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Chiang Mai Women
A New Year’s Thought
Christmas in Burma
Chiang Mai Women
Annie – baker, cook and singer extraordinaire
An occasional feature in Femail in 2009 will be stories of women who live
and work here in Chiang Mai, and, in one way or another, contribute to the
warmth and happiness of their local communities. Annie, a new friend to this
writer, is a Filipina who has lived in Chiang Mai for 25 years, since she
met and married her architect husband in Manila, choosing to live in our
city because they fell in love with it, as have so many others.
pictured in the Mabuhay Restaurant’s beautiful garden
Annie met her husband while he was studying architecture at Manila’s Santo
Thomas University; she herself was studying for her BA in education at Santa
Rita in the same city. At first, they spent some time in Bangkok, with Annie
working as a teacher, then moved up to Chiang Mai. One of Annie’s major
talents, and something she loved to do, was to bake and to cook! At first,
she made cakes, and sold them to restaurants—and she still does. Moist,
yummy, creamy, flavourful cakes—it’s impossible to have only one slice!
Their popularity led to the opening of Annie’s restaurant, Mabuhay, now in
its 24th year. As with the cakes, Annie displayed her talent in cooking from
year 1, searching out the best and freshest ingredients for her mainly
traditional Filipino menus, and cooking them all herself—and, again, she
still does! She is a grandmother twice over now, with her son, now 37,
living with his family in Bangkok, having graduated in economics from Payap
University. Of course, they get together every month- and not just for
Annie’s other major talent is singing—diners at Mabuhay are treated
regularly in the evenings to her lovely, warm voice, accompanied by her
husband on keyboard, singing much-loved standards from past years. Sondheim,
Rodgers and Hammerstein, the great Broadway hits, and love songs, (Annie’s
favourites), from all the major 20th century composers. She’s always loved
singing, beginning as a young woman in her church choir in Manila with
masses, funerals and even singing in Manila Cathedral, and at university. If
you go to the restaurant during the day, you’ll know Annie’s around—you’ll
hear her singing as she prepares food in her kitchen!
Annie’s ‘favourite things’ include her best friend, Dr. Lina, (known and
appreciated by many of us), and other close friends. She loves to cook for
them, and then sit, talk, and pray with them as well. Dr. Lina’s children,
and, we suspect, a good few others, see Annie as their second mother. She
says, ‘When I left my convent school in Manila, I felt that I didn’t know
the world’—the exuberant, joyful and loving woman she has become over the
intervening years knows, loves and cares for her world, her friends, and her
Mabuhay Restaurant is located on Nimmanhaeminda Soi 2, and well worth a
A New Year’s Thought
Gythio, Greece - On the balcony of our small pension,
separated from us by a piece of frosted glass, are a mother, father and
daughter. They are Greek, and have come to the seashore for their
vacation. The father is solemn, smoking his cigarettes while staring at
the ground on the small white patio, framed by geraniums, and hanging
washing. The daughter is an age I can’t determine—she has physical
difficulties, which appear to be cerebral palsy. She has a teenage face,
greying hair, and thick arms and legs that are controlled with great
concentration. Her voice is high and strained so that, from next door,
she sounds like a distant Mickey Mouse. They are parents forever, the
plight in such a situation. But that is not why I am writing this. The
reason I am writing, is the mystery and impact of the mother.
She is short and plump with a pleasant face, and stylish grey hair. She
smiles all the time, and talks to me with a melodic voice sprinkled with
laughter, like a small bird happy the sun came out. In the communal
kitchen, she laughs and chats with me in the morning as we prepare our
breakfasts, assuming I understand Greek. I don’t understand Greek, but I
understand that she is a lesson, an inspiration, and a joy. As the Greek
sun sets, she sits on her balcony, and sings songs, hauntingly beautiful
songs, peaceful, and soothing.
This night, we are sitting on our tiny balcony, enjoying the breeze and
the sight of the sea in late evening. Below us, we hear the tinkling
happy voice of Mickey Mouse. I follow the sound, and see the mother and
daughter sitting at the edge of the sea, having dinner. Under the white
umbrella, on the other side of the narrow street, their conversation
continues for hours, relaxed and joyous, in the warmth of the Greek
night. Waiters race from the kitchen, balancing trays high above their
heads. They sprint through the heavy, honking August traffic, reaching
the tables like victorious athletes. The mother and daughter’s eyes
light up with each plate placed on the table.
The evening is perfect. The mother has no embarrassment over the girl’s
inability to eat correctly, or her strange, strained voice. No concern
for the task that lay ahead, to walk her slowly across the street and
help her up the smooth, white Greek steps to their room. For years she
has lived with the heartache of raising a child with multiple problems.
