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Thingyan Water Festival

From Monday to Thursday this week was Thingyan celebration, a Buddhist new-year festival where traditionally water was sprinkled to wash away one’s sins (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thingyan#Water_Festival).

Essentially this is a city-wide water fight. It was an unreal and incredible experience. I had so much fun!

I have put together a video, which you can view here.

Back to the Blog

It’s been over a month since I last posted. I have been busy these days at work and remodeling my bedroom, but at the end of the day, I simply haven’t made time for the blog. A lot has gone on, but I’ll keep this to the highlights, and then I plan to post a Reflection piece with more info.

FOOD

I’m still cooking! I also haven’t had food sickness in a while, which is great. You’ll see in the below pictures a creme brûlée I’ve learned to make (although the picture doesn’t show the brûlée part, which we use a blowtorch for), Indian-style paratha (potato-filled pastry) that I attempted to make,  a pancake breakfast I led at the office, and some of my Burmese friends from work who came over for dinner (I taught them how to make pasta, and for most of them I think it was their first time eating it).

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BEDROOM

The bedroom remodel has been a very fun, very informative, a bit nerve-wracking, and a time-intensive experience. It’s been about 2-2.5 months, with maybe every other weekend at least partly devoted to working on it.

Step 1 was the bed. I had mentioned the Sketch-up model that I put together. From there I transferred over to a sketch with all the dimensions and went to Helping Hands to have them build the bed for me. It is made of recycled teak and took about 3 weeks to make. I paid $300 for it. However, it didn’t have enough slats, so I had to have them add a 1.5cm piece of plywood to distribute the weight, which was another $35.

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After the bed, the focus was on the “deconstructed closet.” Given that it is a smaller room, and that historically I have kept the doors to my closets open anyway for ease of access and airflow for my clothes, I decided to try and design an open closet with just shelves and a clothes rack.

Here’s a picture of the general idea:

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At first I was thinking of using cables to hold up the shelves, but at the end of the day I ended up going with just steel bars that would come out from the wall via wall anchors.

A trip to the industrial zone to get a bunch of material started the process:

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A bunch of shops with interesting inventory management.

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This is where I bought the pipe for the clothes rack:

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Here is the end of the day with the raw material acquired. I’d say it was between $30-$50. You can see that I am going for an urban/industrial look (to contrast against the clean look/lines in the room and the apartment).

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Lathing down the ends for a clean machined finish (and also putting chamfer edges on them).

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Drilling the holes and tacking the threads was time-intensive (12 holes to do).

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Next step was applying a urethane coat to make sure the bars won’t rust (Taiei built this cool painting rig for me to use).

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In the meantime I went to glass vendor and had glass panes made for the shelves (~$60).

Some hammer-drilling into the brick and pounding in wall anchors, and here they are!

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Version 1 of the clothes rack:

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Next came installing the track lighting (~$30-$40). The trunking was ok but I misaligned the light bars a bit.

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Then putty and paint. This was a big step for me. I decided to go with a bold blue as an accent color. It’s not shy!

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We joke about this being the Greek/Mediterranean room.

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You can also see the plywood weight distribution board. Taiei and I used a skill saw to cut a hand hold to be able to lift it.

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Next came reassembling the shelves (you can see the plastic feet that we added so the glass can better grip).

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The clothes rack is a cool effect with urethane finish but the rough base (the pipe has such great character).

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The bedside shelves proved more challenging (I think we were hitting rebar with the hammer drill). The top one went in after some finagling but it’s unclear if the bottom one is going to work out.

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Here’s another shot of the track lighting.

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We also removed the floor molding and applied silicone caulking to fill in the gaps between where the floor boards meet the wall.

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So far, I think all-in the room probably cost in the $500-$700 range ($335 for the bed, $50 for the metal, anchors, etc., $60 for the glass, $50 for the paint, putty, caulking, etc., $40 for the lights, and I’m probably missing some other expenses like the urethane and thinner).

Taiei, my roommate, has been a massive help throughout this process, helping me to design and build the components and acquire the materials, teaching me how to use things like a lathe and hammer drill, providing a supporting nudge to go with the blue accent wall, and helping to bring everything together toward the finish line (as I write this he is currently helping to finalize the caulking).

Here’s a picture of the two of us after manning the grill at a gathering at our friend’s apartment:

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I was hoping to share more in this post, but it’s already long and I will close for now. Hope you are all well, and Happy Easter!

Mosquito Management

Over the months we have accrued quite the lineup of mosquito-fighting equipment. I thought you’d all find it interested to see the collection.

