The People of Myanmar (Burma)

The relentless sun shimmering on gold temples, the inevitable dust and sand at the end of the dry season, the difficulty of coping in a language so foreign to me that even after a week, I can’t easily remember simple phrases – these are the impressions I have taken away from Myanmar.

Most of all, I will remember the people. This is a poor country. The poorest wash themselves and their clothes in the river. They live simple lives.

Nonetheless, a ready smile in return for mine was always forthcoming. A delighted response always came to my hesitant “Mingalabah!” (the greeting for hello, good morning, good evening…everything!).

They daub their faces with thanaka, a paste made from the bark of a tree. It’s supposed to soften the skin, protect them from the sun, and make them look beautiful. Everyone has a different pattern on their faces. And you will see it on children too.

There are beggars who rely on the generosity of good Buddhists to feed them. And they aren’t disappointed. Generosity seems to be part of their culture.

In one Buddhist school we visited, a little boy presented with two gifts – a pen and a notebook – turned to a nearby child who hadn’t received anything, and gave him the pen.

They sang us songs of welcome, and in return, we offered our action-filled version of “When you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” They joined in the gestures, and when we were done, offered with much laughter, their own version of the song with very different actions.

Buddhism is the religion of 85% of the population and apparently 70% of males spend some time living as monks – eating nothing after lunch and spending time in contemplation. Monks are ubiquitous…less common are the pink robed nuns with shaved heads.

Even children might spend some time in a monastery – walking around in their robes collecting their day’s food.

Children have few toys but they keep busy. This little crew are fishing using sticks and a bag. They drive the fish into the bag.

It’s hard not to fall in love with these children of Myanmar. They are beautiful. I found myself playing with them everywhere we went.

Little ones would clap and smile.

Older children usually offered the universal peace symbol and wanted to high five!

At the school, Ed was swamped with children who wanted to each have turn with this gesture.

A wave brings plenty of waves in return.

But if you hope to visit Myanmar, do it soon. The country has been closed for decades by a military junta. Now emerging, they are modernizing very fast. While some of this is good, it is changing both the landscape (the cities have become polluted and traffic is chaotic) and the people (now there are even small boys in monks robes begging for money – something that a true monk would never do).

In Myanmar you will be delighted by the thousands of pagodas – their golden stupas rising above the poor homes around them. Even the smallest village has one. But most of all, you will be charmed by the generous people of Myanmar and their beautiful children.

Tucson’s Heirloom Farmer’s Market

Linda Leigh sells worm castings – that’s polite for worm poop! Is there really a demand for this?

There is at Heirloom Farmers Market in Tucson. Continue reading

To Market, To Market – Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv market Carmel spice merchant

Shlomo is a happy man. He serves me a strong cup of his own roasted coffee. His grandfather, a Yemenite immigrant in the early 1900s, started this little roastery in Carmel Market. But Shlomo is likely to be the last of his family to roast and sell coffee.

Tel Aviv Markets Schlomo Continue reading

Richmond, BC – A Dip into Asia

night market s
Few cities in Canada can boast a true immersion experience into another culture. I don’t mean the gentle toe-dip into Little India or Greektown in Toronto, or the mild submersion of Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Richmond, BC takes one into the underwater depths of an extraordinary ethnic ocean. Several Asian traditions – China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Viet Nam, etc – flourish in this multicultural lagoon.

Have a hankering for har gow? Salivating for sushi? Craving kimchi? The high water mark in any cultural experience is food, and in Richmond, there’s a veritable flood of possibilities. Indeed, I have always considered myself to be fairly cosmopolitan, au fait with much of what the culinary world has to offer, but in a few short days I am amazed to find a host of unexplored new flavours. Continue reading