Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Yangon (1)



I've put this post off for about three weeks now, which is not actually as long as I'd thought. We arrived home on the 3rd but it feels like we've been back for four months; which makes it even more difficult to synthesize my feelings about our stay in Myanmar, the country in which we spent the most time. What I'm writing will probably be disjointed and vague, but in that way they'll at least match my photos. 

Myanmar, or Burma (if you're wondering why I use these names interchangeably, refer to this article) is a country that is frequently featured in Western newspapers, and yet we left Vancouver in January knowing next to nothing about its landscapes, both physical and cultural. We knew only three people who had visited Burma in the past three years, and it was on their word that we were traveling there; but we still weren't sure of what to anticipate. 




































Yangon is Myanmar's capital city, but the remnants of Rangoon, it's former title, are everywhere. Colonial buildings are either hollowed out and grey, or newly painted in very non-Empire pastels, the lines between bricks painted white to make them appear well-maintained. Unlike Bangkok, most signs are in both Burmese and English. And unlike Hong Kong, the English is translated very well.


































You look up four storeys at aged crown molding, then look down to the street where groups of men in longyi sit on plastic chairs made for children, drinking tea. This scene takes place in every alley and almost everyone smiles.

For the most part we stayed close to our hotel near the river. We walked a lot during the day and would usually go to bed by 9pm. It was always cloudless and not unbearably hot. One day we found a café filled with hip teenagers, and they had ice cream and donuts and wi-fi. It was so different from all of our surroundings up to that point that I felt overwhelmed by how little we would really experience in this city. The ice cream was good, though.





































The Strand Hotel, Yangon, Myanmar

Probably 11pm

Writing from the bed in a room with ridiculously high ceilings, a colonial relic that isn't decaying but has cracks. There is a desk on our floor with a nameplate that says "Butler." It's undeniably weird, but the person who attends the desk is so nice that it doesn't seem to matter here.

In the cab here we zoomed and lurched in our seats. In Bangkok, everyone drives like this and there is an ease to it--you are just floating along in the backseat. In Burma, apparently only taxis drive like this while everyone else drives at a normal speed, so you feel like you are going to die. It was night time, too; everything dark but simultaneously lit by some kind of lamp--half light, half shadows, or maybe just poorly lit. Then, a giant, glowing golden temple across some water, rising up into its diamond point. 


A note on The Strand:                     
First open in 1901, this Victorian-style hotel was built by the Sarkies brothers and followed the success of Singapore's famed Raffles hotel. The Strand is not the last gasp of colonialism in Yangon; it is a living and breathing, albeit endangered vestige. From the architecture and décor to the mannerisms of the staff, it is old school.

The hotel is beautiful and the staff are amazingly kind, but it's easy to sometimes be uncomfortable in a place where the Empire's tracks are kept fresh. What caught us by surprise were the guests. When we arrived, we were maybe one of four groups staying at the hotel. In the next few days, tour buses began to drop off 10 to 15 new guests at a time, all of whom were on seniors' tours from varied European countries. We were under the impression that there was little tourism in Yangon and we were wrong. And these were real tourists, on tours, often dressed as if they were about to go on a safari (no joke): a modern retelling of a 19th Century story.

This is why it's so difficult to piece this trip together. I was constantly surprised, my initial impressions contradicted at every turn, so I cannot really tell you (you should just see it for yourself).





































Not sure what time, maybe 6am
Strand Hotel, Yangon


Every morning I am woken up by birds. There are small sparrow-like chirps and then there are crows that sound like monkeys. 20 minutes later music starts to play from somewhere in the street.


Yesterday:
- walked to the water and the Scott's Market (Bogyoke Market) to look for longyi
- went to "Buddha's First Sacred Hair Relic Pagoda" or the Botataung Pagoda  where we had to take off our shoes and socks before entering
- inside was a gold labyrinth housing ancient treasures (obscured by iron bars and dirty glass)
- also inside, a pond with small turtles
- bought two avocados from a stall inside in the pagoda gates; one is slightly larger than average, the other the size of a small butternut squash and looks like a dinosaur egg




I'm getting upset trying to write this because I'm realizing how little I remember of the aspects of everyday life in Yangon. I can say with certainty that I've never been to a country where people have smiled more at a complete stranger (and an obvious tourist). Whether these smiles are genuinely happy ones doesn't really matter. To feel for a second that your presence is welcomed can be so rare while traveling that this simple gesture is something worth remembering.


I'll finish piecing together these thoughts in the next post, film photos coming soon!




We stayed at The Strand Hotel
92 Strand Road, Yangon, Myanmar

Sunday, 26 February 2012

issue two is out now!



& as promised, it's now available for purchase in our
shiny new webshop


Issue one is also on sale in case you missed it last year; I only have a few copies left!


