Tuesday, November 29, 2016

2017 Desk Calendar

I am delighted to announce that I will soon launch a desk calendar for 2017 with some of my photographs from downtown Yangon. 

The calendar will be distributed in Yangon (Myanmar). Some copies will be available in Brussels (Belgium) and Cluj-Napoca (Romania).

Part of the proceedings will go to Myanmar Mobile Education (myME) project which provides non-formal and vocational education to children in Myanmar without access to education. More information about myME here.

For inquiries and advance orders please send an email to me at candilens@gmail.com.

2017 Calendar

Downtown Yangon - Life Scenes

First page

Last page:

Take a moment to read my article I wrote for Rambutan Literary about the downtown Yangon here:

" The old downtown of Yangon is the place to soak up the authentic atmosphere of the city with its long, narrow and perpendicular streets loosing yourself in the constant buzz, deliberate chaos, various smells, a multitude of colours, strange noises and a mixture of architecture...".

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Nowhere People by Greg Constantine

Nowhere People is the name of the current exhibition at the Myanmar Deitta Gallery by photographer Greg Constantine. This is a ten-year project carried out in 18 countries by the US photographer. He is currently based in Asia.

It will run until 27 of November (this Sunday), and you have the possibility to put your name down on a list to order the photographer's book on this topic which will be shipped to Yangon. 

According to the UN, around ten million people worldwide are stateless (without any citizenship) due to different circumstances mainly because of inconsistent or inadequate citizenship laws, and the lack of documentation. Discrimination and intolerance often contributes or are the reasons why these people cannot get the citizenship of the country they live in, in many cases for generations.

"Indian Tamils (or Hill Tamils) were brought to Sri Lanka by the British over 100 years ago to provide labour on tea plantations. For years Hill Tamils were denied citizenship. in 2003, new laws were passed but thousands continue to remain stateless.."

"...without documents I have no future"
"In 1936, Stalin deported the entire Korean community in the Soviet Far East (172,000 people) to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Thousands began migrating to Ukraine after the break up of the Soviet Union where many are denied citizenship and are stateless..."

"There are almost 600,000 stateless people in Europe. The collape of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia made several communities stateless. in Ukraine, Crimean Tatars were deported en masse by Stalin...In Serbia, thousands of people from the Roma community displaced from Kosovo are stateless, many of them are children...."

"The Dominican Republic is one of the most radical situations of statelessness in the world today. Deep-rooted racism against Haitians have resulted in tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descend denied or stripped of their Dominican nationality...." 

"In Arabic, "Bedoon" means "without". For decades, the Bedoon in Kuwait have been denied Kuwait citizenship. Though they have lived in Kuwait for generations...".

"For years, youth from the Nubian community in Kenia have to prove their connection to Kenya when they turned 18 to receive a National ID card, which represents Kenyan nationality...."

And, of course, the examples could go on....

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Visiting the Kayah State

The walk over the high grass fields looking for the Kayan woman working her plot of land is still fresh in my mind. It took place two days ago, at noon and it was very hot. The dry grass was cutting my feet and spikes were all over my cotton dress. Many thoughts running through my head: are there any snakes hiding in the grass?...it is definitely too hot for this time of the year...the landscape looks familiar, it reminds me of home..will the buffalo sense I am a stranger?...are the bare feet of the little boy not hurting? In front of us a little boy and his father were showing us the way. Finally we reached the paddy field. We saw a very slim old Kayan old woman bent in two, concentrated on cutting rice stalks with a sickle. The harvested crop was bundled all around her, on the dry earth, to ease the transport. Looking around there were only empty fields. The sun was blaring. She looked up at us in surprise.

This is just one of the many short stories I could write about my two-days trip in the Kayah State. The time spent there was such an enrichment for both eye, heart and mind. I remember the meeting with Rosalia, a Catholic woman, in the Demawso market. I hold her wrinkled hand. I think about my grandmother. Rosalia is 70 years old but she looks older with her wrinkled face and bent back. She indeed tells us that she feels much older. All her children died, and she does not get along well with her family-in-law. A cross hangs from her neck. She believes in God, and one of the few who are visiting her is the priest. 

Rosalia, an old woman we met in Demawso market
I visited Loikaw and the surrounding area during a two-day visit. I met different ethnic tribes, I learnt more about the traditions and beliefs, and about the way of life of these people whose main source of livelihood remains agriculture.  I visited Kayah State to admire the hills, lakes and the mountains which adorn the horizon, and to breathe the fresh air. This is the smallest state in Myanmar in terms of area and population, one hour flight from Yangon. Despite its small size, these lands are home to a multitude of tribes with such a rich culture, and unique traditions.

Kayah State opened its doors to tourism in 2012. But only for some of the areas around Loikaw, the State's capital. There are many places where access if prohibited mainly due to land mines, and access to some villages (like Dawdemagyi (Kayah) and Htekko (Kayaw)) is only allowed after receiving a permission from the local authorities. 

I knew the tribes speak their own language and many old people do not speak or understand Myanmar. You sometimes feel you are not in Myanmar. I was nevertheless surprised that my mingalabar and jezu be, the Myanmar hello and thanks were usually not answered. Many times a smile was all I got in return. 

