Notes on September in Myanmar

(I forgot to give this introduction in the first of such posts: these Notes are monthly logs we Cardoner Volunteers here in Taunggyi have to turn in, and to make them more interesting I’ve been writing them in the Notes style this blog and Facebook have led me to develop over the years)

  • September – the month I traditionally call ‘my month’ – started with my Nal performing poetry for the first time in her native Marbel.

As her former teacher, I felt like this was my triumph too

  • Her performance was punctuated with Inday Precious here in Taunggyi wailing in worry as news of the Davao blast reached us. The last thing anyone heard of her boyfriend before the blast was that he had gone to the Roxas night market – the site of the explosion. We would later find out that he was okay, but while no news came Undag was inconsolable.
  • Nal was supposed to have class on that day at that time, but she skipped it and went home to Marbel to perform. She may well have been injured if she was there (my girlfriend likes wandering around alone at night). It was hardly an exaggeration to say she had been saved by poetry.
  • Amidst Davao’s collective grief, I here in Taunggyi could only be thankful that, while many innocent bystanders died from the blast, my romantic interest was not one of them.
  • When news reached her, she shared to me how the fated escape from danger shook her. One of the victims, Kristel Decolongon, was around her age from Suralla, a town near Marbel. The blast made my girlfriend realize how it could have been her – it could always be her – and how fragile life was. That the victim felt so near her (in terms of age and origin) made her feel the blast more palpably.
  • Suffering, when it does not happen to you, elicits diverse but not altogether conflicting reactions: Thank goodness it did not involve me, but my goodness it could have been me.
  • The first semester was ending in SAG. Part of the requirements that the kids had to give were translations of poetry in their own languages to English. This was a requirement I thought of giving them even before I left the Philippines, and I knew from then on it was a good idea. The kids ended up turning in a rich assortment of Myanmar’s internationally underrated literature.

The literary folios

  • They also had to submit poetry folios. All three sections gave three copies each (one for me, one for SAG, and one for Ateneo de Davao’s SALEM), but only one, first year section Stanislaus, printed copies for all its students.
  • I do not know how teachers of other subjects find fulfillment in their teaching, but it is always such a rewarding thing to see students of literature producing something from what you thought them. When you start seeing them sharing Kachin or Burmese poems on Facebook, you know you’ve succeeded as a teacher.

It is particularly fulfilling when they begin espousing your advocacy: this is a poem by my young monk student, Noom, in a hybrid of Shan and Thai.

  • The third years had to defend their research proposals. This was the first time defences were held in SAG, and in spite of a few expected bumps the results were very satisfactory. I may have even unwittingly inspired Inday Precious (who sat in some defence panels) to do research and take up a Masters.

Some of the third years during their defence


It is a great irony that the calculator I used to total the panelist scores for the thesis defences was one I bought for high school Chemistry, whose teacher introduced me to research and made me hate it for years.

  • Before we gave the final exams though, we had to leave the country – the 70 days allowed for us to stay as non-Burmese was running out. And so, from Taunggyi we travelled for half a day by bus to Yangon, then from there took a flight to Malaysia, where we would stay for three days in Kuala Lumpur.

Some of Yangon’s beautiful colonial buildings look neglected

  • Yangon felt like a badly managed museum, rich with historical and cultural sites but run down in many parts. The former capital was bustling with the sudden influx of tourism, and is it continues to burst I could see the seams. I only hope it doesn’t lose its wonderful ancient soul as it meets the demand for modernity and globalization. (more on Yangon in a later post!)


  • I finally went to Shwedagon Pagoda. When I first saw it on television I was only in High School, and the metaphor that immediately came to mind was that it looked like a Mountain of Gold. I have since wanted to see it in person. The chance to be in it felt like a personal conquest.
  • In Myanmar, the mountains you climb can sometimes be gold.

And can be visible from far away

  • By now I’ve gotten the hang of managing different timezones. That KL had the same time as Davao made it easier.
  • We were met in Kuala Lumpur’s airport by a Burmese, Alvin Aung Myint, one of SAG’s scholars and future teachers. The moment just made it palpable how international a situation I was in.


