Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Announcement: New Series Coming Up!

All Rights Reserved. Photos taken in the New Forest, England, December 2011

We all need a little inspiration now and again.  I know I do.  

I recently took an e-course from Kelly Rae Roberts where we were asked who we know that's living their dream, that has taken the plunge filled with bravery and courage, into a life they know they were meant to live. 

At first, I struggled to come up with more than a couple names. Yet, I soon realized I actually knew several people who were passionate, entrepreneurial, brave, and living their lives the way their creative selves were calling them to. 

And that's inspiring. Listening to others' stories about living a life full of passion encourages us, nudges us, to do the same.

All Rights Reserved. Photos taken in the New Forest, England, December 2011

 Starting very soon, every so often, you will get love-filled, delve-deep-down interviews with people who are inspirational to me.  I am certain you will find them inspirational, too. 

The new series is called "Inspiration Interviews."

I've already got a beautiful line-up of special people living in Myanmar, in the United States, and in other countries:

  • poets
  • writers
  • musicians
  • actors
  • artists 
  • survivors 
  • teachers
  • travelers
Get ready for the first Inspirational Interview coming soon!

Of Light

November is a month of closure. A time of change: things hinged in balance, swaying. In the Northern Hemisphere, it ushers in Winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, it brings Summer. A door closes. It's time to look for the light.

November also hosts several holidays that celebrate this closure that allows us to open our hearts to new hopes. The beginning of the month kicks off with All Saint's and All Soul's Days. Mid-month Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated. In the United States, Thanksgiving is revered.  In Myanmar, the sacred Buddhist full moon holiday of Tazaungdaing, also called the Festival of Lights, occurs.

Tonight is actually Tazaungdaing.  Our neighborhood has many houses decorated with Christmas lights. Our street has about three monasteries on it, so people have been busy stringing lights up across the narrow road. Most of them didn't work yesterday (maybe they will today), but I still thought it was pretty.

Tazaungdaing is a time to give alms, helping those less fortunate (usually by donating food in your neighborhood) and receive merits at the same time.  In the city of Taungyi, a famous hot air balloon festival takes place with balloons and fireworks.

Tonight is also the full moon eclipse, or lunar eclipse. We'll be lucky enough to have a complete view of the eclipse assuming weather permits. I'm wondering if the the eclipse will make Tazaungdaing this year more auspicious..

I've read that the lunar eclipse is a time to let go, a time for renewal...just as the month of November really is. Mystic Mama's blog here provides ample information about this eclipse for those of you spiritually inclined; she also suggests special rituals that can be done as a way to let go of the past - of whatever is holding you back - and allow room for your hopes and dreams (the light) to come in.

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that last night, while getting F ready for bed, she sang tightly into my ear,
"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine..."
Maybe my six year old was ahead of the game and knew, somewhere deep in her, that this is a time for seeking out the light in all of us and remembering who we are.

So, I've been inspired to write down a few of my hopes. I've share on my Facebook page that last year, our family and friends wrote and hung things they were were grateful for on the Tree of Thanks I made for Thanksgiving. At Valentine's we used it to write down the things we loved. I shipped the sparkly 'tree' to Yangon.  Tonight, I will, with hopeful heart, hang the things I wish for on this lunar eclipse/Tazaungdaing. I'll ask my daughter to do it as well. I don't think I'll have any luck with the husband; he'll just say it's too mushy + woo-woo for him!

Still, there's nothing wrong with wishing for a bit of magic. And I do believe that you receive what you put out there in this beautiful, sometimes clumsy, world.

I wish for you and all those you love: happiness, peace, tonnnssss of love, and health.

(I'm adding health in there after spending the last five days quite ill with flu or salmonella poisoning or both: the reason for not posting recently!)

What will you be letting go of? What are your hopes and wishes?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

ATMs Now Available in Myanmar

© Becky in Burma (photo taken at Central Bank w/ sorry for crap resolution!)

This is huge news. Really. It is. There are now around 36 ATMs in Myanmar that allow you to put your foreign plastic in the machine, enter your pin, and instantly receive kyat (Myanmar kyat, the money used here).

This hasn't happened before. Yesterday was the first day - EVER - that you could. MasterCard flew into Yangon on Obama's shirt tails and there you have it: a way to get cash! YES!

This is going to revolutionize the lives of every person living here who has a foreign bank account. Well, if you have MasterCard. Thankfully, I do.