Late Winter/Early Spring 2012 Contributors:                 


Jonah Campbell
Maggie Chok
Ian Granville
Emily Horne
Alyssa Kwan
Melanie Kwan
Joseph Pearson
Lauren Popadiuk
Courtney Reagor
Anna-Lise Schmidt
Madeleine Scrutton
Caileigh Speck
Leslie A. Wood
Hayley Wright



I have some really excellent things lined up for March, but now's not the time.


And now that I have all this over with, I can get back to those belated travel posts:
Yangon is up next!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

almost there


Taking a coconut water break from binding the zine, or rather, prepping to bind the zine.
I still have to poke holes in 140 booklets. It's looking good, though, right? 

I'm running out of online radio programs to listen to. 

Saturday, 18 February 2012

working weekend


Working on the zine all weekend, just the final bits and pieces left.
Can't start anything without a good breakfast, though.
Recipe here; hers is the perfect food column to read on an overcast Saturday. 



Just a brief timeline:                                                                             

  1. we should be at the printer's early this week
  2. add a few days for binding
  3. and the finished zine should be in the shop by next weekend!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Bangkok, Thailand (1)

A note on film photography: I am not very good at it. I'm also not really in the habit of taking photos very frequently, which is why I have maybe 4 photos at most (digital and film) of Bangkok.

I feel so awkward taking photos when there are lots of people around, and I feel like a creep taking photos of other people, especially strangers ("Hey, person I've never seen before, wanna sit still for 10 seconds so I can objectify you and keep these photos of you forever?").

That said, here are some bits and pieces.


Bangkok

 


I also got ill for two of the three days we were there so I didn't see as much as I should have (Reclining Buddha, flower market, the rest of the city). As a result, I don't have very much I can say about this huge city that would be fair or accurate; but here two things I can try to talk about:



In every city we visit, we make it a habit to check out its Chinatown. After being rejected by about four taxis, this tuk-tuk driver approached us and said he would take us. I've never been in one of these before, but now that I have, I've come to the conclusion that people in Bangkok are the best drivers in the world. 

Whether you're in a car, a tuk-tuk or on a motorbike, at first you think the drivers are weaving in and out of traffic because they're impatient; but it becomes apparent that they're driving like this because they can. And because it works. You're getting from A to B in a reasonable amount of time in the worse traffic you've ever seen, and you're still alive. 

So our tuk-tuk driver is funny and talkative, and seems to be taking us from A to B in a reasonable amount of time. And we were seeing more of the city than we had previously. But then we realize that it's taking longer than we had thought. We bring out the map and point and discuss with our driver but it's no use, he seems like he really wants to show us something. And for some reason he asks Will if he's going to buy me an engagement ring(??). After 20 minutes of driving through dust and exhaust,  we realize we have been taken to C and not B. C is a gem retailer mall tucked away in a nameless alley and is probably 15 minutes from Chinatown. We have been swindled in exactly the same way the Lonely Planet guide said we might be. 

We get to Chinatown eventually, mostly because we act pissed off and tired. 



Q: How do you eat Thai food when you travel to Thailand with someone who is deathly allergic to fish?
A: Order room service and hope for the best.

And it was the best. It was seriously the best Thai food I had ever had in my entire life. I get frowny when I think about how much food I missed out on in Bangkok due to my constantly upset stomach; but then I think about this tiger prawn salad, and I can't really say I missed out on anything because my eyes were opened to what food could taste like.

Why doesn't Thai food taste like this in Vancouver? How come food doesn't taste like this everywhere? (Ingredients that I could pick out: tiger prawns (huge ones), chilli, lemongrass, lime leaves, pineapple, coriander, winged beans, toasted coconut, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar; nothing too out of the ordinary, right?).

Even the yellow curry on our Thai Airways flight from Seoul to Bangkok was better than anything I've had at home. Is there something wrong with us? The idea of authenticity in food is a widely discussed and, at times, controversial topic, but I've always suspected that anyone could make anything with enough practice and the right ingredients. I don't think I could replicate food like this even if I really, really tried. Thanks, Bangkok. 





We stayed at The Metropolitan and it was amazing. 
27 South Sathorn Road
Tungmahamek
Sathorn
Bangkok 10120


Monday, 13 February 2012

break time



What am I taking a break from? Designing the next issue of  SPACE | TIME , that's what! Are you excited? You should be, because this time around we'll be selling issues from our web shop and it's going to have a little "Add to Cart" button and EVERYTHING. On top of that, we have amazing content from some amazing contributors, including photos from Courtney Reagor and a visit to Owen Parrott's apartment.


    



So I took a tea-and-cookie break. Lately I've been craving chocolate, but I wanted to avoid the cliché Kit Kat/chocolate bar snack because 1) boooooooo Nestlé, and 2) I have time to make my own snacks. (I'm also an adult so I can bake things unsupervised, not sure if you knew that.)

