Myanmar Markets and Meals

tea leaf salad
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I’ve finally dived back into the photos from my trip to Myanmar and Thailand last fall. In this post, I’ll be focussing on the food and markets of Myanmar.

Mandalay

We arrived in Mandalay via Bangkok, and the second-largest city in Myanmar gave me my first taste of Burmese food. It was here that I first noticed a beautiful quality to the light, and here that I first tried Myanmar’s famous tea-leaf salad. Verdict: unique.

Bagan

On the boat from Mandalay to Bagan, we happened to run into another Canadian. I asked what she’d be doing in Bagan, and she told me about a cooking class she’d arranged via Facebook. It was called Pennywort Cooking Class, and May, the owner/chef/teacher puts part of the proceeds toward a community library run out of her house. I was intrigued. Since my travelling companion Alex and I had some upcoming free time, we decided to look into the cooking class.

Am I ever glad we ended up doing this. Accompanying May to her local (tourist-free) market and then walking over to her home to cook up a feast with all the fresh ingredients we’d just bought was a highlight of the entire trip. The meal was full of herbs and vegetables I’d never tried before, including tamarind leaves, wing beans, pennywort, and custard apples.

The Market

The Class

The Library at May’s House

When I asked if the library had opening hours, May said that technically it did, but she’s never turned anyone away no matter when they showed up.

Inle Lake

A unique set of communities live on this lake in Myanmar’s Shan State, in stilted houses only accessible by boat. We had the opportunity to take another cooking class here, but this time in very different, more formal context: a resort chef guided us through making some local dishes, including delicious chunks of shan tofu – made from split-pea and chickpea flours, instead of soy.

Later on during our stay, we visited Thaung To market, part of Inle Lake’s rotating five-day market system. We arrived early since it closed at 9am, and I spotted no other tourists. What an incredible experience. Apart from all the cellphones, I felt like I’d gone back in time. I forced myself to take photos of people — which I’m usually too shy to do — and I’m glad I did.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with two more things I ate in Myanmar: one I’d love to have again, and one that I did not enjoy. I’ll let you guess which is which.

Meet the Automatticians

Meet Our Colleagues (aka Automatticians)! - YouTube
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In fall 2015, we held the first diversity and inclusion workshop at Automattic’s annual Grand Meetup. As part of a breakout session, we brainstormed around what we could do to give people a good sense of what it’s like to work here. And more specifically, how could we better attract diverse candidates to join us and thrive?

An idea that came up was to collect written testimonials from Automatticians — what we call people who work at Automattic — to use in recruitment efforts, and I volunteered to spearhead that effort. A couple of my colleagues immediately offered to help. Later during the session, our CEO, Matt Mullenweg, suggested that video interviews could be even more effective than written testimonials, and I agreed. Before I knew it, the Meet Our Colleagues video series was born.

Since then, we’ve conducted over 30 interviews, from developers, data scientists and designers, to HR wranglers and business folks. Colleagues volunteered to edit the interviews, and I’m especially grateful to Nancy Thanki, Tish Briseno, Ryan Ray, and our current editor, Glenn Pearson, for their work. Special thanks to my fellow Happiness Engineer Sarah Blackstock, who’s been been my right-hand woman on the project from the start.

Speaking of engineering happiness, many people ask me what being a Happiness Engineer (HE) at Automattic is like, along with advice on what it takes to be a good one — which I’ve written about briefly before. Over the last couple of years, we’ve chatted with many HEs as part of the video series: check out the interviews with Hari Shanker, Carina Pilar, David Cole, Cécile Rainon, Darnell Dibbles, Yuvraj Vaghela, David WatkisMarjorie Asturias, Doug Aitken, Luminus Alabi, and Praveen Selvasekaran. They help folks get the most out of WordPress.com, WooCommerce, WordPress.com VIP, and other Automattic products, working from around the world: from France to India; Brazil to Scotland; the United States to Ireland.

Stay tuned for more interviews throughout the year!

Meet our colleagues - YouTube screenshot

Body-Butter Adventure

body butter in jars
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Over the last few years I’ve been more conscious of what’s in the products I put on my body and face. I recently started using an app called Think Dirty (tagline: Shop Clean) that’s made it easier to research the ingredients in cosmetics.

Armed with this new tool, I set about looking for face powder and mascara (which I wear rarely anyway) and in the process, somehow managed to block out of my mind the fact that – especially with my dry skin and winter’s dry climate – I liberally use a certain mass-market moisturizer after every shower.

With some trepidation, I looked it up in the app. A solid 10/10 on the toxicity scale. An ingredient called DMDM hydantoin – a “formaldehyde releaser preservative” was the worst culprit. Ooops.

Think Dirty rating for Vaseline Problem Skin Therapy

I began to search for a replacement moisturizer – something not too strongly scented, not too expensive, and easy to get in Canada. Apparently this was asking for a lot.

After spending far too long looking for the elusive product, I started to peek more closely at the ingredients in the expensive, natural moisturizers I was finding in the app. Shea butter, “a fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree,according to Wikipedia, was in a lot of them.