  • In many ways Kuala Lumpur felt like a return to Singapore, it had the same Malay urban vibe about it, and in some areas even the same smell. I had once vowed to myself to return to Singapore when I went home from a summer there, and so far this is the closest I’ve been.(for more on KL, see my Kuala Lumpur Experience post!)
  • The internet is a wonderful thing. While the Malay Peninsula and the Celebes sea separated us, my Ilongga in Davao felt very close, and not a minute passed that I did not hear from her. Petronas Towers, Masjid Jamek, Merdeka Square, the Muzium Negara, Central Market, Petaling Street, Jalan Alor: wherever I was I was chatting her, and it felt like she was exploring KL with me. And it was a joyous thing that, for three days at least, we weren’t an hour and a half apart. In more practical terms that meant we had the same sleeping pattern.

I was chatting her while I took this selfie, on the same phone

  • Back in Taunggyi, Abdula organized a Communication Arts Festival for his three sections. I was never too big on Speech Choirs but he got me to judge in a Speech Choir contest. The kids seemed to have enjoyed it, and to that extent it succeeded.

With speech choir judges Brother Bosco and teacher Billy.

  • He also got me to judge the on the spot essay writing contest, and that I was very big on. This was not the first time I had judged such a contest (the last time I could remember was when I was still in Silliman and the National Youth Summit was held in Dumaguete), and since the first time I did it I’ve always adopted a policy when judging handwritten essays: pay no attention to handwriting. I will never forget that I did not win any place in the only Region-wide press conference I attended (when I was in High School) simply because my handwriting wasn’t pretty enough.
  • Which was hardly a problem among the student really: the elegant curves of the Burmese script were coming out of their Roman letters.

And in all fairness, my handwriting can be difficult

  • Three months into the mission and I think I’ve determined what I can leave behind after a year here in Taunggyi: to help SAG move forward in terms of extracurricular involvement, and to give it a platform for tangible output for its project of giving English-language education.

The SAG student Constitutional Convention with Inday Precious.

  • I had already helped in the former, by helping the students draft a Constitution for their student council. The experience drafting two student council charters (one of them, Silliman’s Graduate student’s organization, was actually ratified) finally proved to be useful.
  • But I want to aim to give my own contribution (the above was largely Undag’s accomplishment). I want to help set up a newsletter for the school. Talks with Father Paul already resulted in two benchmarks: to make releases monthly, and to include the international community of SAG’s donors, partners, and attached teachers in the target audience.
  • For the latter aim, I want to initiate the establishment of an Online Archive for translations of Myanmar’s literary works. It will be tied up with the output of students in literature classes, and it will hopefully not only provide the international readership with access to Myanmar’s literature, but also showcase works in the minority languages in the country, particularly those spoken in Taunggyi like Shan, Intha, and Pa’Oh.
  • A bible passage important to literary theory is also good for volunteers to contemplate upon: the Parable of the Sower. As a volunteer sent out on a mission, on one hand I may see myself as a seed, cast unto earth which may be shallow or full of brambles. I cannot accomplish anything if the earth I find myself in will not let me bear fruit.
  • And yet I may also see myself as the earth in question, and the seed cast upon me as opportunity. Will I throw the opportunity to the scavenging birds, let it shrivel up with the shallowness of my efforts, or let it be choked by the tares of my own self doubt? Or will I strive to be fertile earth?
  • One thing is for sure: vegetables, fruits and flowers grow very healthily here in Taunggyi.


Myanmar’s Variations of Milk Tea


As a tea lover, I find Myanmar to be one of the many forms of paradise. Tea is deeply ingrained in the country’s many cultures, and it is served in ways unique to the place.


Some Shan rice tofu salad, served with free tea


Generally, tea is served for free in restaurants. This tea is usually green, but it is also common for it to be roasted (making it redder) and mixed with some lahpet hmwe, a mysterious leaf whose English or Latin names still evade me and which has a distinct creamy pandan fragrance.


Lahpet hmwe

Unlike the Japanese or the Chinese, Myanmar has no issues with exposing their tea leaves to sunlight, which means the tea can acquire a strong, grassy astringency. Here in Shan State it evokes for me the wildness of the mountains. Teapots are also often covered with a filter cork made of rattan to keep the leaves from coming out, but this also lends a woody taste to the resulting tea.


The rattan filter cork


Lahpet thoke, with beans, tomatoes, cabbage, and peanuts

Myanmar is also the only country where the leaves themselves are regularly eaten. Lahpet thoke, a salad made with picked tea leaves, is a common snack served in teashops as well as in homes, and has many variations.

