Sunday, May 31, 2015

Photo Diary: Best of Yangon, Myanmar

The most haunting and beautiful city in the world...

Friday, May 29, 2015

Sacramento Cafe Catalog

I spent a hot weekend in downtown Sacramento. In between a wedding reception, ceremony, and catching up with many relatives in my huge family, I got to visit some really cool cafes. I only wish I had more time to write instead of just sipping coffee and taking photos. 

Naked Lounge
A laid-back cafe in a quiet residential part of downtown. I only ordered a Vanilla latte, though in retrospect, I wish I had sampled one of their signature drinks, like the famous "Bowl of Soul." 
1500 Q St, Sacramento, CA 

Old Soul at the Weatherstone
Another gem tucked away in a quiet residential area outside downtown. This cafe had a wonderfully spacious seating area, and a damn good iced vanilla latte. 
812 21st St, Sacramento, CA 95811

Temple Coffee
A popular cafe with brewing award-winning specialty coffee. I enjoyed a Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk, on their outdoor patio. Bonus points for being open until 11:00 pm. 
1010 9th St Sacramento CA 95814

The Mill
A relaxed and sunny cafe just a short walk from the center of town. Original offering of Almond Macadamia Latte. 
1827 I St, Sacramento, CA 95811

Freshness Burger in Yangon

I am always fascinated by how global fast food chains adapt to local markets around the world. I have been chronically this through companies like McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks, which originated in America. And others like Al-Baik from SuaidArabia, and now Freshness Burger from Japan.

When I finished my contract in Japan and left the country, I had no idea that I would ever be able to eat a Freshness Burther outside of Japan. Even less did I expect to find one in a back alley of Yangon, Myanmar. So you can imagine my look of disbelief when I saw that Freshness Burger sign atop something called “Culture Valley,” a mall-meets-arboretum. The mall itself is pretty sorry. A few foreign fast food joints, some local shops selling longyis and beauty products. They don’t seem to know if they are targeting locals or foreigners, tourists or residents. Capitalism is relatively new here. There’s a learning curve and we are witnessing it.

Upon entering the restaurant the staff greet you with “Irashemase!” – “Welcome” in Japanese. As typical of the over-staffing problem I see in Myanmar, we were the only customers in Freshness Burger but were greeted by no less than eight staff. 2 behind the counter. 2 in the kitchen, 2 talking in the bathroom, and two talking in a booth. Too many workers and not enough to do. Even if the restaurant was full I doubt eight people would find enough work to do.

The menu itself bore some symptons of assimilation. Among the items I’ve never seen in Japan were a grilled frank and carrot smoothie. I was also surprised to find cheaper prices in Myanmar. A classic cheeseburger with a drink and fries was only 6,300 kyats ($6.30). In Japan this would be at least 1,000 yen ($10). There was also free wifi, another rarity in Japan.

As for the food, the cheeseburger tasted enough like Freshness Burger in Japan, only I am certain they did not use real cheddar cheese. The cheese was white and tasted like the same blandcheese I have eaten all over the country. Since I can’t identity it, I call in “Myanmar cheese.” The ketchup was also spicier than Japan’s.

One reason for the lack of foot traffic might be their inauspicious location. They are in the back of the ball, with no front enterance, and facing a dump. Oddly, inside the Freshness Burger a “Fancy store from Korea” will be opening soon.

For having liked them on Facebook, I got a free tote bag. 

Free sausage that came with our meal as a promotion

Opening soon - in Freshness Burger!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Homecoming: More Thoughts from Yangon

I will always love you

I arrived from Bagan by bus just after sunset, when I were trust into Yangon’s dark, dirty streets. Smog and exhaust from cars came billowing in thick, odious clouds through my open window. I frowned and tried not to breathe. Returning to the familiar streets of Yangon feels like a homecoming. I missed this city’s dirty streets and even seeing them in the chaos of darkness I only grewgrown to love them more.

