Stories from Yongning continued…

Seven years ago, this month, I spent a week in a remote village in Yongning, China. What made me want to go to this remote part of China was the presentation on the Mosuo community, that my anthropologist friend, Yuan, had made. Yuan presented the Mosuo, as having a matrilineal society where children stayed with their mothers and there was no word for father or husband in their language. I wanted to understand better this community, which was fast losing its identity in the homogeneity promoted through the patriarchal structure of the rest of the country. I convinced Yuan to undertake a collaborative project, where I would write the human interest stories and she would interview people as well as take some of her renowned photography. So in September 2013, Yuan and I visited this remote village, away from the touristic hotspot of Luoshui, and stayed with Ana and her family. Ana took us around the village for chats with some of the elderly residents.

On our first morning in the village, Ana suggested we visit an elderly 91 year old neighbour. The sky was overcast with clouds as we made our way to their compound. After the introductions were made, and the little stove was lighted up to heat the water for tea, Ana spoke to the 91 year old in Mosuo language.

“I was born in the year of the mouse. I have three sons and two daughters. My first partner was a horseman, who worked for the rich Chief’s family in the village. Usually, one man from each family had to live in the Chief’s house and work there and one woman had to go help when they needed. I lived in my own house but had to go to the Chief’s family home to help when there was a big celebration. My family was very poor then and almost had nothing but we still had to pay taxes to the rich Chief’s family. Now, it is the happiest time as there are no taxes any more and there are several subsidies to help us raise pigs and other livestock.

My first partner had to travel a lot outside of the village for work so he was hardly there to help me. He passed away young, 5-6 years into our marriage. My eldest son and daughter were born in my first marriage. My three other children were born later.

I raised my family alone, without any help from extended family members. It was very hard to raise the five children alone, especially during the period when there was lack of food due to the country experiencing natural disasters.

I inherited the house from my mother. It was a simple house. My second partner helped to rebuild the house. I helped my partner build the house, carrying one child on my back. We did not have enough timber then to build the roof. We could see the starry sky, when sleeping inside the house. When the new government brought about a one husband-one wife policy and encouraged the husband to help the wife, my second partner came to live with me. This was after our children had grown up. Previously, the man had to help his own family, which was his mother and sisters. My second partner lived with me for 5 years, when I was around 50 years old, before he became sick and passed away.

I am proud that all of my five children have a good education, which is not common in the village. My eldest son was a chief policeman before he retired. My son and his family live in Lijiang.

My second son also had an important role in the local army. He lives with his family in a small town nearby. My eldest daughter was the village doctor. She passed away young. She had three children, who I raised. Two of my grandchildren graduated from university and work outside the village. My granddaughter lives with me. I have three great-grandchildren.

My youngest daughter graduated from middle school and she has a small business in another town nearby. She also has three children, all of whom completed university and all three work in good jobs.

My youngest son refused to go to middle school and is a farmer. He lives with me in the village. He is the only child who is in a traditional Mosuo marriage. A Mosuo marriage is simpler than the normal marriage. Only one big family with the same blood ties live together and raise children together. Every family member supports each other. The normal marriage is more complicated as two different families join to become one. The relationship with mother in law or other in laws is so complicated. One thing is better now than before. A man is allowed to help his partner in many ways, for example, raising a child, building a house etc. Before if a man did that, the man’s family might not allow him or other villagers might laugh at him. I am a little worried that the third generation may not have Mosuo marriages any more, since they have partners from the Han ethnic group. It is very difficult to find a partner from Mosuo ethnic group if they work outside the village.

I sent my children outside the village because there are more opportunities and a better life outside. It is too hard to live in the village. All my children, who live outside, have a good family and life. I do not need to worry about them. I could go and live with my children but the family name will be ended, if no one lives in the village.  Only my son and granddaughter, who are staying in the village, have a hard life compared to children living outside.

My youngest son and granddaughter take care of the farmland and animals. We grow rice, some corns and other plants and have 2 horses, 2 buffalos and 18 pigs. I manage all the income that we generate in the village. My children living outside the village manage their own income.

