In praise of my fish pickling flair

There is a wonderful Myanmar expression which describes an act which is pointless, or will not be understood or appreciated (similar to throwing pearls among swine) and that is “playing harp for a water buffalo”. I just love the image it conjures up, although who knows – perhaps we are not judging buffalo fairly! How do we know that buffalo really do not enjoy harp playing?

This morning I read another Myanmar expression – “to praise the pickling of your own fish”. This was explained by relating it to the phrase “blowing your own trumpet” in other words boasting about your own work or achievement. Something I usually feel rather uncomfortable about.

pickled fish

However, this post is all about singing the praises of my own pickled fish! As I have been preparing my three words for 2013, I have also been reflecting back over the year, and the challenges it has thrown, the adventures and surprises which have come my way and the thoughts which have been inspired by all manner of sources. These have led to an eclectic mix of topics and a wide range of blog posts! This year, to date I have pressed “publish” 69 times sending a new post into the unknown space that is the blogosphere with each of those clicks.

The year has been a mix. There have been unexpected health issues which have sabotaged plans and shaken the confidence which I had been building, in the process destroying plans and dreams to a certain extent. However, among those difficult times, there have been some amazing experiences, and more than a few escapades. And I have visited 2 new countries (Norway and Timor Leste), as well as a new territory (Macau), which is not bad at all, all things considered.  I have gone back over the posts of the year and selected a few of them to highlight the year, and to reflect on some of the ideas and thoughts which have taken shape.

It has been a tough year in the breast cancer blogging community, with too many of our friends being stolen as the disease marches on relentlessly, and the emotional, physical and psychological toil that takes on us all. Even in Yangon, I have been distraught that three women I know here have been diagnosed recently. I continue to be moved and motivated to highlight the enormous challenges for women where the do not have access to information or treatment for breast cancer. It tears at our souls and rips our hearts. We must keep on.

My choice of blogging headlines is thus a mix, reflecting this mixed year.

I started the year by relating the tale of my travels to the ancient city of Mrauk U in a remote part of the country, and a highly memorable day with the women in Chin villages.

At the beginning of February, I was off on another escapade. My blogging friend Terri was not far from me, as she worked through her Adventure of Hope. It was an irresistible opportunity to meet up with her, I knew we were like minds and we managed to meet up in Hong Kong! The trip was inspirational, but in some ways was bittersweet as the same week has seen a health worry of my father and still palpable shock as two incredible blogging friends were stolen by cancer. This prompted thoughts on the incredible strength of voices, and the extent to which they belie the physical fragility caused by cancer as it progresses.  I struggled to believe that women with such strong and vital voices were so terribly ill and would die.

At the same time, we were again confronted with the spectre of a cancer diagnosis in the family, and this stirred thoughts on my own experiences of cancer and parenting and what I found to be the most difficult challenges of my life.

The end of the February saw me visiting the very young country of Timor Leste and spending an incredible weekend with the Dr who I first consulted with “the lump”. It was wonderful to see her again and to see how friendships form from some of the most difficult challenges thrown in our path.

In March, I was packing my bags again and dreaming of starfish! That was followed up at the start of April by my regular oncology checks and the surprise de-portation, which derailed my plans to travel to India to spend time with family.

I was shaken to learn this year, that the trust I have in the blogging community could on occasion be niaive and this prompted a great deal of thought, and a discussion which I called “in trust we blog”.  A lively and fascinating discussion ensued which spawned a follow up and exposure of the expression “gobsmacked“!

The theme of packing, unpacking and re-packing continued as June approached, as I embarked on what i knew would be an emotional and intense visit back to Scotland. The priority was to spend time with my father and help with the practical arrangements with his care.  That time was special, but limited and demanding both emotionally and physically.  On my return to Yangon I became very ill and there started the unwanted escapade involving pulmonary embolism, believed to be linked to Tamoxifen (a rare side effect) and exacerbated by the tough schedule and lack of rest.  That was a frightening and low point and I remember being horribly afraid in a different way to the fear which the “you have cancer” words bring.  This was much more immediate.  An unexpected week in hospital and further week in Bangkok stopped me very much in my tracks and I returned quietly to Yangon late in July and lay low for a while, licking my wounds and regrouping.