Myanmar doesn’t try to hide its true face. It doesn’t section off the foreigner and try to shield them from the unpleasant. All around us are sights of the real everyday lives of real people. They crowd into the back of pick up trucks, pull up their longyis to piss in the streets, they chant into their cellphones and yell at each other from their car windows. And I have no doubt in my mind that all these scenes would be taking place ever if my eyes were not to view them. They know we need a little cushion, we need a little more comfort than the local is accustomed to, but they know were are here, and we have to accept life here as it is, in its raw dirty form. Maybe that is why I like Yangon so much. It’s honest. It is an adolescent city, afraid to grow up, but unable to go back in time. It wants the freedom of an adult but the lightheartedness of a child, and it has neither.  It is in the process of discovering itself.  Young, old, and putting the awe in awkward. Yangon is a city best loved for its flaws, its moods, its grievances. Gritty and glamorous. Charming and chaotic. Nothing gets hidden in the light of day.

I didn’t hear the woman on the megaphone last night. I missed her sorrowful voice. I know now that the song she has been singing night after night is a Buddhist chant or prayer, and that same melody rang out in the streets of Mandalay and on the dirt roads of Bagan. It seems that no village is without a megaphone. It seems no night spent anywhere in Yangon is without the cries of a distance chanting. No night here can pass in silence. And certainly no morning. But last night the streets of Yangon were unusually quiet. I longed to hear the woman’s voice one last time. But it will live in my memory, and on my iphone and in many stories I tell about this great and wonderful city. It has already changed in the week that we have been gone. What will happen after one year? Or a decade? Nothing stays still here. When I return, if I ever will, I am sure I will find it completely changed. Only in my memory will it stay this way, like a picture bound by a frame, unmoving and unchanging for all eternity. Though the picture may be immortal,  it only captured one second in a lifetime. A moment so fleeting, yet so immortal.

- November 10, 2014

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Elite Bus from Bagan to Yangon

View from inside the bus

I dreaded returning to Yangon. Not because I don't love that city, au contraire, it’s only of my favorite cities on earth. But I expected the journey to Yangon to be as bad as the journey out of Yangon, in which we subjected ourselves to 15 hours of torture on a train.  Because of my flight anxiety, I avoid planes at all cost and I assumed a 9-hour bus ride would be just as bad, especially after enduring an anxiety-educing 12-hour one in Malaysia.

But returning to Yangon was inevitable, so eventually I had to toughen up and buy a buy ticket, which I decided was the lesser of three evils. Since I was convinced that I could not sleep on an overnight bus ride, our hotel booked us a day ride on E-Lite and we paid 15,500 kyats per ticket. I had never heard of the company and was skeptical, but prepared for the worst.

At 8:00 am a pick-up truck got me from my hotel lobby, then proceeded to meander through town, picking up other tourists along the way. The bus pulled up and to my relief, looked brand new and clean. I boarded and departed at 9:00 am, exactly on time.

The bus ride far exceeded my expectations to the point that it was memorable. First of all, we had a bus attendant who was very professional and provided us with snacks, waters, blankets, and announced upcoming rest stops. The seats were so wide and comfortable, and the journey so smooth that we slept almost the entire time. The AC was at a comfortable temperature, unlike the freezing trains and buses I had ridden before. There was no bathroom on board, which had been a source of concern for me, but we stopped every 2.5 hours for a bathroom break and this was fine. The bathrooms at the rest stops on the side of the road were decent. No toilet paper, but that is typical of Myanmar. We even had lunch at noon at one of the Feel restaurants. We arrived at Yangon bus terminal precisely on time at 6:00 pm. The only negative is that the bus terminal in Yangon is far from the city, further even than the airport, so it took over an hour in traffic to reach our hotel.

 Overall, I am so grateful for not taking the train from Bagan to Yangon, and would highly recommend E-Lite buses. 

Restaurant at the rest stop

Lunch at Feel Restaurant

Libre Day

 Met up with a friend for happy hour and wore this new dress I bought at a vintage store in Tokyo from my trip in April. It is quite volumin...