Usually men are not as diligent and thrifty as women, so women manage family income. If there is a wedding or funeral, it is usually women who decide how much money or what kind of gifts will be sent to the related family. The men will go to that family to help with the wedding or funeral arrangements. If the village needs to build a road or a ditch, the villagers will have a public meeting first to decide which family can help which part. The men engage in the public affairs, especially in village renovations and development. Also, men usually decide how many buffalos to buy or sell and manage them.

In my spare time, I like to go to every family in the village and visit them. Now I cannot walk to visit them. Soon, I will pass the control of the income and household management to my granddaughter in the near future, rather than my youngest son. I think women are usually good at managing finance at home and not men.”

Note: It was a bit of a difficult process initially, as Ana had to translate what was said in Mosuo language into Mandarin for Yuan and Yuan had to translate it into English for me. We soon realized that this was not going to work, especially if we did not want to waste the elders’ time so we agreed that the English translation would have to wait till we were back at Ana’s home. However, for different reasons, that translation never did happen during my stay in Yongning. I recently was going through the photos I took during the visit and felt it was a pity that the stories of the elders we spoke to would go undocumented. I reached out to Nancy aka Yanan and asked if she could help me by translating the recordings for me. Nancy, a very generous and kind friend, has been translating the interviews for me this month. I have tried to piece together the interviews in a story format.

Stories from Yongning

Seven years ago, this month, I spent a week in a remote village in Yongning, China. With me, was an anthropologist friend, Yuan, who specialized in minority ethnic groups. Our purpose for this visit was to better understand the Mosuo culture as the community was said to be following matrilineal practices and was at times, referred to as China’s last matriarchal society. We wanted to talk to some elders in Mosuo villages, away from the touristic hotspot of Luoshui, to understand how family life was structured when the elders were children so that it would shed some light for us as to what matrilineal practices were still continued. We were hosted by a Mosuo family and our host, Ana, took us around the village for chats with some of the elderly residents.

During one of these walks, we visited NA*, an 87 year old Lama. When we entered through the doorway, we saw N* seated in the courtyard de-seeding the family’s pumpkin harvest. I noticed that dried pumpkin seeds was usually what was offered with tea in the homes we visited. After Ana introduced Yuan and I, she explained that we were interested in hearing his life story.

N* agreed to talk to us and asked us to be seated indoors, while he cleaned up and joined us. Once we were seated by the hearth, N* narrated his life story.

“I started training to be a Lama since I turned 11 years old. In my younger days, it was a usual practice for each family to have 1 or 2 children study to become Lamas. My elder brother also studied it. Becoming a Lama would reduce one’s time of service with the rich Chief of the village’s family and Lamas are respected more than the normal villagers.

Initially, I went to the temple in the next village and trained with a Senior Lama for a year. I lived in the Senior’s home and helped served the Buddhas through cleaning, preparing food and sacrifice. Other trainees usually had to do some housework for the Senior Lama. I returned to my own village after that as the village belonged to a high level temple so that I could continue my learning. I studied under the Chief of the village and temple and helped raise pigs for his family for 3-4 years. It was a duty of my family to have one or two family members serve the Chief’s family. The Chief’s family approved my learning to become a Lama. Since a Lama of high position in Sichuan province asked the Chief for a person to serve him, I was sent as a gift to the Tulku (someone similar to the Dalai Lama, but without the high ranking) to serve the Tulku for four years. After serving the Tulku, I asked to continue my studying in Lhasa, Tibet. The Tulku approved it. My village Chief’s family asked me to serve another Tulku in Lhasa, who was one of the sons of their family and my same age, who had gone to Lhasa earlier. I was not keen to continue my life of serving someone but I had no choice but to accept it. I was 20 years old when I walked to Lhasa, studied there for 9 years, and I walked back home. I served the Buddhas in Lhasa by cleaning the temple, preparing sacrifices etc. The Tulku and I had a different learning path. My study was much simpler than that of the Tulku.

After returning home from Lhasa, I was able to live with my own family, though all Lamas lived in the temple in Lhasa. In my family, there was my grandmother and her six children. My grandmother’s brothers had passed away. After my return from Lhasa, my mother asked to be separated from the large family and she and two of her sisters left to start another household. I moved with them. Two of my mother’s sisters and her brother stayed on with my grandmother.  In my family, the members ask for my opinion first. Also, when having meals, I am given food first.