My recovery became evident again, when I decided to have a bit of a makeover of the blog both in its look and format, but also by revisiting my purpose of blogging.  After all it had been some time since this was hatched!  This post generated a great deal of discussion and further thought, which I still intend to revisit.

As I was overhauling the blog and explicity intending to share more of life and work here, Marie of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer was forming a wonderful challenge in which we were invited to Celebrate the Ordinary around us.  This was a wonderful project and for seven days I took delight in sharing images of the everyday.  My gentle recovery and rebuilding was demonstrated in my very special acquisition of the year – a happy green bicycle built for three!

October is a strange time in the Breast Cancer Community, and one I find particularly poignant as the run of landmark days including the anniversary of diagnosis, surgery, first chemo pass right through the month.  My own focus remains around the concern of women (particularly) in places where access to information and treatment is highly limited and was the focus of my plea to remember that the world is not an equal place.  This unease was heightened by the timing of my Big Check early in October and some unexpected and unwanted blood results and extra tests.  I used writing as a way to deal with this and my post In a scary space was written in the two hours between injection of radioactive dye, and the ensuing bone scan to evaluate whether there could be metastasis to my bones.  I still find it difficult to re-read, but I am glad that I recorded that very unique time when confronted with such fear.

As we moved into November, the atmosphere of optimism and change continued to build and we were all very excited and encouraged to learn that the newly returned President of the United States, Barack Obama would be visiting our country. Not only did he visit our country, he came to our city, drove down our road and WAVED RIGHT AT US!!  Yes, I am still all of a flutter about that day and even followed up with a personal note to President Obama!

As I arrive in December, I realise that the month took on a rather bookish flavour with a post inspired by the quotation “I fall down. I get up again.” from a book I was reading and which I found strongly resonated with my own experience of breast cancer. and my final favourite post was also about paper and books and all inspired by a kingfisher!

pickled fish2So as the year closes, and I look back at what has been a packed year with many unexpected challenges, I can clearly see from these bloggly headlines, that I am one incredibly lucky individual who has pickled a good many fish.  I have only been able to do that, however, thanks to the inspiration, support and encouragement of very many talented and prolific fish picklers!  Thank you!

Wishing you all a 2013 which is kind, fulfilling and enables your dreams and aspirations!

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2012 in review – the WordPress version :)

Thank you to the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys for preparing this 2012 annual report for my blog.

As I have been working on a review post, drawing out my favour and headline posts, the WordPress team have been working on this review.  I am intrigued to learn a few real nuggets of stasticky wizardry!  Here are some highlights:

  • The blog was visited in 142 countries! Really??
  • The busiest day was December 3 with 265 visits, most of them to the Letter to President Obama.
  • The most viewed post was written in November 2011.
  • Four of the five most viewed posts were NOT written in 2012!
  • The most popular search which directed readers to the blog was ……… wait for it “elephant”!!!!  How bizarre!
  • Most visitors came from the US, followed by the UK and India.

I love these facts – if you are drawn at all by this, then click on the link below to read the full report.

Thank you for keeping the Feisty Blue Gecko well so lively!

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 22,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas Day escapade on Yangon’s circular train

We moved to Yangon in June 2009, but I realised as Christmas approached and we had made no plans, that this would actually be my first Christmas in the city.  In 2009, I was in Bangkok between chemo sessions.  In 2010 I headed out of town to the beach at Ngwe Saung and had a very different Christmas indeed to the previous one.  And last year I trundled off on an adventure to Rakhine State and the ancient city of Mrauk U with its mysterious temples.

This year a series of challenges, mainly health ones, meant that we were hesitant to book anything and almost by default, decided to stay home.  Christmas is an interesting blend of the tropical with random appearance of a plastic row of snowflakes, Santa on a sleigh  balanced precariously on a bougainvillea hedge and Christmas trees and ornaments for sale in the local supermarket.   Christmas carollers singing in the streets, from gate to gate add to the fascinating mix of the tropical tinsel atmosphere.  So there are options for a Christmassy Christmas here, and a number of hotels have events and opportunities.  However, I knew that this was not quite what we were looking for.  Inspiration came in the form of an idea to catch the circular train which runs around Yangon!  Now that would be an easy and interesting escapade for a Christmas morning!