Once you arrive, and you travel outside Loikaw to different villages to see the different tribes (Kayah, Kayan, Kayin, Pa-O, etc), you will realise it is such a special place. I enjoyed very much the quietude and the laid back atmosphere of the villages, the fresh air in the mornings and the smell of flowers and grass during the day. I admired the beautiful traditional costumes and their unique accessories. Nowadays less and less villagers dress traditionally every day, and the reasons are easy to guess (expensive fabrics and accessories, reduced fields of cotton, inexpensive market clothes, many layers of fabrics - too hot).

Lisu village 

Most houses do not have windows - but as you notice in this picture they have a satellite dish

Kayan women

Kayah woman

lacquered cotton leg ring

I left Kayah State having the feeling that I saw very little of this amazing country called Myanmar.

More information about the history, geography, culture, food, etc you can find here.

- what to see in Loikaw, and in the surrounding area:

Demawso market takes place each Wednesday and Saturday morning in the Demawso township.

Demawso market Loikaw

Saturdays are busier with more local ethnic groups dressed in their traditional costumes gathering to sell and buy products (from food to clothes) in this medium sized market. Amongst the curiosities you will see are dried frogs and small dried birds. You can also taste the Kayah millet wine and rice wine made and sold by local women. 

Dried frogs in Demawso market, Loikaw
Dried frogs
Birds on sale in Loikaw market which are bought to be cooked
Birds on sale which are bought to be cooked

Taung Kwe Pagoda (or the Broken Mountain) built on a hillock, has beautiful 360 degrees views over Loikaw and the surrounding mountains. The pagoda is best visited during sunset. The mist which starts to rise while the last rays of the sunshine disappear behind the mountains is caused by the burning of garbage outside Loikaw's houses. 

Taung Kwe Pagoda - Loikaw view

Naung Yah lake is beautiful for an afternoon walk or you could have your dinner in one of the restaurants there.

Things to see in Loikaw Naung Yah lake

The State Cultural Museum is a good place to learn more about the different ethnic races of Kakah State and their way of life with an impressive display of bronze drums. The visit will not take more than one hour. Unfortunately the English-language captions are not always available. The museum clearly needs to be modernized in the near future.

You will sometimes notice along the road animist poles that are erected by men when celebrating harvest festivals in April and May. During these ceremonies villagers offer food and animals to the spirits in return for protection. In the Kayah State the majority of the population is either Buddhist or Christian but their animist beliefs and superstitions are still deeply rooted and present in their religious practice.

The umbrella lake and the seven-tired lake are two natural sights not to be missed, and they are a 20-minute drive outside the city. The umbrella lake is a small muddy pond where volcanic activity shoots up sand which takes the shape of an umbrella. It does not always produce the umbrella shaped forms so you must be lucky to see them.

Umbrella lake in Loikaw
Umbrella Lake

Seven-tired lake Loikaw
Seven-tired lake

The guide will propose you a series of villages to see the Kayah and Kayan women. Ask her/him to also take you to a Lisu village.

- good to know when planning your trip:

Search for a flight and avoid the long drive to Loikaw from Yangon (around 13 hours). There are two companies which fly almost daily from Yangon to Loikaw: Air KBZ (with a stopover in Naypyitaw) and MNA (direct flight). Check your flight options and book your flight on flymya.com. Be aware that delays might happen especially in the high season. If you have only two days, I would recommend you to fly Air KBZ (current arrival at 8:10) and book the return with MNA.

If, at the same time, you want to visit Inle lake, you can fly to Heho and from there rent a boat to cross Inle lake to Phekon. It takes around four hours and a half. From Phekon jetty it is just 45 minutes by car to Loikaw. This option is of course more tiring and time consuming. However the landscape must be picturesque. 

Book a hotel. We stayed at LoikawLodge By The Lake, and I would recommend you this cosy and new family-owned hotel. The owners, German and Myanmar,  speak excellent English, and they will be very responsive to your emails and inquiries. You will feel like home. Additionally, they have their own fully-licensed in-house travel agency, Ancient Geographic Travels & Tours. Therefore they can help you with your itinerary, in organising a car with a guide or apply on your behalf for the permission to visit some of the villages. There are other hotel options in Loikaw as well. What I believe distinguishes this place and makes it hard to beat are the efforts they make to cook high quality food, and the easiness with which they understand your wishes and try to make your stay unforgettable.

Hire a guide. You may either ask the hotel to organise everything for you, for an additional fee, or you can search yourself for a local guide. As you can imagine, the official guides are few in the area. Here are two local certified guides: Mary 09 788 014 338 or Phoo Kae 09 792 570 063.

Eat local. Do not forget to taste their famous pork sausages seasoned with the beautifully flavoured Sechuan pepper. Additionally I am sure you will enjoy a Shan noodles soup or salad in one of the tea shops in the city. 