I did some religious work for the villagers and went to the temple, if there was a religious event. I received some income or food for the religious work that I did for the villagers. I usually kept the income. If my family needed help, I would give some money to support them.

While serving the villagers, I could not refuse anyone requesting help. While I did not have to do any heavy farm work, I helped to take care of young children at home or do some housework at home. I also helped villagers when they were sick, or they had a wedding or funeral, or when a baby was born. I help to give names to the babies.

Once I chose this way of life, there was only one way for me to go. Whether I like it or not, I have to keep continuing on this path.”

Photo credit: Yuan Li

Acknowledgement: Much gratitude to Yanan Yang for translating the interview recordings of our visit from Mandarin to English, that helped me piece together NA*’s story. A big thank you to Yuan for organizing the visit and carrying out the interviews. And, a lot of gratitude and thanks to Ana, for hosting us and linking us with the elders in the village and translating from Mosuo to Mandarin what they spoke.

Milford Sound with Southern Discoveries

While planning for my visit to South Island in 2018, I had wanted to stay at least a night or two in the Milford Sound area, but I had to choose between that or a visit to Stewart island, another place that was a priority. So I balanced both by choosing a day trip to Milford Sound from Te Anau and an overnight on Stewart island.

I actually overslept the morning of my Milford Sound tour, due to jet lag and having forgotten to turn on the alarm on my phone. I woke up to knocking on my cottage door at the hostel I was staying at in Te Anau. Quite disoriented, I opened the door not quite understanding why there was someone knocking on my door. A flustered woman said that my tour bus was at the gate to pick me up. I asked her if she could ask them to wait a few minutes for me to get ready. She said she would convey the message but they might not wait. True enough, minutes later, when I made it to the road, I didn’t see any bus. They had left. Terribly disappointed since I was only in Te Anau that day and I had very much wanted to visit Milford Sound, I decided to walk to the Southern Discoveries office and check if there were other options. The staff on duty was the same one that I had met the previous evening, when I had stopped by the office to clarify whether I would be picked for the tour from my hostel or whether I had to come to the office. She calmly replied, “no problem”, when I had explained what had happened. She checked what other tours were going to Milford Sound and when I found out there was one leaving in 2 hours, I was really happy. Without any fuss, she issued me my tickets and asked me to be at the office in two hours. That interaction, the calm and professional manner of the staff member with the right touch of courteous and kind made me like the Southern Discoveries tour operators even before my tour had started.

I decided to get my caffeine fix for the day and went to the nearby Miles High pie shop for an apple pie and coffee.
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This time, when the coach bus came along, I was ready and I settled into my seat at the end of the bus to enjoy the scenic drive.
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The bus driver stopped the bus in Eglinton Valley and suggested we take a short walk along the boardwalk and admire the views. While there were lots of people on our bus and other buses, since people kept walking, it didn’t feel as crowded as it actually was.

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Mirror Lakes

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At the Tutoko Suspension Bridge

I guess the best way to explore Fjordland National Park would be to have your own vehicle to drive through and where you could take time to hike along some walking trails off the road. The driver did stop at a few points along the way, as photo stop points, but with just enough time to stretch your legs, take in the view for a moment, click some photos and get back on the bus. So at the Tutoko suspension bridge, we didn’t have time to walk down the forest trail to see the chasm waterfall. To reach Milford Sound in time to embark on the Milford Sound cruise was the key factor that prevented us from having much time at the stops but at least, we stopped at some points along the way.

The driver/ guide was also recounting stories along the way of places we passed and the story about how Thomas Gunn swam the river to reach the nearest settlement to get assistance for survivors of a helicopter crash was impressive.

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We made it in time for the Milford South lunch cruise and I had a quick lunch so that I could go out onto the deck and enjoy the landscape we passed.

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Starting with a view of the Mitre Peak, the cruise was a beautiful experience of Milford Sound.

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Despite the cold, I stayed outside through almost the whole cruise, not wanting to miss the sense of happiness I felt whenever I am out on a boat and on water and can smell the sea air around me and the feel of the wind and water lashing against my face. Only during the last segment of the cruise, I decided to go in for some hot coffee.