Apparently, the Yangon Circular Railway is the local commuter rail network that serves the Yangon metropolitan area. Operated by Myanmar Railways, the 45.9-kilometre (28.5 mi) 39-station loop system connects satellite towns and suburban areas to the city. The railway has about 200 coaches, runs 20 times and sells 100,000 to 150,000 tickets daily.The loop, which takes about three hours to complete, is a way to see a cross section of life in Yangon.

Yangon Circular Train PCR 1

And it certainly keeps its promise.  As a foreigner, you buy your ticket at the little office at Platform 6/7, producing your passport and 1$ per person. to enable to transaction.  The ticket for the whole journey is a set 1$US which is phenomenal value for a journey of just under three hours, which transports you around Yangon’s peri-urban and rural edges, in the midst of the city’s life.

circular train ticket for 2

Leaving Yangon Central Station, the train was very quiet and there were not many passengers in our carriage.  The train slowly travelled through a number of local stations, stopping for a few moments at each.  Or actually, the train did not stop.  Rather it kind of rocked – a little bit forward, then a little backwards.  Then the conductor would stick his green flag out of the window and the train continued its motion forwards.

There was quite a clear etiquette in the carriage.  People mainly sat cross legged on the seats, their shoes neatly on the floor underneath them.

shoes off on the train

hanging out on the circular train

As the train skirts around Yangon city, it travels through rural and urban settings, and it is entirely usual to hang out of the doors to get a breeze and to see what is going on.

passing a tea shop

We passed teashops, as we travelled through daily life across the city, spotting trishaw drivers sleepily awaiting custom near the stations.

life through the train windows, rickshaw and sleepy drivers

The train slowly filled, as it continued its journey.  This woman had just given her ticket to the conductor – she stored it in her hair, tucked under her clasp!

tickets in her hair

We even trundled past what appears to the car graveyard for all the old cars which were withdrawn, children playing with the surreal backdrop of car wrecks.

children playing with the scrap yard of old cars in the background

Then we pulled into a station with a very different feel.  There was a distinct buzz, and even before the train had stopped we saw bundles of goods – mainly vegetables, passed through the windows.  The traders had been at the early market, picked up their provisions and would now transport them to the local markets to trade.  An incredible amount of goods found their way into the carriage in a matter of minutes, as an incredible orchestration of cooperation and precision engineering saw the transfer from the platform into the carriage before the trained moved out of the station.

drawing into the vegetable market station

loading produce onto the train through the windows

The carriage was instantly transformed into a hive of activity, bustle and purpose.  The traders immediately set about the work they had to do on the train.  The woman sitting next to me had a sack of small aubergines and she spent the whole journey, sorting them into bundles of six and tying them with an elastic band.  By the time she reached her station, they were all sorted and packed back into the sack, ready to be sold at the local market.  Another woman spent the whole journey working her way through a sack of leafy greens, bundling them into the required weight and throwing the waste out of the door.

traders travelling, selling and preparing

transformed  arriage

Another layer of local economy worked alongside this, as traders worked their way through the carriages selling a variety of wares and snacks, and even ice cream.

IMG_0827

In fact the ice cream seller nearly missed the train as he hopped on board as the train was moving out of one of the stations.

ice cream seller just manages to hop on the train as it moves off

IMG_0868

The journey around Yangon took just under three hours, but I was not bored or ready to return to Yangon Central Station.  By the time we did roll back to where we had started, the carriage was again quiet and the few remaining passengers relaxed in the last minutes of the journey.

quietly reading as the train draws back into Yangon central Station

It was a really special way to spend Christmas day, and another memorable escapade to add to my bag.

PS – This is just a small selection of the many photos I took – a larger selection is being uploaded onto the sister photography blog here.