But one of the things I found remarkable about Myanmar’s tea culture is the milk tea. Actually a largely Indian influence, milk tea nevertheless plays an important part in Burmese socio-culinary culture. Teashops serving milk tea proliferate throughout the country, serving as meeting places for people where alcohol-serving bars would be in other cultures.


The lane of teashops in Taunggyi’s Night Market

It is also in Myanmar that I have seen the greatest variety of milk teas. I had encountered a total of six variations to milk tea, which is served after boiling for hours (making it perfectly strong) creamed with evaporated milk and sweetened with condensed milk.

Below are the variations:


Pouman (ပိုမှန်): literally ‘plain,’ this is the default ratio of tea to evaporated and condensed milk, not too sweet, not too creamy. 


Hkyopaw (ချိုပေါ): from pouman, this has less evaporated milk, giving it less richness


Pawsein (ပေါဆိမ်): from pouman, this has less condensed milk, making it less sweet


Kyasein (ကျဆိမ်):  this has no condensed milk and less evaporated, making it the strongest variation


Hkyosein (ချိုဆိမ်): this has the most amount of condensed milk, making it the sweetest variation


Hkyosein Moutak Boukye (ချိုဆိမ်မှိုတက်ဗိုကျဲ): Hkyosein with cream


Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Manong Inting Padecio may just be a poor tricycle driver and he may have many faults, but he always did his best to make up for them by being a good father and husband.


Just before he put his pants back on, he peed on his tricyle’s front, thinking of his son Janmark. Smart boy, he thought. He’s graduating this March from Pilot, and he and his wife were able to save just enough to send him to CMC for high school. As he began digging up a pit to bury the bago-bo boy’s dead body, he felt a surge of excitement at the thought of seeing his son wearing a toga.


When the pit was deep enough to fit the dead body snugly, he kicked it in and covered it with soil. Then he looked around: this area of Baranggay Saguing, bordering Kidapawan and Makilala, is wild, uncultivated and deserted land, and save for the moon and his tricycle’s headlight, it was dark. There was not a soul around.


He saw the little bago-bo, probably around eight to ten years old, peeing on a car parked outside a house in Sandawa Phase 2 when he was about to garage his tricycle for the day. Chastising the little urchin, he dragged it by the ear in scolding to his tricycle and had planned to take it to DSWD. But when he reached Central Warehouse, he suddenly felt the itch for it, and seeing the dark skinned boy scowling beside him he could see that the little indigent was already starting puberty.


So he talked the boy into a deal: he won’t take it to DSWD if the kid agreed to come with him. Afraid of authority, the boy agreed.


The boy cooperated at first. In the overgrowth some way away from the highway in Saguing it agreed to take off its shorts and have its penis sucked (it wasn’t difficult to get boys this age up). The boy even came – the kid already had pubes as curly as the hair on his indigent head, but it seemed like that was the first ejaculation.


But when he asked the little botini to suck him, the kid refused.  So he broke the boy’s neck and, still being hard himself, relieved himself with the dead body’s mouth and anus. He was careful to come outside though so he can clean after himself. By the time someone finds the body all his traces would have decayed. As if anyone would look for a little bago-bo.


‘Nong Inting was experienced enough to clean after himself. On his way back to downtown Kidapawan he made a detour to Riverpark, where he found a dark corner to leave the shovel (he always left his shovel somewhere far from the spot every time he did this).


On the way back home he started feeling guilty again. Whenever he enjoyed little pleasures like this – with a few shots of Tanduay or, in spite of his wife hating the smell of it a few sticks of Fortune – he always felt bad for enjoying something he didn’t think he deserved.


But a bit of good will always justify gratifications, he remembered his late father once telling him. When he was alive, the man had been an unemployed drunkard whose frequent beating of his wife and effeminate son had often disturbed their neighbourhood in Baranggay Perez, and yet as Nong Inting grew up he always remembered his father around a circle of no less than five fellow tambays outside a sari-sari store laughing over Kulafu.


The man really did nothing for a living (his mother did the laundry to support them), so he thought if the oaf was allowed to enjoy some moment of gratification for himself, he, ‘nong Inting, who worked so hard for his wife and son as a tricycle driver would deserve it even more.