The return drive to Te Anau was uneventful, without any stops along the way, nor any story narration. I ended the day with a lovely walk around the waterfront in Te Anau.

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Milford Sound is a must visit place for any traveler to the South Island.

What was your experience of Milford Sound, if you have been there?

Lugu Hu: A Cultural experience of a lifetime

When Yuan first made her presentation on minority ethnic groups in China during the cultural week at the Asia Pacific Leadership Programme at East West Center in Hawai’i, the moment she mentioned that the Mosuo had no word in their vocabulary for father, I was intrigued.

So, when we were asked to do an independent mini study travel, while in Yunnan province, two of my friends and I chose to visit Lugu Hu, where the Mosuo community lived.

With Michelle and I not being able to speak Mandarin and Mami able to manage the bare minimum, it was an interesting travel to the lake area.

We found ourselves doing very touristic things as people assumed that is what we would be interested in.

We tried the local café to see if that would yield more insight into the community, than the tourist narrative but language was a major barrier.

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Eventually, we ran into some luck when the taxi driver we hired to take us to a Buddhist temple was quite chatty and he invited us over to his house that evening for some tea with his mother.

He described the Mosuo home design, in which the mother had the central structure – the place of power, and each child had a space built in the courtyard. According to tradition, the children were supposed to live with their mothers. There was no such concept as marriage, though there was a terminology which loosely translated meant walking marriage, where a male or female met someone they liked during the festivals etc. Any resulting child would stay with the mother and be raised by her family. So there were words for uncle and brother, only not for father.

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While my curiosity had been piqued, I felt that we lost a lot since we were hardly able to communicate with anyone in the village. Also, I felt that a lot of the narrative that was being shared with us was a touristic version intended to attract the visitor to the region.

Therefore, I asked my friend Yuan, who had obviously not joined us on our study tour to China and instead had chosen to go to DC and NY during that time, whether we could go on an exploratory visit of our own into a more rural area of the Mosuo community. She agreed and we decided that it would be good to set an objective for the visit rather than simply an exploratory visit. I was to be responsible for writing the human interest stories and Yuan, the photography. With this agreement, the next year, I returned to Yunnan province looking forward to understanding the community better.

During this visit, not only did I have Yuan, a native Mandarin speaker with a postdoctoral specialization in minority ethnic Chinese communities with me, she had also linked up through her academic network to someone from the Mosuo community, who lived further north to Lugu Hu, and who offered to host us at her home for a week or so.

We arrived at her home in the evening after a long bus drive from Lijiang and I don’t quite remember my first impressions. I only remember that when I woke up in the morning, I was greeted outside my room to the beautiful view of the mountain.

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Over a breakfast of yak butter tea and mantou, Anna spoke about her family and her siblings. It was only her parents who now lived in their family home and she and her siblings had moved to town and cities as required for their jobs and livelihoods. She mentioned that was the case with most of the families in the village, where only the older generation were mostly left in the village.

We also learnt that her brother’s family would be visiting that week as the Moon festival was during the week we were there. I learnt as I visited with various neighbours of Anna that family lives in the Mosuo community were now similar to the rest of China. What was a tourist narrative in Lugu Hu was not the day-to-day reality of the people, who for decades now have been in legally, binding monogamous marriages and where the family unit comprises of the husband, wife and child and as in any other patriarchal society, the father is the head of the household.

I remember we went for walks around the village, admiring the beautiful views, visiting family friends of Anna and with Anna as our Mosuo translator listening to them speak of their families and lives. Yuan and I planned to write out the stories that touched us, but somehow this got derailed at the beginning as we found that three way translations didn’t work and it was decided that Yuan would at the end translate what was being discussed to me. It never did happen though we meant to do it at some point after we returned home. I have the audio recordings of our talks and I never felt it right that I have it translated by any other Mandarin speaker as this was a joint undertaking by Yuan and I.