The weight of paper

With my change in swimming venue of a morning there have been a few accompanying changes.  One of those is the company I keep.  While there are rarely other humans in the pool with me, I am regularly joined by a frog (who refuses to be rescued), a squirrel who runs along the fence, a melodic mynah bird and a rowdy dispatch of crows.  But the most regular company I have is that of a gloriously coloured blue kingfisher who watches me rather haughtily as I encroach on his personal inland waterway as I swim up and down the pool.  The first time I caught sight of his bright blue wings I felt that the colour was almost an unnatural blue, as if he had slipped into a tub of thick blue emulsion.

wiki White_Collared_Kingfisher

One morning, I was in my usual meditative state of mind, my mind drifting about the kingfisher and wondering how I would describe the blue of his wings. There are so many blues in the colour palette, Prussian blue, cobalt, ultramarine, azure, turquoise, cerulean……… never ending blues.  I resolved to Google “shades of blue” when I got home.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

However, that sparked another train of thought.  Perhaps I should emphasise that my swimming style permits me to soak in what is going on around me (in other words a head-above-the-water style).  Thus the morning swim has been the starting point for many ideas, blog posts and even a petty major work project!  Off my mind went on its own to a recognition of how quickly we refer or rather resort to Google or other technological sources of reference and information.  In those hazy distant pre-Google days we used to have a wealth of reference sources, either in our possession or in what used to be a favourite haunt of mine – the library.  That treasure cave, overflowing with my favourite thing – books!  I had all kinds of books and I would spend many happy hours reading and leafing through the illustrated encyclopaedia in our home.

Libraries used to be a key part of my life, and not only during my life as a student.  My love of books was demonstrated when I left my job in 1989 to take up a place at university as a mature student.  Our small, cosy office had a collection and I was gifted a sum of money as a leaving present.  Most people were very surprised at what I bought with that money.  I was delighted with my acquisition – a brand new Collins Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus.  I was all set for university!

Libraries were integral elements of life.  For example,  I have only really two clear memories of that intensely emotional time following my mother’s death 15 years ago.  The first was of losing all composure and completely breaking down at our first meeting with the undertaker, it was a desperate moment bring all those emotions and sense of being truly bereft  bursting to the surface.  The other intense memory stems from my compulsion to find a quotation from a certain poem as a reading. And what I remember is spending a great deal of time in the local library searching for “that quote”.

library2

That was a time, not so long ago just before the dawn of the 21st century and the proliferation of the internet.  Well, before its proliferation in my life anyway. Nowadays I would have been able to consult Professor Google and find out the quote and the poem in several editions in all likelihood in a matter of moments.  But I can clearly remember, finding myself a table in the local village library, anthologies of poetry opened beside me as I leafed through for several hours.  And that in itself was cathartic and somehow comforting in a way which I suspect a thirty second internet search would not have been.

Of course, researching from books was significantly more time consuming.  However, I used to find it generally a real pleasure and I could happily while away hours buried in dictionaries, thesaures or encyclopaediae or in all manner of reference books.  And even in those days, it was entirely usual to “surf” off in different directions as new gems of information and kernels of new questions would form.  However, there was still the pre-internet older cousin of Dr Google who existed in the medical reference books on dusty library shelves, and who was just as alarmist!

As a student of modern languages at university, I needed to have my own reference dictionaries.  Translation was a key part of our course, as well as language analysis and critical reading of literature and journalism in my languages of study.  For French we had our main chunky French-English/English-French Dictionary as well as the monolingual “Le Petit Robert” which was an absolute Aladdin’s cave of language treasure.  Looking up one word would send me off on a trail to understand all the nuances of that word in French.

petit Robert

Our Russian Dictionaries were a little different.  The English – Russian dictionary was in its own volume, as was the Russian – English one.  These were large, heavy books as were the French dictionaries, somewhat larger than A4 so not possible to carry out for easy reference!

English_russian_dictionary

Hence our regular lengthy periods of “residence” in the university library!