Despite sanctions that my country still hasn't lifted on Myanmar, I could access an ATM today and magically get cash. (Still can't buy anything online using PayPal, though!)

This is the deal: because Myanmar has been a cash economy, even the husband's salary was paid in cash. This actually helped us save money because we only had the amount we were given on pay day to last us the rest of the month...unless we had spare US dollars in pristine perfect-perfect-no-wrinkles-no-folds condition that we could exchange for kyat.

I even know some people have had to make trips to, oh, say Bangkok (rough life!) just to stock up on US dollars so they could come back to Myanmar and have money (after being exchanged to kyat).

In fact, it was just the other week that I told the husband that I might have to make an emergency run like that; the problem was rectified without me booking a ticket to Bangkok. (Darn it! Could've done with a weekend away!)

According to this article in Myanmar Times, the English newspaper in Myanmar, Central Bank (CB) meets international banking standards, so MasterCard decided to allow banking here.  MasterCard said they're discussing working with other Myanmar banks as well and hope to make announcements soon. At the moment, only MasterCard, Cirrus, or Maestro is accepted and only at Central Bank branches.

(Note to travelers: there are two Central Bank ATMs at the international airport in Yangon, so you should be able to get cash out upon arrival; still, best to have a load of US dollars with you when you come in. Remember that they need to be crisp and perfect with no tears, no folds, no nothing!)

Apparently, things are changing so quickly, that it seems the husband may not be getting paid in cash anymore. We shall see.

All sorts of rumors are floating around Yangon. Coca Cola now officially sells its products in Myanmar (as of October). I've been told that if Coca Cola sells well here, it's sort of a good way for marketers to discover whether American-based fast food restaurants would be successful as well. Murmurs about a KFC, Burger King, or McDonalds opening here abound. Even Starbucks. You can read more about that here on my friend, Wilson Blades, blog.

I'm not a fan of fast food and I don't miss KFC, Burger King, etc. There are PLENTY of places to get GREAT coffee in Yangon; still, I would feel happy if Starbucks opened. I can't deny it. I really miss my Venti skinny caramel macchiatos.

(Hello: Starbucks? Are you out there? Hi! I'm from the Pacific Northwest. You know. The Home of Starbucks. Yeah, well, I live in Myanmar. What? You've never heard of...? Oh. Sorry. Burma. I live in Burma. Yeah, yeah. Okay. So, that's where I live and it would be really, really nice if you could do me a super-duper big favor and bring Starbucks to Myanmar. Oh. And if you do come, could you do me another huge favor? Right. Could you make sure you offer sugar free syrup for the coffees, too? They don't have the sugar free syrups in Thailand, I don't think. Great. Thanks! Ta!)

Oh, sorry. I digressed. A little hopeful plea to Starbucks. Yes, I know. I'm bad. (Coffee Circles and Ananda Coffee and Cafe D' Angel and Acacia: I promise you I will never stop going to get coffee from you, even if Starbucks comes!)

Like Dylan says, "The times, they are a changin'."  (For better or worse.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Obama in Yangon

President Obama with Myanmar President Thein Sein in Yangon today. Photo Credit: The Malaysian Insider

I live in a country where politics are making international news on a daily basis; yet, I do not want to discuss politics on my blog. In fact, I will delete comments that are political.

Despite my I will avoid politics on my blog rule, I can’t NOT write about the fact that President Obama spent six hours in Yangon today.  This was a historical event. It is the first time an American president, while in office, has been to Myanmar.  The last president to visit was Richard Nixon after his term was cut short. For more information on the history of US presidents visiting Myanmar, check out Myanmar Times online here.

I have no idea how long people have truly been preparing behind the scenes for Obama’s visit to Myanmar, but I do know the US Embassy staff have been working their bums off for weeks.  Obama announced that he would visit this country just after the United States learned he was re-elected for a second term. 

The city has been buzzing. It started when all us Yangonites saw "Welcome Obama" graffiti signs all over town. A few of them were sadly defaced; but the most famous one seen here, ended up being guarded by police.  Even better, the graffiti artist, Arker Kyaw, was invited to meet President Obama!! Brilliant!