Some of the greatest lessons in life come to us in tiny moments,
unannounced. This afternoon, the mother is singing again, a haunting,
beautiful song. A melodic message to remind me that people create their
own happiness regardless of circumstances, for the emotion comes from
Find happiness, in the New Year, no matter what your circumstances
are…it makes the world and those around you find it too.
Christmas in Burma
A relief worker
The evening sky was like black velvet sprinkled with
gold sparkles. I pulled my hat down over my ears and was
thankful for my wool sweater. Holding a cup of hot tea kept my
hands warm. I was deep in Burma’s jungle, and it was December 1.
All around me, Karen people were welcoming the Christmas month
together. The Karen call this night “Sweet December.”
We were in a field, and a fire was burning. People who had
walked from the villages close by to attend the big event stood
close to the flames, enjoying the warmth. Many of them were
barefoot; most of them were poorly dressed. Several children
around me wore only a ripped t-shirt. I shivered in the cold.
All night they sang Christmas songs. Songs reminding them of the
birth of Jesus and the freedom he came to give.
A couple of miles away were the Burma Army soldiers. It did not
seem to matter on this starlit evening. Or maybe it did. I
couldn’t tell. Later all the guests got a present-a bar of soap
and sweets for the children. In spite of the cold weather there
was warmth in the air. Their celebration was a simple act of
gratitude, love and joy.
A country at war. Children with hungry stomachs. Weather that
was almost freezing, but no shoes. Diseases that spread faster
and got worse because of the cold, but no doctors or medicines.
And still, they chose to sing!
The freedom, the warmth, the safety, the wrapped presents and
the yummy food that we take for granted, is but a dream for
them. But the ability to enjoy small pleasures-a warm fire,
songs that have been sung for generations, or even a bar of
soap-is something about which they can teach us a great deal.
I was touched and thankful to be able to celebrate together with
a people who have suffered for so many generations. As we
celebrate Christmas, remember the 1.5 million people who are
hiding in the jungles of Burma-on the run from an enemy who
wants them gone- right now. Remember them in your thoughts,
prayers, and gatherings. At Partners, we want to wish you a
blessed Christmas, a time filled with joy and love. May some of
the simplicity of the celebration among Karen Christians in
Burma remind us of the true reason for the season.
Global warming or the big freeze?
Global Warming – it’s in almost every news broadcast, on
everyone’s lips, and we’re all being encouraged to make
adjustments to our daily life patterns in an effort to head it
off… in fact, it could be taken to be the latest ‘buzz word’.
Yes, something very strange is happening, which may indeed have
serious consequences for us all—and we’re all being blamed for
our part in ‘human interference’ with the planetary balance
However, contemporary wisdom on this subject is, it seems, now
about to be challenged by an extension of scientific research
which began some time ago.
Contrary to the common idea that the coal-fuelled industrial
revolution started the rot some 200 years ago, highly advanced
climate-related computer models are beginning to demonstrate
support for a different scenario, in that the climate has been
altering since extensive deforestation in Europe and the onset
of agricultural development on a large scale on the Asian
continent. Human influence, yes, but dating from the earliest
days of human development into settled societies. The models are
also suggesting that this development is actually preventing the
world from descending into another glacial period, by changing
an established planetary rhythm of periodic cooling which began
more than a million years ago.
The theory behind this innovative research, of course, does
involves human settlement and its climactic influence,
particularly in Asia, where rice became the main crop at a very
early stage. Greenhouse gases—methane from terraced rice
paddies, and carbon dioxide from forest burning in Europe, both
naturally occurring and for clearance purposes, entered the
atmosphere, with the warmer temperatures at that time heating
the oceans and reducing their ability to store carbon dioxide.
This, according to scientists, was enough to set human- induced
global warming in motion.
Other research, using fossil air trapped in 850,000 year-old ice
core samples from the Antarctic, is identifying increased levels
of greenhouse gases in this ancient air. However, the upward
increase in greenhouse gases in this interglacial period really
took off between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago, unlike the latter
stages of previous interglacial periods, where the trend was
downward. As ice ages have occurred regularly in the planet’s
history every 100,000 years, along with predictable changes in
its orbit around the sun, it would seem that the present state
of global warming, accelerated greatly by our modern age, might
well be delaying the onset of a further ice age.
A fascinating hypothesis—which seems to be gaining ground as
each new piece of research is discussed within the scientific
community. Had we a choice, which scenario, one wonders, would
the human race have preferred, the consequences of global
warming or the consequences of a big freeze, the like of which
doesn’t exist in human memory, and against which our highly
industrialised society would have had no defence or remedy?
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