Reading room library Glasgow Uni

Much as I love our internet age and rapid access to almost any kind of information, books are still important to me.  The Kindle, for example, could have been invented for me, someone who regularly has difficulty closing travel bags and dreads airport check in scales because of a book addiction. And the Kindle is indeed amazing (of course I have one 😉 ) and there are many things I love about it. It astounds and delights me that it does not matter how many books it stores, the Kindle never gets any heavier.  Don’t ask me to try and understand that!  I also love being able to lie in bed and buy books.  That really must be the height of decadence! I love being able to hear or read a book recommendation and be able to search on the kindle bookstore and buy it within seconds. This is particularly welcome as we still do not have a huge selection of books available for sale. It also gets round the fact that sending a book through the post or by mail is likely to take a lengthy time, and delivery complicated so far away. Electronic books have gone a great distance to resolve that.  For example, I recently won a book (in a draw) and the book was emailed to me as a link/electronic document.  And I was eventually able (with the guidance of the Google Technology Support Team 😉 ) to transfer it to my Kindle.  (Although I do have to confess that it is not quite as special as the signed copy of Gok Wan’s autobiography which I won a couple of years ago and which sits proudly on my bookshelf!

Many people have told me that they have converted easily to Kindle and don’t miss books.  However, I can’t say the same.  I do miss books.  I joke that my Kindle looks silly with little post its stuck all over it as page markers of something I liked and want to remember.  But I am only half joking.  I really do like having those markers in a book.  They are visible reminders and I do revisit favourite quotes (such as “I fall down. I get up again.”  Although I did find myself tempted to try and press on a word in a real book to see if the dictionary definition would come up, as it does in Kindle!

One of my friends similarly maintains a blend of real books and Kindle.  She loves being able to download the daily UK newspapers here in Yangon, as well as key periodicals on her Kindle, but still buys books for actual “reading”.  And of course there are those memories of Sunday newspapers, serial pots of coffee and leisurely days working through the “step-back-from-the-world-for-a while” features and analytical studies.  Although I have to confess that I also have clear memories of getting myself all wrapped up and tangled in the broadsheets and suspect that my Sunday recollection is actually more a nostalgic memory than actually really enjoying the papers!

This week I had another interesting book encounter.  As I was walking along the street, I passed a lovely little roadside stall with calenders, books and lots of stationery goodies. My eye was caught by a little book, which I realised was a full calendar from 1900 through to the end of 2013.  A 113 year calendar!  Sure enough, I could look up any date in that time and find out what day of the week it was (very important in Myanmar culture), whether it was a full or new moon, festival and the Myanmar date.  No need to Google birth dates for visitors to the country and no need to rely on connectivity.  Perhaps it would have been more timely to stumble upon it a bit earlier and share the Myanmar calendar, as a way of balancing the fears of the Mayan calendar!  It could have saved a deal of angst (where’s the tongue-in-cheek icon 😉 )

myanmar calendar

It is clear that I am holding on tightly to real paper and books as the world shifts in the way we store information and reading material, while using the convenience of technology for what it can provide for me.  The internet has changed and continues to change so much.  One area which is not the focus of this post, but which warrants a passing mention, is of course the whole area of friendship, support and community which the internet has gifted us.  In my case, living at a significant physical distance the internet has enabled a completely different experience than I would have had even a few years earlier thanks to sophisticated online communication mechanisms and systems.

As I step back and reflect on this, I think it is not so complicated really.  I think it is simply (as it is with so many aspects of our life) about maintaining a balance.  With regard to information, books and technology we do not need to opt for one of the other. We can make a concerted effort to keep the parts we like. There is no rule which says we must choose now – “Kindle or paperback novel”,  “Google or illustrated Bird Book” or even “Mayan Stone calendar, little Myanmar 113 year calendar or hang on-the-wall paper calendar”!  I believe that the challenge might be more in maintaining an understanding and recognition of that balance.  The convenience of the internet draws us in more subtly than we realise.

All of which is a rather winding trail of thought and deliberation sparked off by a kingfisher! And thanks to a variety of reference sources, I am able to say that my morning time company is in fact a white-collared kingfisher, a species prevalent in South East Asia.

white-collared-kingfisher

Thank you, my morning time friend, for your inspiration. 

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow………

One of the things I missed most when I moved from Scotland to Asia, was snow.  I really missed it. When I was buried in the newness of breast cancer life, and burying myself in bloggery as a way of keeping a focus on moving forward and playing around with settings, I vaguely remember finding some function or gimmick which offered a special “snowing” feature for the month of December.  This gifts me the illusion of snowflakes falling on the blog page throughout the whole month of December.  How sweet.  Or how annoying.  And how northern-hemisphere-centric! Ever since then I am reminded of my rash “click here for December snow” action as it returns every year without fail and people ask me what is wrong with my screen!  I think I believed that this might be a nice way of remembering snow.  Now that I am in Myanmar, snow is even more distant with our hotter climate, usually dry winters and lush tropical vegetation.  Not a snowflake in sight, and no prospects of snow sighting.  So perhaps I felt that this would be a good way of maintaining my relationship with snow!