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Perhaps it doesn’t really matter – our originally aim of a joint initiative of human interest stories accompanied by Yuan’s photography didn’t materialize. The connections I made with the family we stayed with, despite the language barrier, and the people we met was enough to understand their way of living, to understand the common thread of family concerns they had. If I cannot write a human interest story on the specific elderly people we interviewed, I can at least remember that Anna’s mother treated us as her daughters and that she opened up her home to us with a warm hospitality. I can remember that we celebrated the Moon festival, a time for family reunions with Anna’s family where they included us as part of the family without question.

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For all the delicious home-cooked meals that Anna and her mother made us during our stay, Yuan and I decided to cook dinner one day for them. I attempted to cook a curry with hardly any spices and I don’t think it went well with our hosts but they remade it to a tasty dish blending it with rice noodles for lunch the next day.

On our last day, Anna’s mother took Yuan and me to the Yongning temple, the temple she connected with the most, so that we could pray there before we left.

I hope I can revisit Lugu Hu in Yunnan province again and visit Anna’s family with Yuan once more for the Moon festival.

Special Six: Highlights of Kathmandu

Earlier this year, before the travel restrictions were put in place, I was in Kathmandu for a training.

This was the first time I had been to Nepal so I was very much looking forward to exploring the city. However, on the very first day, I had two nasty falls – the second fall resulting in cutting my lip very badly and traumatizing my teeth, that for the rest of the week I could not eat any solid food. That accident pretty much cut my exploratory mood. However, I had managed to visit some places before I fell on my first day and I did regain some of my exploring spirit during the last days.

The following are the special six highlights of my trip:

(1) Swayumbunath Temple:

Anjal, one of my two friends, who had volunteered to take me around during my first Sunday in Kathmandu, took me to his favourite place in the city – Swayumbunath Temple.

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One of the oldest religious places in the city, the temple is considered to have self-sprung. The temple is located on top of a little hill from which one can see the crowded city.

(2) Patan Durbar Square:

The second place that Anjal stated was his favourite was the Patan Durbar square, one of the three ancient city squares in Kathmandu. Patan Durbar square had lovely architecture which was beautifully preserved.

We also visited the museum overlooking the square, which had a very good collection of artwork and information on the cultural evolution over the centuries.

(3) Boudhanath Stupa:

Towards the last days of the training, I began to recover physically and a couple of colleagues and I decided to visit Boudhanath stupa, an UNESCO world heritage site.

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By the time we navigated the traffic and reached the temple, the temple was closed but we walked around the stupa a couple of times before heading off to have some pho at a noodle shop overlooking the temple.

(4) Hindu temple:

With Rekha, my other friend, who had volunteered to take me around on my first Sunday and with whom my outing in Thamel was cut short after my fall, we decided to attempt another outing towards the end of my trip mainly to give her a sense of satisfaction. She said she had felt a bit traumatized as well seeing my accident and the resulting injury.

I asked her if we could simply go to a Hindu temple as I had been to a couple of Buddhist temples and was interested in experiencing a puja at a Hindu temple. I remembered that when Rekha had visited Colombo, she had wanted to go to a specific Hindu temple and she had remarked that the way the puja was done in Colombo was very different to the way it was in Kathmandu.

She took me to a couple of Hindu temples, which did not have the ‘gopurams’ or towers that Indian or Sri Lankan temples have but were mostly small spaces in corners. There was also no specific priest. There was a woman with a child when we went in. She gave me some kumkumam (turmeric mixed with other ingredients) and then asked for some cash.

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(5) Basantapur Durbar Square:

After the visit to a couple of Hindu temples, Rekha suggested we go to Basantapur Durbar square. Another UNESCO world heritage site, this was badly affected by the 2015 earthquake.

We walked around a bit and then after dinner, we decided to take a trishaw from the square back to the hotel. While I wouldn’t take the trishaw again, once would be good to experience.

(6) Kathmandu cuisine

Kathmandu has a variety of cuisine that would be interesting to try out. On the first day, Anjal had recommended the restaurant Raithaane in Patan for its offering of a variety of local cuisine with a fusion touch. However, it was closed when we went. And I was not able to eat anything solid after my first day. I am glad though I tried two different types of Nepali cuisine within my first 24 hours in Kathmandu.

What did/ would you want to experience on your first trip to Kathmandu? Except for the fall in Thamel, of course. 