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From left to right:

Mosquito Repellant Lotion – Apply to the skin directly to keep mosquitos away

Mosquito Repellent Incense – The device holds a bottle of liquid with a wick, and once plugged in and turned on, the wick heats up and emits a vapor

Mosquito Fan – Our newest addition, this device has a UV light to attract mosquitos and then a fan that sucks them into a grated container where the UV light dehydrates them until they die

Electric Mosquito-killing Racquet – When a mosquito hits the outer and inner metal segments, completing the circuit, an electric burst kills the mosquito

Mosquito Net – The tried and try mosquito net is bulky, a pain to set up and enter/exit, and constricting to sleep under, but it is the most effective mechanism to stop mosquitos

Of course, I forgot to include the screens on our windows, which would be the ideal solution, but somehow the mosquitos still get in. We are thinking of caulking the window screen frames.

Out of the solutions listed above, they all have their issues: the lotion wears off (and you have to wear it on your skin), the incense releases a vapor that is questionable to be breathing in every night, all night, the fan apparently works best in unlit rooms where it has been running for some time before people enter, the racquet requires patience and a decent amount of hand-eye coordination, and the net is bulky. Nonetheless, we are trying our best with the tools at our disposal!

“An Embedded Photographer Empowers the Poor”

I saw this article today and found it powerful. I would encourage you to also take a look through the slideshow.

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/24/an-embedded-photographer-empowers-the-poor/?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=mini-moth&region=top-stories-below&WT.nav=top-stories-below&_r=0#

An example sticks out in my mind of a time when I saw white foreigners taking pictures of a Burmese street vendor, getting up close to him and smiling/chuckling as he took the picture and the Burmese man sort of smiled while looking awkwardly to the side. It felt like the Burmese man was the subject of some show or exhibit. When I see this, sometimes I get the feeling that people are just trying to get a great picture of “the developing world.” I have been guilty of this as well.

This article describes Shehab Uddin, who after studying how Western Media represented poor people, decided to take a different approach. Here are a couple snippets:

“Mr. Uddin not only asked permission to photograph poor people. He also moved in with several families and later had them help select the images that he would exhibit in their neighborhoods.”

“Mr. Uddin believes that Western media and nongovernmental organizations too often wrongly portray impoverished people as monolithic. That approach may evoke sympathy and open wallets. But he said they also need more: social support and education.”

Here is the link again to the full article:

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/24/an-embedded-photographer-empowers-the-poor/?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=mini-moth&region=top-stories-below&WT.nav=top-stories-below&_r=0#

Indonesian Mass

One of my friends from church, Linda from Indonesia, invited me to a Catholic Mass today celebrated by an Indonesian priest for a small group of mostly Indonesians living in Yangon. The Mass was held primarily in Bahasa, but everyone was very kind, and the food afterward was great.

Here’s a picture of the room used as a chapel:

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Here is some text from the Mass so you can get a sense of what Bahasa sounds like:

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Here’s my friend Linda and some of the food:

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Here’s the whole group. Do I really stick out that much??

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I learned that Indonesians love to joke around and laugh, and are not a quiet bunch!

In other news, I picked up a bed at the shopping mall called Yusana Plaza that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I was pretty surprised to see one of the options (which I did not buy) that is pretty much just a wrapped block of foam (talk about a firm mattress!):

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Finally, I thought it was pretty funny to see what our apartment cleaning service apparently thinks my name is. It could be worse!

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Apt. Updates

Just wanted to send a quick update on the apartment as some changes have taken place. We had some of Taiei’s pictures printed on canvas for the walls. You can also see the finished TV stand that I had discussed earlier, as well as some speaker stands that Taiei designed and had made.

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Here’s a new lacquer fruit bowl that we have in the kitchen. “Lacquer” is a handicraft that Burma (specifically the Bagan region) is known for.

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We’ve been having visitors add to our chalkboard wall, which has been great!

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For all you stuck in the New England snow, here’s what it’s been like here:

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The Kitchen: Expanding my Repertoire

I have come upon a combination of things that have spurred me to really step up my cooking: a beautiful kitchen, an incredible cookbook, fresh ingredients, and food safety concerns of eating out too much. I also haven’t built a deep social network here,  so I have used some of my free time to dive into the kitchen. As my repertoire expands, I am finally crossing the bridge between loving the concept of cooking (e.g. watching a lot of Food Network) and actually loving to cook.

I’ll start off with my most exciting experience in the kitchen: gnocchi. I have never on my own made dough before (for anything), so making the dough for gnocchi, and then actually seeing the final product take shape, was awesome. I realized that the ingredients list is incredibly short: potatoes, flour, and salt. However, execution is important. You can see in pictures here the dough, the pre-cooked gnocchi, and then the final product (I just drizzled some melted butter and used sharp cheddar in place of parmesan).