Traditional pork sausage Loikaw bought by our guide for us to taste
Traditional pork sausage bought by our guide for us to taste

There are plenty of sights to fill up a two days stay. If you have the possibility, take one or two days extra to visit more ethnic groups (do not forget to apply in advance for the permission) and maybe do a longer trek. Take a look below at the beautiful landscape (!without enhancing the colours in the photographs!) of Kayah State.

Tourism in Loikaw state, beautiful landscapes
Landscape around Loikaw

Friday, November 18, 2016

Vegan Cashew Cheese

One of these past days an interesting workshop took place in downtown Yangon, on the 27th street where the small community of Yangon City Growers has its own cosy space.

Together with other interested expats and one lovely Myanmar lady I participated in a workshop to learn how to make fermented vegetables and vegan cashew cheese.

Have I roused your curiosity?

In my home country, Romania, we have a long tradition of preparing fermented vegetables during the months of September and October. This is the harvest season when entire families head to the market to buy large quantities of small cucumbers, cauliflower, green tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and even watermelons. 

The recipe of fermenting these vegetables differs from family to family and from region to region. The traditional one is vegetables, together with horseradish, peppercorns, water and salt. You may add dill and other spices, for taste.

I never imagined I would prepare my first-ever jar of fermented vegetables in Yangon. Back home I was sometimes helping my mother to store countless jars of vegetables for winter but I was never paying too much attention to the entire process.

My fermented vegetables; behind - soaked cashews

The fermentation process is much shorter here because of the warm climate and it is best to move your jar in the fridge after a few days of fermentation.

The lady in charge of teaching us was Kate Dixon. She brought different jars of fermented vegetables and we tasted them all. She was experimenting with almost every vegetable. I was amazed by the great taste that ginger, for example, was giving to the vegetable mix.

More interesting for me was to learn how to make the cashew cheese

Let me tell you it tastes amazing. I fell in love with this delicious paste which can easily be spread on slices of bread. It is so easy to make and healthy!

I will copy below Kate's recipe for you to try at home.

"First make some rejuvelac  (sprouted wheat seeds water):
1. Soak sproutable wheat seeds in water for several hours or overnight.
2. Drain, rinse and place in a container to sprout (a glass bowl, a piece of chees cloth, or a strainer).
3. Rinse once or twice a day. Don’t let the grains stay in the water.
4. Once the seeds have sprouted, place them in a glass bottle and top with drinkable water.

5. Place the bottle on a counter or in a cupboard, lightly covered.
6. After a day or two or three the water will become cloudy and bubbles will appear – it’s done!
7. Place in the fridge.

 Then make your cheese:
1. Rinse your cashews in water. Pick off the brownish bits of skin if you wish.
2. Soak the nuts in rejuvelac for several hours.
3. Place cashews and some of the liquid in a blender.
4. Blend until smooth.
5. Scoop into a glass bowl.
6. Place on counter, cover with a cloth and wait 2-3 days.
7. Taste; when the taste is sour you can place the cashews cheese in the fridge."

You can keep it for up to two weeks.

Enjoy! Mahlzeit! Bonne Appétit! Poftă bună!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Big Hearts - The Punks of Yangon

photographs at the end of the article

Every Monday night the punks of Yangon walk the streets of the city's downtown and help the homeless and the low income locals with food. I read about them (here and here) before joining the group this Monday evening. A while ago I watched on-line a short movie (here) about their social initiative. I wanted to support this project so I went to buy a T-shirt which reads Food not Bombs.

They also walk the area around Hledan, usually on Wednesdays, but with irregularity. 

In my article I wish to showcase this kind initiative which manages to bring together punks, locals, expats, and sometimes even tourists. They all meet on Monday evenings under the overpass on the Sule Pagoda Road (at the crossing with Anawrahta Road) where they have a shop selling shoes and t-shirts. Each participant donates some money with which the group buys food: bread, paratha Indian bread, fruits like bananas and oranges, sweet sticky rice, drinking water... Once the shopping is made everyone is in charge of distributing one type of food.

Along the streets, people are waiting as they know it is the day the group passes by to offer food. There are women with children, old or ill people, low-income locals like security guards or garbage collectors (and street sweepers) who are grateful for the dinner bag which they receive. The punks stop and chat with them, asking about family members and friends. Sometimes they hand over more food for the relatives as well. I asked them where all the homeless sleep and they told me many spend the night at the train station or inside some stairwells. I thought about the long and humid rainy season.

The tour ends after one hour and the group shares a drink together before heading home. If you have time, do join in and help this initiative grow. 

The group meets at 8pm every Monday evening. Please announce your presence to the group coordinator Kyaw Kyaw 09 773 770 773.

If you do not have the time please pass by and buy one of their Food not Bombs t-shirts from their shoe&t-shirts stalls at the underpass on the Sule Pagoda road (location described above). They open the stall at around 4pm and close it at 7.30pm.

Here are the photographs which I took this Monday evening:

The shop the Punks of Yangon have under the flyover

The Punks of Yangon buy food for the homless

The Punks of Yangon shop for food to offer to homeless

The Punks of Yangon offer food to homeless and low income people

The Punks of Yangon offer food to homeless and low income people

The Punks of Yangon offer food to homeless and low income people

The Punks of Yangon offer food to homeless and low income people