Special Six: My Memories of Inverness

During my student year in the UK, I had the opportunity to enroll for the Host UK programme. Since I was planning to visit Scotland during the summer, I decided to combine part of it with a stay with a local family and applied for it.  I was paired up with a family in Inverness. A lovely couple who had a long history of hosting foreign students and who actually agreed to host me in the last minute, when my original host in Inverness had fallen sick and they had been contacted on the day I was traveling to Inverness, as Host UK did not want to cancel out on me.

Based on my experience, I would highly recommend any foreign student in the UK to include a Host UK homestay experience as it does enrich your student experience and probably, the friendship that you build lasts beyond your student year.

The special six memories of my homestay experience in Inverness are the following:

(1) Getting to know Helena and David and their lovely neighbourhood:

Helena, with whom I spent the most time, was a retired teacher and an avid historian, loved to cook and was very proud of her garden. I enjoyed accompanying her on her walks around the woods in the neighbourhood, overlooking Loch Ness, short forays into her garden prior to cooking to get some garden produce. I remember planning and cooking a Sri Lankan dinner (they called it tea) once and wondering if her nieces who were not exposed to other cuisines would like it. Her interest in Sri Lankan history and culture and enthusiasm in sharing the Scottish stories was what I remember most about my stay with them.

(2) Culloden Moor

Helena said that I needed to visit Culloden Moor, as it was a place that meant a lot to Scottish people. The site of the 18th century battle was originally not something that I thought I wanted to visit as I have never wanted to visit former battlefields. However, seeing her keenness, I agreed to it. We set out the next morning after my arrival in Inverness, and went to the site. There is a little museum at the site. For me, it is one of the best museums I have seen to-date as it shows the perspectives of all stakeholders (civilians and officials) on both sides pieced together from their letters and journals. I understand there are other museums that have done this as well but this is the first that I have been to.

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The museum then opens out into an open expanse, which you can walk about with an audio guide which talks about different points – such as the points that leaders of various Scottish clans fell.

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The little cottage, which had been the makeshift hospital and neutral ground, evoked a sense of sadness before I learnt that even though the wounded soldiers made their way there to surrender, they had been killed.

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Culloden Moor, a place that Scotland has decided to preserve as part of their heritage and learning, is a place that does raise a lot of questions on the purpose of battles and loss of lives and why human beings are unable to resolve power issues through other means.

(3) Dolphin watching at Chanonry Point:

Helena having taken me to her favourite place in the morning, David decided to take me to his favourite place that afternoon having learnt that I loved dolphins. We went in time for the low tide as apparently the Moray Firth bottle nose dolphins turned up soon after.

There were a few families that had turned up to watch out for the dolphins but though we waited till sunset, we didn’t see any that day.

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(4) Munlochy Clootie well and tree

On the drive back from Canonry Point, we passed an area where there were trees with what looked like rags tied to them. It reminded me of the prayer cloths tied at trees outside Hindu and Buddhist temples. David stopped the car and we went to some of the closest trees. In pre-Christian times, it was believed that a healing spirit inhabited the well and people came to heal themselves with the water from the well and tie rags of cloth to the tree to make a wish of healing. Since Christian times, a Christian saint has replaced the nature spirit in the folk stories but the belief remains the same. And people continue to tie pieces of cloth rags to the trees.

For me, I have always believed in the power of people’s thoughts – to manifest something. That is why I have believed in the power of prayers to heal and to transmit positive thoughts across the oceans. So, whether people believe that something is manifested by their tying a piece of cloth on a tree or offering a puja, the main underlying aspect is the power of their thoughts.

(5) Corrimony Cairn:

The next day, Helena decided on a day out with a picnic to a couple of her favourite places. We first went to Corrimony Cairn. This is a burial chamber from 4000 years ago.

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It is a collective tomb that was built and the passages have an astronomical alignment and orientation.

(6) Plodda Falls

Being a hiker and nature enthusiast, Helena took me to Plodda falls next. This is the highest falls in the area. We discussed the various trails and knowing my mobility issue, she chose the shortest trail that would allow me to see the falls with the least walking effort. It still wasn’t a short or easy walk though.