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I have also branched out some more in the dessert section. I continue to make oatmeal cookies sometimes (I’ve tried a couple different recipes) but have gotten tired of regularly eating them. To that end, I decided to make vanilla pudding (after realizing that one of my favorite desserts, crème brulee, was going to be challenging to pull off). Again, the ingredients list was not long, especially with having a decently stocked pantry. You can see here I added a bit of cinnamon to the top, which was a nice touch.

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I also love the Burmese-style coconut jelly, so I prepared that as well. I tried to make it once before, but the missing piece was the agar-agar, which the local grocery store now has in stock.

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Here you can see a dish that I led with a couple friends helping me out. I bought a couple local fish at the market, descaling and fileting them before giving them a quick fry on the pan. We also made some spagetthi with store-bought tomato sauce, which we added sautéed carrots and fennel to. Finally, after prepping some eggplant with salt to drain out some of the liquid, we sautéed the eggplant and added it to the plate.

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Here is a fresh salad with greens from Shan State with a homemade honey vinaigrette that I’ve come to enjoy. I also experimented with dill potatoes (after watching Taiei, I learned that it’s possible to sauté potatoes and not just either boil them in a pot or roast them in the oven). The fresh dill came in our box of veggies from Shan State.

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A couple quick items to finish off. The first is a cheesy pizza bread I made for a dinner in a pinch, and the second was a tasty stir-fry with pork, onions, and oyster sauce (I like the sweetness that oyster sauce brings to stir-fry dishes). Finally, Taiei made a Chinese stir-fry with sautéed spinach, which was great.

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With all this said, I definitely have room to improve. Most notably I failed to get the smooth textures in the pudding and the dough. I probably could have spent more time trying to work the ingredients with a fork/spoon, but I could also go out and pick up a whisker and/or potato masher, which would probably help.

That’s all for now. In other news, I finally made it out sailing on Inya Lake! For fifteen dollars I was able to take a boat out for an hour, which one of the deckhands rigged and de-rigged for me. It was a sloop (having both a jib and a mainsail), and they let me take it out solo. The wind wasn’t great, but there was enough for me to take a decent lap. The next time I go out on the water I’ll try to take pictures (I didn’t want to risk it on my first outing as I didn’t know what the boats/conditions would be like. Turns out the boats are pretty heavy – if I heard the guy right, they are British from almost 100 years ago – so stability wasn’t a big concern).

A Note on Local Wages

I know I’ve written about this topic before, but today I was able to compare between what people make at the local bank where I do my personal banking and what a taxi driver makes. Again, I was astonished.

I’ve made a friend at the bank who is open to discussing things with me about work. She told me that the monthly salary for a bank employee (e.g. a teller) is around $150 per month. This was confirmed by a guy who works at the money exchange center of the same bank.

Later in the day, I confirmed with a taxi driver (who said he didn’t own his own car but worked for someone else) that he can make between $300-$400 a month.

I wish I better understood the economics of local employment because it seems backward that a taxi driver who never attended university (another question I asked) is able to make twice as much per month as someone in charge of managing bank accounts. I am not trying to make a value judgement on the quality of these two people, but I am rather commenting on the fact that one person had to invest more time (and probably money) into an education without seeing a comparatively higher financial payback.

If I had to take a guess, there are so many people who have a “university education” (which I’m learning may not mean a whole lot), that salaries get pushed way down, whereas the flooding in of comparatively wealthy foreigners are driving up taxi demand and taxi fares.

SketchUp

With some help from Taiei to get me started, I was able to mock up a couple bed designs in a program called SketchUp (I’m planning to have a bed frame built). It was a lot of fun, and I found the program to be very accessible to a layperson. It really helped me to visualize the dimensions/shapes/colors of each component and how they would look together.

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I also went to an Indian cultural event this weekend with a friend. It brought back memories of the Indian cultural events that used to happen at Sloan (it made me want to dance with the Indian crew again!).

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I also took a trip back to the shopping center Yuzana Plaza (I had mentioned it in a previous post).

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Again, some of the furniture was mind-boggling. Check out this armchair (I forgot if I had posted this the first time I saw it):

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This is a Korean food/snack place that opened in Pearl Condo. It has a Korean shaved ice snack called Patbinsu that I love (although I have yet to try it at this restaurant).

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Here’s a picture of some electrical connections at Pearl Condo:

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Loving the chalk wall at our apartment!

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