Photo Credit: Associated Press. France 24

I really began to notice all the sizzling energy on Friday. My local hang-out, Coffee Circles, was teeming with people who were clearly not tourists and clearly not resident expats. Camera gear – expensive camera gear – and people with their noses firmly placed in front of laptops took over the joint. Coffee Circles is generally busy at lunch, but these journalists were so focused getting stories ready, they didn’t seem to realize that the large table they were using to hold all their gear was taking up precious seating for all us regular people.

Yes, it was slightly annoying since my co-worker and I were holding our regular meetings there (I swear we need a table reserved full-time for the gig we’re working on. Coffee Circles is basically our office space!).  We needed chairs and tables that were being taken-up by all the big Cannons with the great-big lenses.  Still, the annoyance was minimal. Mostly, I felt a sense of awe and wonder.

I was curious to know what stories they were spinning from the ground. It was odd to see our local haunt as the hub for journalists and their energy was infectious. And that felt pretty cool. I couldn’t help but feel very privileged that we’re living here during such a historical period in this country.  We get to watch, from the far-sidelines, changes on a daily basis. It’s a very interesting time.

Besides Coffee Circles being the new local hang-out for fast-paced journalists, there were significant traffic changes that added to the whole Obama Fever episodes. Since we moved to Yangon this spring, weekly (yes, weekly: no exaggeration here) the amount of traffic and cars has increased. But I’m not talking about that kind of traffic.

On Friday, there were what seemed like hundreds of police officers in crisp, white uniforms patrolling the main road from the airport, Pyay Road. Some of them even donned lovely white, fitted gloves. (God, that must've been hot because it's super hot still!)  I live off Pyay Road, so it was obvious how many officers were standing guard.  Someone told me Obama actually arrived early, but that was a miscommunication.

The police were preparing. Practicing. On Saturday, they did a trial motorcade run. It wasn’t readily announced what Obama’s schedule would be, yet, but we knew he’d end up talking at the University at some point.

On Sunday, we drove past a section of Inya Road where I noticed two extremely large generators on top of each other. They weren’t there on Saturday. I said, “Ah! THAT’S where Obama will be!” He’d need the generators and it made me laugh that I could now notice important upcoming events by the number of generators that take up half a street.

This morning, we left our home early to take F to school school so we'd miss Pyay Rd closing down for an hour; but the roads were quiet. There weren’t many rambling, black exhaust spewing buses.  There weren’t many locals standing on the side of the road waiting for the buses, either.  It was odd, a little eerie, but also invigorating because I knew what it meant: everyone was preparing.

Photo Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images, seen on CNN post here.

Sadly, I did not see Obama or his motorcade today. (I know. Total bummer.)  My six year old daughter and husband did, though. Just by chance. A friend of mine, P, saw his motorcade as well and even got a wave from him! One of my husband’s colleague’s baby was held and kissed by Obama.  There were other children present (maybe Embassy staff children?). I heard he shook their hands and gave them autographs.

I’m not sure what all this will really mean for the country and I’m not here to speculate about that. I’m not a political analyst.

I hope that Obama felt welcomed in this beautiful country.  I can't imagine that he did not. 

I am just grateful for the opportunity to have had a small seat in the bleachers on such a historical day.

Just a note: though I totally love comments, it is of utmost importance to me that I am respectful of the country where I live and am sensitive to the fact that I am not at all qualified to talk about politics here.  I will not and do not use this blog to promote any political agenda whatsoever. Feel free to leave comments, but if they are of political nature, I will delete them. Thank you for understanding.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thankful: Circle Post

Nye Beach, Newport, Oregon.

You may remember from this post on courage last month, that I participate in a blog circle with amazing, creative women from all over the globe. On the third Thursday of each month (today!), our circle of 15 women each post on a particular topic.  It's kind of like a game of "Tag! You're it!" The first blogger writes her post, sharing a hyperlink to her sister blogger at the bottom. This goes on and on until the circle is complete. If you click on all the hyperlinks (please do!), you should experience an array of creative, inspiring blogs and posts!

This month's topic is: Thankfulness.

Every year, my father's side of the family gathers together on the Oregon coast for Thanksgiving.

The drive always starts like this: the high desert and Starbucks. Lots and lots of Starbucks.
Leaving the high-desert valley, junked up on coffee, ready for the long drive southwest: to the ocean we go.
Six to seven hours later, we all huddle together in my great-grandmother's house, now belonging to a cousin.