Returning back to the car park after we went on this short trail, we stopped by a stream and relaxed for a while simply chatting and taking in the fresh air of the forest.

It’s been years since this visit but we still keep in touch. I was happy to hear of the birth of their grandchildren in the years that have followed – one of whom actually shares my birthday, so I am not going to forget him.

I am not sure if I would have especially visited Inverness had it not been for Host UK, as I had other Scottish cities and islands on my priority list. I am also very sure that I would not have visited any of the above mentioned places had it not been for my host family actually taking me to the places that they loved and letting me experience them as well.

So I hope the above is of some help to those planning a visit to Scotland in helping plan a travel to Inverness.

Special Six: First Taste of Yangon

2020 started with a brief trip to Yangon. Over the couple of days that I was there, while I did not have much time to sightsee, I did have the opportunity to try out some nice cafes and restaurants with friends.

Here are the six that I enjoyed:

(1) Rangoon Tea House in the old Town area was my favourite. My friends introduced it to me on the first day and I revisited it with a colleague on the last day of my visit. I tried out Mohinga, a popular breakfast in Myanmar. The Mohinga I tried had a fish broth and egg served with rice noodles and lots of crispy stuff that you could add to your soup.

(2) Shan Shoe Yar was the place my friends chose to treat me for lunch on my last day in Yangon. They chose it for its Shan State cuisine. The flavours were different from the local food I had tried out in Yangon till then. Especially nice was the dessert, which was fried sticky rice dipped in sugar and sesame seeds.

(3) Strand Café was a place I dropped by as I was tired after walking around that area in the hot sun. Strand hotel was built in 1907 and listed in many travel guides to Yangon as a place to try out their famed afternoon tea. I enjoyed relaxing with a book and a cool smoothie in the elegant café.

IMG_5811(4) Bodhi Nava close to Kandawgyi lake is my pick for best coffee in Yangon. I tried out a few places that was recommended as having good coffee but the coffee I liked best was the one served in this little café. They also served a great smoothie bowl for breakfast.

(5) Aung Thukha listed at #17 on Trip Advisor was a place I tried out for lunch one day. It is a busy eating place where you need to select the dishes that you would like from the counter and they bring it to your table.

IMG_2857(6) Sharky’s was an organic restaurant that I went to a couple of times during my visit. It has a lovely ambience and some great food. I did not try the local food offering there but tried out their sausage platter instead with a lovely coloured sweet pea and lime drink.

If you have visited Yangon, which was your favourite restaurant or café? Of the six mentioned here, which would you like to try out?

 

Special Six: Highlights of Bangkok

During my work travels to Bangkok in 2018 and 2019, I did take a little time to explore a few places during each visit.

The following are the places I enjoyed visiting.

(1) Wat Arun:

The temple known for its sunrise views is the temple I chose to visit during my last trip to Bangkok. The small temple is beautiful especially for its intricately carved structure.

(2) Wat Pho:

This royal temple was the first place I visited during my first trip to Bangkok in 2018. The reclining Buddha is 46 m long.

(3) Dialogue in the Dark

This is the experience I highly recommend in Bangkok. I had been searching for unique travel experiences and came across this museum/ educational center based at the National Science Museum. Dialogue in the Dark is part of a worldwide project that enables the visitor to experience how challenging navigating everyday life can be for the blind. The guides are blind. The experience involves walking into a pitch dark room with a blindfold over your eyes and a guiding stick, with only the voice of your guide to lead you.

(4) Jim Thompson House Museum:

The house museum of Jim Thompson, who helped revitalize the Thai silk industry during the 50s and 60s then mysteriously disappeared in the jungles during a trip with his friends, is open for guided tours. It was a dark and rainy evening when I visited the place so the ambience and the guide’s story telling added to the spookiness of the place. The house though is a lovely traditional house that is worth visiting even without the tales of haunting. The house museum has the art center and shop next to it, where visitors can buy the silk products at exorbitant rates.

(5) Bangkok Art and Cultural Center (BACC):

I had actually gone to BACC for the drip coffee place that was highly recommended. However, the coffee shop was closed for renovation, so I explored the rest of BACC and found it to be a lovely center with art galleries and little crafts shops, as well as lovely handmade chocolate shop.