With that, my adventure in making body butter began. I found a recipe that looked doable and had good reviews. I ordered a kilo of unrefined shea butter (it was cheaper in bulk) and some sweet almond oil. I already had a jar of raw, virgin, coconut oil on hand. I researched essential oils and consulted my friend Victoria who knows a ton about this stuff, and talked with a clerk at my local natural-foods store. I settled on bergamot essential oil – who wouldn’t want to smell like a cup of Earl Grey tea, I thought?

And on a Saturday morning, post blizzard, I got down to work: melting, whipping, jarring. Before I knew it, it was done.

I guess time will tell how much I like my homemade body butter, but I certainly had fun making it. And now I have a hankering for some Earl Grey.

SnowBGone

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Say what you want about Montréal’s flaws — and it certainly has many — I think we do a couple of things quite well: festivals and snow removal.

Now, some might argue we have too many festivals, while others are annoyed when the snow doesn’t get cleared fast enough, but when folks from other cities look at our city’s snow-removal process, they are usually quite impressed. Heck, after living here all my life, I’m still impressed at the whole process.

Streets are spread with abrasive/salt and plowed while the storm is happening, and once a minimum amount of snow has fallen — 2.5 cm or about an inch, in case you’re interested — the clearing operation begins, one side of a street at a time. When the special temporary orange no-parking signs go up after a snowstorm, I eagerly await the telltale sound of tow trucks coming around to tell drivers to move their cars out of the way of the incoming onslaught. (This part is definitely no fun if you don’t have a garage or a driveway.) An app, INFO-Neige (“Info Snow”), also helps us keep track of what streets are being cleared, when. If your car is parked on the street, you can enter its location in the app and get notifications to remind you to move it before the plows come by, to avoid getting towed.

Sidewalk plow

Sidewalk plow

Little sidewalk plows come by and push the snow onto the street, where giant plows three or four times the size come by and scoop it all up, blowing the collected piles into massive trucks. Multiple convoys lumber across the city, like rows of ants on an unstoppable mission.

But wait — there’s more! The plows often come by a second time, picking up any remaining small bits of snow that the first convoy didn’t grab. This round is particularly satisfying to watch, as the plows scrape the edge of the sidewalk, in attempt to have a thorough cleanup.

The trucks take all the amassed snow and either dump it down sewer chutes, or unload it at various surface snow dumps around the city. The piles are so massive that if you happen to go by one in May or June, the snow still might not be melted!

Apparently I’m not the only person fascinated by snow clearing in Montréal. If you do a search on YouTube, there are plenty of videos showing the operation in detail. Enjoy, if this sort of thing is your cup of tea. 🙂

Street plow

Street plow

 

Theam on the Big Island

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As Montréal got pummeled with the first big snowstorm of the season a couple of weeks back, I was incredibly lucky to be on the Big Island of Hawaii with my team, where two of my colleagues live. (Did I mention incredibly lucky — I try never to take for granted any of the amazing travel opportunities I have, especially warm ones in the winter.)

Despite coming down with a cold, I had a memorable time with my colleagues, full of amazing views and communal breakfasts. Here are a few visual highlights — like my fellow Canadian theme-team member, Laurel, I do feel the need to apologize for the volume of sunset shots. It was impossible to restrain myself. There are worse sins, right?

Hanging Out With Elephants

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While I’ve never had a particular fascination with elephants, when I found myself in Chiang Mai, Thailand, last month, I felt compelled to take the opportunity to see Asian elephants up close. After doing some research, we booked a trip with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We got up super early to meet our vehicle, an open-air truck fitting eight people in the back, alongside dozens upon dozens of bananas, aka soon-to-be elephant fodder. As we hurtled down the highway, I tried to think happy elephant thoughts – and not to focus on the lack of seat belts, or even doors. Then we turned off the paved road and the really nerve-wracking part started, as we drove extremely slowly down an incredibly steep and narrow trail into the jungle.

But it was all worth it, because that day we got to feed elephants bananas and grasses, frolic with them in a mud bath, look into their brown eyes, and watch them hang out as we ate lunch – none of which I’d ever imagined being able to say. But I have photographic evidence, so I guess it really happened.

A couple of days later, we saw elephants again, this time in a much sadder context, at the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital. A private institution, they look out for elephant welfare in Thailand, while taking in and rehabilitating elephants needing special care. I’m grateful for their incredible – but heartbreaking work – which includes helping elephants injured by landmines, which they fit with unique prosthetic limbs.

 

Vistas

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About a week into my recent vacation to Thailand and Myanmar, I started to wonder if I’d remember how to do my job when I returned to work. It was my first trip to Asia, and the world of web development and WordPress – along with the rest of my usual daily life – felt utterly far away. I guess that’s what vacations are supposed to do, right?

I’m still processing my experience, and I have a ton of photos to sift through. Instead of waiting, I thought I’d start by posting some of my favourite panoramas to give you a taste of where I’ve been.

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar

Hmong Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hmong Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

Sukhothai, Thailand

Sukhothai, Thailand