After leaving Scotland, and moving to Nepal I was particularly surprised at just how much I missed snow.  Of course, parts of Nepal do see snow, those famous Himalayas for example, but snow rarely fell in  the Kathmandu valley and certainly not while I was there.  One year there was a dusting of snow on the hills around the valley, and there was great excitement, cars driving up to the hills and then slithering around the roads as the drivers were not used to these conditions.  From the winter of 2000 right until after I left Nepal at the end of 2005 I only saw snow from a distance, picture postcard-like views of the Himal and their snow capped peaks.

himalaya

Beautiful, snowy snow.  But too far away to seem real.  No crunch of snow underfoot, no hypnotically mesmerising kaleidoscope of snow falling in front of my eyes, no smell of snow as it headed towards us, no sepia sky brimming with snowflakes, no trees with branches laden with heavy snow coverings.  No snow to touch or kick up as I walked. And I really missed it.

I missed it to the extent that I used to dream of snow.  Sweet nostalgia dreams, from which I would wake in a warm fuzzy mood, bathed in childhood like sentiment.  One dream has stayed with me very clearly.  I was standing at the edge of a field, covered in snow.  The snow was untouched, and I ran into the field revelling in the sensation of snow underfoot, and ridiculously excited at the fun I  was having.  I was aware, in my dream, of people watching me, with critical eyes as I stirred up the snow.  Clearly I was breaking some “don’t run in the field and  spoil the snow” rule. I remember clearly justifying my actions, and explaining that I had not seen snow for many years, and feeling a level of frustration that I was not understood.

It was to be the end of 2005 before I would experience snow again…………..

on horseback

Nepal has cold winters, and of course Scotland is not short of cold weather, but our transfer to Mongolia brought a new league of cold.  We arrived in mid November when temperatures were around -20C.  Phenomenally cold. Colder than I had ever experienced, although some very severe winters in Scotland had seen minus 10 – 15C.  However, the paralysing -20C was consistently labelled “pleasant autumn weather”.  A real signal of what we knew was ahead.

The temperatures drop rapidly as the short summer turns to winter, and for months sit well under freezing point. In December and January daytime temperatures would rise to around a balmy minus 35C with night time temperatures dropping to the high minus 40s.

in the afternoon sun -37C

Way beyond the experience of so many of us.  Read hard core cold.The rivers start to freeze over in October and by November you can safely walk across them. By December they are the winter roads.  By April, they are thawing again, a slow process melting layers of ice which can be metres thick, the sound of the ice cracking and creaking for weeks as slowly, gradually it melts.

 

springtime thaw

My walk to work was less than ten minutes, but in the early days in Mongolia, I found I would be running late every day because I drastically underestimated how long it would take to get dressed with all the needed layers.  My feet started hurting, and blisters appeared on my heels because I was not used to wearing closed shoes.  And even in the short walk to work, I discovered previously unknown fine hairs on my face thanks to them freezing rapidly when I stepped into the cold air.  Even though I was covered head to toe with only my eyes and upper face exposed.

We did not have to wait long for snow!  However, I soon realised that Mongolian snow is very different to Scottish snow. The climate is incredibly arid in Mongolia, and the cold accompanied by blue skies. Therefore, the Mongolian snow is powdery and fine, and tends to be a thin dusting more often than deep drifts. It is very difficult to make snowballs from dry, powdery snow, and this made me realise just how wet and slushy our Scottish snow tends to be!  But I could still smell it approaching, that unmistakeable scent of damp and cold all rolled into that unique snow smell.