(6) Coffee

As is my usual habit, I tried out a couple of coffee places in Bangkok as well and my favourite to date is Ceresia Coffee Roasters.

IMG_1645What would be your the sites you would visit if you only had a day or two to explore Bangkok?

 

 

 

Special Six: Taste of Stockholm

Going back to Stockholm after nearly 10 years, earlier this year, I had expressed my wish to re-taste the flavours of Stockholm when dining out with friends. Therefore, we tried out traditional restaurants serving Swedish cuisine during this visit. From the numerous dishes that I tried out during this visit, the following six were my favourites.

(1) Västerbottenpaj

A meeting with a former colleague at her favourite café, Gunnarsons Konditori, had me tasting the classic cheese pie for lunch.

IMG_1439(2) Pan fried Salmon with new potatoes

The Gastabud offering of pan fried salmon with new potatoes was delicious and highly recommended. We were there quite early so got a table without having to wait. Currently topping the restaurants in Stockholm for its Swedish cuisine, I observed that many who came after us had to wait in queues for tables to free up.

IMG_1477(3) Stekt strömming 

Sjöpaviljongen, a lovely lakeside restaurant near the hotel I stayed at during this visit, served this traditional fried herring dish.
IMG_1519(4) Ren och viltsKavspanna 

Kvarnen , an eatery serving meals for more than 100 years, was the spot a few colleagues and I decided to try out on our last evening in Stockholm. On a whim, I decided to try their reindeer stew which was good. The first time I did try reindeer stew cooked in a Sami hut, back in 2001, during my visit to Kiruna.

IMG_1522

(5) Kajsas Fisksoppa

Kajsas Fisk at Hotorgshallen, operating since 1984, was highly recommended by a friend and so we both met up there to enjoy their famed fish soup, which was perfect for the chilly afternoon.

(6) Pankakor med jordgubb sylt

At the hotel where I stayed at in Stockholm, they served Swedish pancakes for breakfast and that was what I had each morning.

IMG_1539Apart from main meals, one cannot forget fika when one is in Sweden. My favourite kanelbulle from this visit was the one I had at Bageri Petrus in Sodermalm.

IMG_1391What are your favourite Swedish cuisine flavours?

Special Six: First Glimpse of Nairobi

Earlier this year, I had traveled to Nairobi for a conference. While I was there for nearly a week, I only had the day I arrived free so I booked a car at the hotel to take me and a few colleagues to some places I had wanted to visit.

(1) Giraffe Center: The center is a conservation center for Rothschild giraffes. Visitors can learn more about the endangered species as well as meet a few and feed them.

(2) Karen Blixen Museum:

The home of Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, was another place I visited during my afternoon out. While I had not read the autobiography but rather seen the movie in which Meryl Streep acted, it was nice to connect pieces of the story to the place where the author had centered her story.

(3) Kazuri Bead and Factory:

Close to Karen Blixen museum, I had wanted to drop by the place. However, our driver was in a hurry to get back to the hotel so we only had time for a quick viewing and shopping. While I did not have time to take any photos, the Kazuri beads (ceramic beads) shop is a great place to get some gifts for yourself and family.

(4) Rooftop Maasai Market:

I learnt that there was a Maasai Market every Wednesday at the Thika Road Mall, near the hotel we were staying at. So a few of us decided to pop in there at the end of the day. It was a fun shopping experience especially as one of us was an expert bargainer and the rest of us relied on her to help with the bargaining.

(5) Ugali at Java House

During my week in Nairobi, I was looking out for traditional Kenyan dishes. However, while there were international restaurants at the hotel I stayed at, there was no Kenyan specific restaurant nor was there any offering apart from the fried bread served in the breakfast buffet. So, I was delighted to see a Kenyan dish served at Java House at Thika Road Mall. It was Ugali (a cornmeal dish) served with Chicken Dhanya.

(6) Coffee:

While Kenya is both a tea and coffee producer, I was keen to try out Kenya’s coffee. My favourite was the flat white I had at Artcaffe.  IMG_1312
Have you been to Nairobi? If you had less than a day to explore the city, which would be the experiences you choose to have?