Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘burma

Strawberry shake in Burma, and other food memories

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It was the middle of the day and very warm. Up the road from where I was staying (the Remember Inn) on the banks of Inle lake in Myanmar was a shack cafe.

The owner chef had drawn strawberry shakes on a board. They were made with small, sweet, fresh strawberries, mixed with cream. I ordered one and a lunch dish and went to sit at a table under thatched parasols that shielded the white sun. Burmese teenagers sat at other tables, flirting and passing the brightest part of the day. I read and wrote in my notebook.

The owner proprietor for whatever reason made her strawberry shake the best of its kind in Inle, perhaps in all Burma. She put lime juice into her recipe. Stirred up in the glass the strawberries, softened by the warmth in the air and some still whole, entwined with the cream and sugar, mixed with the sharp lime juice and slight bitterness to make it a superbly rich dessert drink. It was the best strawberry shake I’ve ever tasted.

20150901_214719It had been a long day, and I spent a part of it frantically coordinating with a news assistant based in Beijing. In the evening I stalked the corridors and hallways of a giant casino, hotel, and shopping complex called The Venetian, in search of a plug socket for my laptop so I could file a report for The Independent newspaper. I’d left my travel companion while I did this and she was understandably pissed when she eventually found me again.

But after dinner we made for a destination that offered a dream-like experience. Macau is famous for lots of things — roulette and high-rollers, tropical afternoon tea and bargain hunting, colonial architecture and sea-marooned culture. It’s also famous for Portuguese egg tarts. Finally biting into one of these was an emotional experience. It’s perhaps the closest I’ve come to perfection.

When you’re a writer abroad and traveling around Asia, and then you come home, to the family home in Sussex, England, it can be quite comforting. When I am at home I like to make a comfort dish. It’s very simple. Grab a bunch of little tomatoes (has to be the little ones) and cut them in half. Fry them in olive oil with a little salt and garlic, and toss them into a pile of tagliatelle. Tear up some proscuitto into the dish, drizzle a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, garnish with salt and pepper and stir it all up. So simple but so good.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

October 7, 2016 at 3:01 pm

VIDEO: Travel + Journalism in Burma

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This video is the story of the time I spent in Burma. I went there in February 2015. I went there to travel and to do journalism. I wanted to see if I could combine the experience of traveling with the challenge of trying to find stories. As a freelancer, trying to travel and hunt down stories while you do so is a fun challenge. This was my first experiment trying to do that.

The benefits of traveling in this way are many. One of these is that you travel in a different way, as you try to get beneath the surface and look deeper than you might normally do. You also meet people, from locals to intrepid expats. The other big benefit of course is financial, as stories you find and sell helps to offset the money you spent traveling.

The video was shot using a Canon S120 and edited in Windows Movie Maker.

Related:

The CNN article mentioned in the video is here.

The previous video I made is: A Year In The Life of a Freelance Journalist Abroad

Satisfying moments when freelancing

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

September 20, 2015 at 6:12 am

Burmese Days

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I hadn’t done much reading or planning before I went to Burma. I had a very rough idea of where I’d travel to, but nothing was laid out — these days I don’t even book accommodation. For some reason I thought I’d take a month for Burma, which is far too long. I spent 18 days there in the end.

It was February when I went, a cold and damp month in Beijing. I left the city at night, on my way to the airport, sleet falling on my face, two days after Chinese new year. I remember that I was feeling a little down, for wintry reasons.

Trepidation was accompanying me. The country was an unknown, a chasm only to be filled in by retrospect.

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After Burma, now I’m broke

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I spent quite a lot of money traveling to and from Burma. This is largely because I dropped big sums buying plane tickets to and from Burma. It is not likely I will make all that spent cash back from the stories gathered from the trip. Ho. Hum.

I had a fantastic, eye-opening time over there. And I met a wonderful array of people: travelers from China and Taiwan. Locals. Interviewees. Journalists.

Now I have very little money. I had to ask my landlady to give me an extension for paying the rent. I have the equivalent of about £30 in my Chinese bank account. And in my UK bank account, which I consider my “savings” account, I have something in the region of -£500. Yes, that’s right – minus. Thank god for bank overdrafts.

The effect of this has mostly been that I’ve curbed the frequency that I eat out or drink beers. I do not really buy a lot of things in Beijing…clothes, shoes, gadgets. I don’t feel any great compulsion to buy things. But I do spend a lot on eating. And I don’t even really think about it. It’s just one of those things. In Beijing, eating out and eating tasty things is kind of unconscious.

I cannot say I feel a great deal of anxiety. Oh and I quit that script editing job I had at the Chinese TV company. I was barely working for them part-time and I thought it was time to part ways. So I am just freelancing right now. And also applying for some jobs.

