A month at the Phaung Daw Oo School
Days start early. I join the Mandalay morning exercise crowd, for a run around the square of the old palace moat. I thought I’d be alone, but that’s not case. There are individuals, couples, groups, old and young, thin and not so thin, walking, running, cycling, stretching, practicing tai-chi, doing aerobics to loud, crackly k-pop music. Everyone is here for the cool morning air, there’s an hour before the golden red sunrise morphs into the heat of the day. Use it or lose it, is the motto.
I have breakfast at the teahouse across from the school. A fired egg or two with rice, chilly and fermented sour green mango pickle and green tea usually. I’ve given up on coffee in the morning. The local brew condensed milk, sugar and coffee – diabetes in a cup, it's just too sweet. The locals love it.
The heat's tolerable until 9, after that it gets hot.
Lunch is anytime from 11.30 to 1, depending on who I’m with. The Myanmar guys at the school like to eat early, 11.30 is late for them, we eat above the outside kitchen. Its hot and smoky from the cooking fire. The food is good, curry, some vegetables, spinach, chard sometimes mushrooms, all local and fresh, rice, more sour pickles, chillies, and a thin sour broth. They love sour here as well, it's the yang of their sweet. If I eat with the volunteers, its later, after the Monks. Similar food but inside, I prefer outside.
That’s typically the food for the day, over by 1 pm, nothing until the 7am the next morning. It was a shock at first but its OK, I feel really healthy on it. People seem generally healthy. There’s the classic east-west flip here, the “biggest” people are often the wealthiest, they can afford the “western” food - the opposite of the west.
It starts to cool around 4, enough to venture out. I go for a walk, usually ending up at western style supermarket with café, they sell plain unadulterated black coffee, my one indulgence.
I’ve taken over the English conversation class in the evening. We talk about a lot, anything and everything, I'm learning so much. Recently we listened to a CBC podcast on why Pandas are black and white. A 7 minute program took two hours of discussions in English interspersed with Burmese on the meaning of herbivore, omnivore, carnivore, hibernation (which they had never heard of - animals don't hibernate here - why would they?), species, camouflage, then on to dolphins, hyenas, vision, climate change, cuteness, diet. If you ever get the chance to teach English I highly recommend it.
We finish with half an hour’s yoga, chanting Pali, the ancient Buddhist language to keep time. They laugh at me because the I can’t touch my toes, not even close. They just flop over, even the 75-year-old Principal. They say a flexible body is the sign of flexible mind – that’s rather scary!
In between I do some work on the new campus…………………….honestly.
If you are interested I posted a video of my morning run around the Moat at Instragram @matthewmakerart