong Kong, but maybe the way Hong Kong was 20 years ago… The city is vibrant and full of life, people live simply but technology and western influences have begun to take hold! Everywhere you see young people stuck to their smart phones and multistory apartment blocks are being built all over the city.

Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi- Nov 2014

Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi- Nov 2014 (www.abc.net.au)

President Obama has been in town this week too. I wasn’t aware of this until someone was complaining about the traffic jams, blaming Obama’s security for the massive delays it is causing to every day people going about their day to day lives. This is Obama’s second visit to Myanmar in two years and his visit has obviously caused a stir in the media. I’m sure that the Burmese people have mixed opinions about his visit and his speeches, but I can see that it is an exciting era in Myanmar! I look forward to being seeing the future of Myanmar and positive change for the good of the people.

Myanmar

Myanmar

So back to the food! Myanmar’s food is massively diverse due to the numerous ethnic groups that make up the population. Myanmar borders the countries of Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand, all having an influence on Myanmar food and culture! Can you Imagine the melting pot of ingredients and exciting flavours to be discovered?

In the mere 7 days I have been here, I have only just dipped my toes into the array of foods available to try. It is so unfortunate that there is such a limited amount of food that the body can consume when you are faced with having to make difficult choices every meal time… what to eat next?! My life is so hard these days, right?! 😉

I also had to fortune to attend a Harmoneat cooking class and market tour earlier in the week, learning 5 new recipes one one 3 hour cooking class. The tastes were amazingly varied and everything was made from fresh ingredients bought from the market that morning. I’ll be posting the recipes shortly! 🙂

Myanmar-Tea shop

Myanmar-Tea shop
(http://asiastreetfood.com/)

I’ve eaten out quite a lot here and food is amazingly cheap to buy! There is a variety of food outlets, from a basic road side tea shop to upmarket western restaurants selling nouvelle cuisine. Of course the prices vary dramatically depending on if you are eating local or imported produce, but considering you can get a bowl of noodles with dumplings for less than £1 in a decent restaurant frequented by locals and tourists alike I’d say that food is comparatively cheap…

Shan Chicken Noodles with Dumplings

Shan Chicken Noodles with Dumplings

 I have plenty of food pictures to share as I have been eating my way around Yangon, but I’ve also recipes to share too! Thanks for your patience in getting to the end of this long post, I promise the next posts will be going back to recipes… 🙂