We lived in Mongolia for just over a year, which meant we in effect experienced two winters.  The last snow of the outgoing winter fell in June on Ulaan Baatar, a light dusting and a respite until the first snow of the new winter which fell the last week of August. After five years of now snow, I truly caught up with my snow deficit. The pictures on this post are a tiny selection of images and memories of Mongolian winter.  I bought my first digital camera just before we left Nepal, and took around 4000 photos in Mongolia!  (The only photograph which is not my own is the first picture (above) of the Nepali Himalaya.)

Mongolia is rightly known as a land of horsemen and herders.

transport

And children learn to ride almost as soon as they can walk.

a winter ride

a winter ride3a winter ride 5

a winter ride 2

a winter ride4

The herders live in tough conditions, in mobile homes (gers) which move according to the season for the right grazing and shelter conditions for the animals.

ger

missing something interesting

favourite lamb

fetching water

traditional functional herder attire

Life in the countryside revolves around the livestock which includes camels, yak and goats as well as horses.

out for a wander

bactrian camel

As I sit here in the the only weeks of year which are vaguely cool in Yangon, surrounded by lush vegatation and unable to recall what that deep cold really feels like, it is nice to wallow a little in the memories of such a different place, with its wonderful snowy associations.

a winter ride3

And appreciate again the truly amazing experiences I have been fortunate to have.  And that is something that cancer can never steal from me.

I fall down. I get up again.

Life is a tapestry indeed, with multi coloured, interwoven threads all feeding into one large, rich image.  Except that sometimes, the colours clash, or one part of the image leaves a strange and unwelcome feeling when viewed.  I don’t need to spell out which parts of the picture I don’t like looking at.

At the moment, there is such a variety in this tapestry.  There is the work thread, taking up a huge space at the moment, the swimming and cycling patch which is steady, firm and strong, the social and online thread which varies depending on how much space the other elements are using.

And there is the creative part.  As well as reading, writing and occasionally scrabbling through the cupboards and brushing the dust off my arty materials I am also part of two structured creative activities.  The first is a writing group where I am learning a great deal.  And realising how difficult this writing lark is!  The second is a Book Club.  Both groups are fairly small, and pretty informal and warm.

The great thing about the Book Club is reading material I might well not otherwise read and learning of new authors and works.  I have just finished reading The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna ( (a wonderful choice by friend and fellow Yangon blogess Becky) in preparation for our meeting this month.

memory-of-love1

Having lived in Asia for so long, it is fascinating to read of a country I know so little of, and in fact a continent I have barely visited.  This book takes us to Sierra Leone with harrowing and exquisite insights into its people and the conflict years and its impact.  This is not going to be a review of the book, there are plenty online and better to read the book yourself rather than listen to my take on it.  No, this is a reflection prompted by a saying which stopped me mid sentence, it resonated so fiercely.  The physical and emotional damage of the conflict combined with resilience and hope are clearly conveyed in everyday conversation.  When someone asks you how you are, perhaps you can’t honestly answer that you are fine, so the reply “I fall down, I get up again” expresses that as much as challenges knock us down, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and keep moving ahead.  If you ask someone how they are and they reply “I fall down.  I stand up again” then they are saying that all things considered they are doing as well as can be expected.

Of course this can apply to life in general, but the sense of resilience, determination and hope shine particularly where the challenges are traumatic such as the armed conflict in Sierra Leone.  Or conflict in any country.  Or trauma and grief at times of bereavement, ill health, accident for example.

Or a cancer diagnosis.

And that is the saying affected me so powerfully.  The path from the point of diagnosis feels a bit like a series of really hard knocks, followed by picking ourselves up.  Sometimes those knocks bowl us right over.  The diagnosis hit must be one of the hardest. Hearing those life-changing “you have cancer” words, however they are articulated knock us flat. As we lie breathless, winded and stunned though, a strange thing happens.  I remember so clearly, when Dr W told me gently and irrevocably “this is highly suspicious of cancer” I was truly felled.  The words echoed round and round in a surreal and cruel mockery. Yet, we pull ourselves to our feet, brush down our crumples and nurse our emotional bruises and ask “what do we do?”  And gingerly take tentative steps forward.

The blows keep coming, knocking us to our knees, making us stumble or completely flooring us.