From the cliff side, the home overlooks the Pacific. It's a home of love. There's no other way I can describe it. Our history is seeped in those walls; it's our safe place: we know we all belong there.

My great-grandmother, Margaret. Could these photos be any more amazing? She died when I was young, but I have some memories of her and I know, through family, through our stories, how kind she was. And stubborn. And strong. She always sat at that table, smoking. She's also shown here sharing photographs to her grandson, my cousin. We still have all these photo albums in the house and we all look at them every year now (in fact, we have similar photos of US looking at albums. And so it continues..)

Great-grandma bought the house years ago. My cousins grew-up here. Four generations have memories of Thanksgivings, Christmases, births and deaths. F was only 10 days old the first time she visited.

Norma in her chair with the wall of family beside her. There, we have pictures of our ancestors and even framed letters.  Our children now get measured, just as we did. My daughter is shown here being measured last year.
We measure the children here. We teach them about where they come from. They sit on chairs my great-great grandfather made. We see ourselves in photographs that belong to another time, another person; those who are in us, who made us.

The steep trail from great-grandma's down to the beach, Oregon coast.

Our children now walk down the same trail we took, through the old pines, leading us to the beach.  It belongs to this fourth generation, too. And they know it.

Last year, my niece, who was only four and who lives a seven hour drive from this place, said with a sigh when she walked through the door of great-grandma's place,
"Ahhh. We're home."

They know it in their bones. They know this is where they're from, too. Where our family stays connected, even if we're far apart.

Our family: beach time, bonfires. Love. Oregon Coast.

I'm not saying my family is perfect. Nothing's perfect. But we're family.

We spend a very long weekend together playing games, laughing, drinking, sitting around the fire. We walk to the beach. We debate politics and religion. We eat the family traditional potato casserole. We drink some more. The kids run. We cry.

We go around in a circle before we eat and every.single.person shares what happened/their big news of the year. Even the young ones get a turn. Their voices are heard. (Usually for the longest!)

Afterward our meal, we usually get a special private concert thrown by my two pre-teen cousins who are fantastic musicians. They both play piano and one plays the violin. They each get a turn performing for us and this is something I especially love.  And will especially miss. They're crazy talented and S even writes/composes his own beautiful music.

We love each other...regardless of how crazy we are, because we're part of one another.

Norma, my cousin, who will be very missed this Thanksgiving, as she passed away this year.

Some of us won't be at the family gathering this year. We're in Myanmar.  My cousin, E, is in Australia studying. N is bringing new life into this world (any day now!); still, no doubt: family will also be thinking of those we've lost this year. And those lost years before.

 Name magnets I made for each of our family members last year at Thanksgiving. I knew we were moving to Myanmar soon after; my way of showing gratitude + love to my family was making all these crazy magnets.

Thanksgiving is the most special holiday for me. Writing this post is hard. I'm feeling terribly sentimental and sappy.  I want to be with my family next week.  I want F to continue being part of this tradition.

This morning, I mentioned to her that Thanksgiving is next week. Her big, steely blue eyes got wide; a small gasp escaped. And then I saw in her face what I felt: this heavy recognition that we would not all be together and we'd have to find our own way to celebrate.(And we will. I'm hopeful we have some friends coming around...)

Yet, I am just grateful we had the last six years in the US so we could be at most of the gatherings (except when we lived on the East Coast).  I am grateful the F knows the importance of our family Thanksgivings and despite being young, it's clear to me she realizes how special it is.

I am grateful for my family.  I am grateful for my great-grandmother who kept us together, who taught us what family means.

If any of you (my dear, crazy family) are reading this: I love you and I miss you.

I have my Japanese Lanterns here (I shipped them) and if we have a dinner, they will be right in the middle of the table.  I'm lucky you're my family.

In honor of my family, I wrote a poem (sort-of) from the perspective of my great-grandmother. I had posted an excerpt of it here. It's called "Into the Fire." 

This month, I’m honored to be linked-up with my sister flyer, the very talented photographer, Gail Haile, of New York. Please follow this hyperlink to her gorgeous page, Haile Fine Photography, and read her lovely post about practicing courage. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Birthday Celebration in Burma

All Rights Reserved. Cake from Sydney's Baked Goods in Yangon.