The problem with chocolate cookie recipes is that they are never chocolate-y enough. The problem with brownie recipes is that I don't care for them at all. This is why I've made these flourless chocolate cakes twice in one week. They're not brownies, and they're not cookies either, but they taste how a baked chocolate anything should taste--like pure dark chocolate with a dense, barely-cake-like texture.

Actually, now that I think of it, these are pretty much a better version of those Two-Bite Brownies, except they're made with real ingredients and not shortening(??!) and ARE NOT BROWNIES.





Flourless Chocolate Cakes
Adapted from Donna Hay's Modern Classics: Book 2

Note: This recipe is for half the quantity of the original because you really don't want too many of these lying around (just look at the ingredients); although I did make this recipe twice in one week so that plan didn't work out so well. 


Makes 20 mini cakes

  • 90g (3oz) butter, chopped
  • 110g quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp cane sugar or caster sugar 
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp almond meal
    (I ran out so I used ground poppy seeds and it worked fine; other ground nuts will also work)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3 eggs


Preheat the oven to 280 F. Place the butter, chocolate and sugar in a saucepan over low heat and stir frequently until melted. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool down a little. Place the almond meal (or substitute) and cocoa in a bowl and whisk in the chocolate mixture. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking until well combined. Do not overmix! Batter should be very shiny and fall in thick ribbons.

Grease a non-stick mini muffin tin with a little butter. Spoon the mixture almost to the top and bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until firm, but still a bit squidgy in the centre. Cool in tins, transfer to wire rack, then repeat with leftover batter.

EDIT: I just realized that these would be the perfect treat to bake someone for Valentine's Day tomorrow, if you're into that kind of crap.



Stay tuned for my next travel post: Bangkok!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Seoul, South Korea

It's taken me a while to compile these posts for two reasons:                             

  1. It was surprisingly difficult to find a cheap place that would develop our regular 35mm film on site. Will ended up driving to Burnaby to the last Shopper's Drug Mart that would do so. To people unfamiliar with suburb-speak, that means he drove half an hour to a place where no one wants to live, let alone visit, to find a drugstore chain that already has at least 20 stores in Vancouver alone. Sad stuff.
  2. I've been trying to gather my thoughts about everything that happened while we were away, but real life and doing stuff keeps getting in the way.
But now we have real photographs and I have some time on my hands, so here's the first part of an amazing adventure. 

Seoul





We arrived in Seoul on the evening of January 16th. We were there for one whole day and two nights. I would like to go back. Here's a journal entry that reeks of jet-lag:

5:25am January 17, 2012
The Westin Chosun, Seoul, South Korea

First notes:
  • the most impressive hotel I've ever stayed in (elegant, professional, heated toilet seats)
  • everyone speaks to me in Korean first; I like it, it's like getting a free pass but for what I'm unsure
  • the man who showed us our room studied English on Robson Street, said he drank too much Granville Island Honey Lager
  • the area we are in reminds me of Berlin's business district on steroids





Our first and only full day there:                              

Dong One 

Seoul is divided into dongs or neighbourhoods, which makes me wonder if English is the only language in which "dong" sounds hilarious (also see: DONG Energy, Denmark's leading energy company). 

We took the train to Insadong-gil, which is a "traditional" street selling ceramics, calligraphy materials and antiques, and is said to represent the country's culture as a whole. It's also a major tourist attraction, but since it was January it was fairly quiet. 

Side note: No one dresses down here. I got the feeling that wearing sweatpants outside your house was probably akin to being naked. Contrast this with our LuluLemon-yoga-pants-so-what culture and cringe. 





This neighbourhood had amazing shops with handmade paper in assorted colours stacked to the rafters, and calligraphy brushes the size of small cats. One of my favourites was a soap shop where the liquid soap was poured into large segments of bamboo and left to harden; you can then remove it to cut off pieces as needed. The packaging in that store alone was worth the train ride (see above). There were also a few stores with hand-quilted and embroidered pieces, a lone woman usually sitting at a table with her needlework.





Dong Two

We left to visit Samcheong-dong which was a little more modern, with a lot more locals. 

If I could live in one neighbourhood forever, Samcheong may as well be it. Each boutique, café or gallery is its own small building, and the (micro) architecture is completely charming and perfect for a tiny human like me. It's a foil for the skyscraper madness many people associate with Seoul, not only in scale but in spirit. Almost every object in every shop in Samcheong had a visible human handprint. (I mean, have you ever seen a store that exclusively sells handmade quilts from recycled fabric??) 






The next morning we were on our way to Bangkok. Stay tuned for many more things, including:
  • a duplicitous tuk-tuk ride
  • mall adventures
  • monitor lizards eating garbage in a public park
  • more of Will's photos because his are better







Sunday, 5 February 2012

adventures


We're home! In the last three weeks of January we went on an amazing journey. 
Eight flights and five cities in four countries, it felt like two months and I didn't want to leave.
Still waiting to get some film developed, but I will tell you all about it soon.