I do have money coming in from the published stories so I think I will be okay. It’s mostly making rent that I worry about but that also should be okay once payment for those stories start accumulating. It is an annoyance not having a local source of income. But that also should be okay as I’ve been networking and feeling around for opportunities. One of the great lessons you learn living abroad is how to hustle, feel and adapt, flex and initiate. Resourcefulness.

I have managed to sell, or rather get commissioned for a couple of Burma stories, but it’s not been the easiest but I will persevere on that front. It is a struggle and there’s no use in pretending otherwise. The trip will be a loss-maker. But I did say, before I went, in my earlier blog post, that it was part of my plan to get to know southeast Asia better.

Being “broke” is a curious thing. Obviously I can still afford to feed myself. Rent money may be harder to acquire but it’s not like that time I was living in a tiny hovel eating sweet potatoes for lunch and dinner for a week while I was waiting for a payment to hit the bank (and what a beautiful recurring anecdote that has become).

There is no moral to be extracted from this. No lesson to be drawn – apart from maybe buy cheaper plane tickets next time. I have little money, making the choices I have fewer. And yet I am content and satisfied. And I feel free. Somewhat. Okay, maybe there is a summary of sorts. And that is…when you come across limitations like having less money, that can be – oddly, ironically – freeing.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

March 31, 2015 at 7:43 pm

How I learned to love reporting (and life) again while in Burma

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At Inle lake, March 5th. A great strawberry shake can be found up the road from Remember Inn.

At Inle lake, March 3rd. A great strawberry shake can be found up the road from Remember Inn.

I’ve been in Burma now for 12 days and I am writing this post from Rangoon, the country’s commercial capital and largest city, and my end destination.

I traveled from Mandalay, where I touched down from China, then I went via slow boat to Bagan, a place filled with hundreds of pagodas dotted along a picturesque landscape, before heading to Inle lake to meet an interviewee.

I am hoping to meet two journalists living here in Rangoon who are around my age. Joshua Carroll, a British freelancer, and Catherine Trautwein, an American who writes for The Myanmar Times.

Along the way I have enjoyed the sunshine and warmth of the climate and the people. It is an immense relief to be away from Beijing, away from the cramped conditions of mind and body that was the prison of overly WiFi’d Beijing.

Here I’ve been able to relax, and to practice slow journalism. Sitting at temples, cafés and restaurants, waiting for a local to come talk to me or just observing what’s around and in front of me. Picking up kernels of story ideas or pouncing when one comes along, changing schedules on the fly.

Being on the road without the distractions of Internet and social media (Internet is quite patchy in Burma) has meant I’ve been writing more in longhand, a welcome change of pace.

I might head to Vietnam after but I have not yet made up my mind. All this travel and the money spent on it I hope to recoup by selling the stories I am picking up along the way, but it is risky as I am not certain they will sell.

But the momentum of travel, the sensation of discovery, new people and new places brings you alive, shaking off the chill of a dark winter. It has been a great tonic.

A Writer’s Journey: The Adventures of a Roaming Journalist in Asia – by Brent Crane

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Brent Crane (pictured) is an American journalist who traveled through China and Myanmar for six months. Along the way he published stories with the DailyTelegraph, Aljazeera, Roads & Kingdoms, The Diplomat and VICE, among others. He also shot for the BBC. This is his guest post for the site.

Brent Crane (pictured) is an American journalist who traveled through China and Myanmar for six months. Along the way he published stories with the Daily Telegraph, Aljazeera, Roads & Kingdoms, The Diplomat and VICE, among others. He also shot for the BBC. He can be found tweeting @bcamcrane and his blog is thecongeechronicles.tumblr.com. This is his guest post for the site.

I landed in Beijing on June 16th, 2014, in the early afternoon on a one-way ticket from Boston. I had just turned 24. China was not new to me. I’d been before in 2011 when I had studied in Kunming and also before that in 2010 for the Shanghai World Expo. But this was my first time in the nation’s capital and I thought it’s very grey here.

I stayed with a friend from a study abroad program at the Beijing University of Science and Technology. When she and others asked what I was doing in China I’d get shy and mumble, “freelance journalism”, and felt like a five year old saying, “I want to be an astronaut”.

I wasn’t confident because I really didn’t know what a freelance journalist was or if I could even be one and I usually stumbled when I tried to explain anything. I’d come to China off a whim and depending on who I was talking to they’d either be impressed or think I was an idiot.

Now, seven months later I can answer people with more assuredness. I have written and shot for the Diplomat, the Daily Telegraph, VICE, Al-Jazeera and the BBC, among others. In the name of “journalism”, I have been smuggled into rebel-held territory in Myanmar from China, toured refugee camps, reported on one of the year’s largest and most daring democracy movements, sampled hairy stinky tofu and tracked down a Hunanese peasant who claimed that a tea brewed from animal feces had cured her cancer. I sampled that too.

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