My pathology report with its “cancer in six lymph nodes” shocker, threw me back to the ground.  It was not any courage that pulled me back to my feet.  It was the fact that I saw no alternative but to focus single-mindedly on gritting my teeth and getting up to push myself through the process of surgery, chemo and then radiation.  I stumbled onwards, tumbling down again and again.  Chemo particularly enjoyed flooring me and trying to gain an upper hand by knocking me further every time.  But I did get up.  Slowly.  Cautiously. Warily.

As time has worn on and the diagnosis date gains distance, the knocks are different and of course, not all cancer knocks.  But as I fall down, I get up again.  Sometimes it is such a burden to drag myself to my feet.  My July embolism was a real side blinder which smashed me to the ground with no warning.  I have had to look all around me, in all directions as I slowly got back up again.  And then the tumour marker results in October took delight in pulling my feet from under me again.  I am back on my feet after that one, but treading warily towards the next bloodwork in January, bracing for another fall in case the markers throw up trouble, yet wishing and willing for the chance to break through this hurdle.  If all is well then I can pick up speed and strength to keep momentum and keep pulling myself up further.

The key thing is that I am not alone.  I am not the only one tumbling as these knocks come, and I know that my knocks are nowhere near as hard as those hitting others.  I am also not alone in getting myself up again.  I am helped to my feet by hubby, by family and friends, by my online friends and by strangers I have never met.

I have learned a great deal from the people of Sierra Leone and their resilience, attitude and strength.  I have also discovered that there are variations on this in both Chinese and Japanese cultures.

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This expression is one I will hold on to tightly and repeat as a mantra.  I know I will fall down again, many many times I am sure.  But with this thought in mind I know that as I continue to fall, I will continue to get up again, and again, for as long as I can.

I fall down.  I get up again.

Dear President Obama

Dear President Obama

I feel compelled to write you a short note following your visit to Yangon.  I am not in the slightest a political animal, so please excuse me for keeping well away from that kind of talk.  Nope, this is a personal message because I am very much aware that your visit was very short and you did not have a chance to see the wonderful things I see every day living and working here.

Just in case you can’t quite place me (I know you are pretty busy and have covered a lot of ground in the past few weeks) I was one of five rather animated folks waving and jumping up and down on an empty part of the pavement shortly after you left Shwe Dagon.  I guess you were rather amused as we did not expect you to wave at us.  You will remember me – I was by far the oldest in the group but that didn’t show in my demeanour.  (I wrote all about it that day – here’s the link in case you missed it 🙂 )

Now with the increasing traffic congestion, and busy Yangon streets and roads it must have been pretty cool to be able to zoom through the streets with no delays.

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No waiting at traffic lights and no sitting behind lines of stationary cars and vans.  With only a few hours in town, and a tight schedule it would be a bit stressful to be worried about missing the return flight.  Not that there was any real risk of Air Force One leaving without its main passengers 😉  But still.

However, as I go about my regular daily routines, I can’t help but feel just a little bit sad that there are many wonderful sights which I see daily, which you would not have been able to see.  So I have collected a few images which I see regularly on the lively Yangon roads, and which I cherish, to share with you.

For example –

  • being able to buy jasmine at the traffic lights, (where you can also buy copies in pink, white, blue and yellow of the Foreign Investment Law in English and Myanmar languages)

jasmine street seller

  • the vans and line buses crammed full of lyongyi-wearing, tiffin box holding passengers hanging off the back

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  • the cute wooden buses

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  • bicycles with several passengers

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  • the “saidqua” trishaws with their peddlars and passengers

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How many can fit on a trishaw?

  • all types of street sellers and merchandise on sale

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  • barefoot monks gathering alms

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Yangon 2012 021

 

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This is just the tiniest of glimpses into the day to day sights here, and the kind of sights you did not have a chance to see.  I have heaps more, for instance here, if ever you are bored of an evening and feel like a virtual wander through our streets.  Of course you have to wade through a heap of the breast cancery stuff which was (and still is) the main major raison d’etre of this blog, but I have to confess that I would find that more interesting than political talk and fiscal whatsits.  But then I  guess that that is why I am glad that you are you and I am me 🙂

I do hope that you have enjoyed this brief view of our wonderful city, and hope that I am more composed if I do see you again.

Very warm regards from this feisty gecko

FBG 🙂