Saturday was F's birthday. She is now six years old and I cannot believe it. I couldn't believe it when she turned one, or two, or three, or four...five seemed old. Six. Half way to 12.  It's crazy to imagine what the next six years will bring to this girl's life; already she has had a lot packed in. She's on her second passport and she's living in a different country, far from her own. And at a time where she will have memories of this place. I know all these experiences will shape her in ways I have no way of truly predicting. 

We have a little tradition in our house. Well, I guess F and I have the tradition: there's a birthday fairy that arrives in the middle of the night and usually drops of a very small gift - typically sparkly - for F.

I know, it's a little indulgent; but one year, I was so desperate to get her to listen to what I was telling her, that I made up the poor birthday fairy as a way to bribe her into doing what I said.  It went something like this:
 "If you don't do xyz now, the birthday fairy might not come!" 
 Not my best parenting moment, but still a cute tradition came from it. Only trouble is, no one ever knows what the hell we're talking about when it's announced what the birthday fairy brought F. 

This year, the fairy had a hard slog. She had to employ the help of many other fairies to get this Toy Story Jessie doll allll the way here. Sweet fairy. 

Err.  Yes, I suppose the picture of F with her Jessie dolls looks a bit like the 4th of July.  I'll explain. Early morning on Saturday, we had to be at F's international school for their annual International Day where 30+ countries were represented (by the student body!) and celebrated.

F, being partly American, was part of the American team  (maybe we'll do British next year) and they were meant to look...well..American. We stayed at this amazing event (more on that another time, perhaps!) until we needed to scurry off home to finish the party prep.

 Cookies by me (well, and the Oreo company!) and the coolest rainbow/Hello Kitty cupcakes by Sydney's Baked Goods in Yangon

And quite the party we had. A real sugar fest, which I think was fun for the 24 kids that showed up. Sadly, I don't have any photos taken from the actual party yet; the husband is traveling again and left a few hours after the party. He takes great pictures and so I'm hoping he'll email me some while he's away so I can get them posted.

We had an obstacle course - and then quite a few decorations...

I got some cool ideas from this gorgoues site, Ashley Ann Photography, to have an obstacle course, so the guys at home made the ladder from bamboo in our garden + also put those bamboo posts up so the kids could run in that maze-y type thing. 

I spent hours...hooouuuuursssss...on that crazy looking dangly thing. It's actually meant to be like a chandelier, made from ribbon. I got the idea from Shannon Berrey Design's blog here, though we didn't put it under lights to act like a chandelier and I couldn't get a lot of the things she used, including a hula hoop!

I bought a lot of ribbon from Bogyoke Market, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough. I didn't want to spend more money on it, so decided I could actually buy the very light, cotton fabric material used to make longyis here. I found orange, purple, green, and yellow fabric and ripped it into ribbon-like shreds so I could hang it from the hoop; the hoop was made from bamboo found in our garden. I managed to purchase 10 yards of fabric (used ALL of it!) for under $20!

I don't have pictures (eek!) of the painting station. We bought several yards of unstretched canvas from Bogyoke (Scott's) Market downtown and cut it into about 36 different pieces. Tables were set-up and the kids knocked themselves out painting the canvases and took them home. We also had river rocks set aside so they could paint those if they wanted. 

It was super hot on Saturday, so eventually, the kids migrated indoors and played games. 

You can tell I took shots after the party because those poor, sad, looking balloons clearly hadn't lived to see another day. They were Hello Kitty balloon. And yes...there was a second, crazy dangly thing I made. F even helped make this one. 

One of the brilliant things about living here is you can buy gorgeous flowers from the side of the road. Roses are in season, it appears; I was able to buy a few dozen for under $20. Crazy, yes?

So that I could spread the rosy love around, we made (well, I made the husband do this part!) small arrangements + placed them in glass Snapple bottles. (I've been drinking a lot of Snapple for the last month, saving all those bottles for this very reason!)

Of course, cake + brownies + cupcakes + candy + marshmallows were had by all. We ended up serving some grown-up food, too.

Sydney's Home Baked Goods in Yangon made the amazing rainbow cake, the scrummy cupcakes (Hello Kitty/rainbow), and the amazing brownies...which were some of the yummiest I've tasted! Thanks, Sydney's! (They are amazing and the staff are SUPER nice and friendly!)

I felt really blessed + honored that so many people took the time to come to F's party. It was the first time we really got to get a lot of use from the garden and our deck. It was lovely having loads of kids running around and it was fab that adults hung out, too. 

Great day. :)