But so he won’t feel too bad he thought he ought to do something a little extra. Yes, maybe a dog. Poor Junmark always loved playing with the askals that their Ilocano neighbour Minyong was raising for adobo. Tricycle driving in Kidapawan made very little, but maybe he can scrape some for one of those mongrel puppies they sell in Mega.


When he arrived at their shabby little house in Bartolaba, he was surprised to see that the house lights were still on. It was already nine in the evening, and he had texted his wife he will be having dinner out because he had a passenger to Balindog (the other extreme end of the city from Saguing). He had expected his wife and son to be asleep now. Jumark came out from the door when he heard the tricycle and greeted ‘nong Inting with a mano. When he asked the boy why they were still awake the boy did not answer, but he noticed a faint smile on his son’s face.


When he entered the house, the wife was watching television, but it was obvious both she and Junmark seemed were waiting for him to get home.


The wife could not control herself. She told their son to tell him the news.


Junmark seemed at first to struggle finding the words. But it did not take him long to blurt it out – Pa, he said, his voice trembling. The Principal told me this afternoon. I will be graduating valedictorian.


Tears began welling in ‘nong Inting’s eyes as he hugged his son and muttered thanks to Lord Jesus for the fortune and blessings they had received. For all his faults and shortcomings as a person, thought ‘nong Inting, God can be so generous.



The Kuala Lumpur Experience

(Because Myanmar law allows foreigners to stay for only 70 days in the country, the Cardoner Volunteers here in Taunggyi have to go to another country from time to time. Our first such exit was to Kuala Lumpur, capital of the Federated States of Malaysia. SAG’s three scholars in KL, William, Alvin, and Pan Phyu, along with Fr Paul’s contact Mr. Nordin, served as our hosts. Here are some thoughts on our three days there.)


  • Few things are more beautiful than a metropolis at night seen from the sky.


  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport smells like Changi but looks like Hongkong
  • It seems to be a trend that airports are built far away from downtown. KLIA is so far away it is actually in an exclave of Kuala Lumpur within the adjacent state of Selangor.
  • Malaysia displays the best of Muslim culture I’ve seen so far. Women look so fashionable in their hijabs!
  • While Singapore may be very near, KL is infinitely cheaper.
  • Rubbing alcohol really seems to be a Filipino thing – we could not find it in Thailand and Myanmar, and we couldn’t find it in KL either.

A replica of the throne of Perak

  • Malaysia also shows what a malay culture would look like if it conquered the ills of a colonial past, a good example for the Philippines to follow.


  • Kuala Lumpur is somewhere between Singapore and Manila, clean and very urban with glistening high rising buildings, but also still quite neighbourhood-ly. Unlike Bangkok it may take some effort to get a glimpse of its history and culture.
  • One thing it has that few metropoleis have, though: genuine vegetation. In between imposing modernity are patches of what look like virgin overgrowth. Singapore’s greenery just feels artificial compared to KL.
  • 20160910_141408

    Looks can be deceiving

  • As if to make up for their patches of urban void, the cars in KL drive ridiculously fast. Jaywalking is ten times scarier in Malaysia.
  • Laksa really comes close to being the best noodle dish in the world.

I said it before: Laksa, glorious, glorious laksa

  • I wouldn’t give the same praise to Asam Laksa though: light but sour and fishy, it can be an acquired taste

And I have not acquired it yet

  • Petaling Jaya, in Selangor, is lucky to have its own community museum!

And it’s surrounded by a lovely park

  • It was unfortunately closed when we where there last time, though
  • Good luck trying to buy books in KL: the vast majority are in Bahasa. I guess it’s admirable how much literature exists in the language, but it makes literary tourism difficult!

I had to daginot with Filipino writer

  • But English is thankfully common. As one of the world’s top tourist cities, KL is very friendly to foreigners.
  • Yup, Books Kinokuniya is still the most impressive bookstore chain I know. When I found out there was a branch in KL I knew I had to go there.

I got some Malaysian literature though!


Books Kinukoniya has prime location in KL

  • The Petronas Towers are a pair of huge diamond skyscrapers that glisten under the sun in the day and glow with office lights at night. The cylindrical shape of each tower makes it feel so solid and yet so ornamental compared to the soap bars surrounding it.

The towers during day


The towers at night


The tower seen from one of the glass domes of Suria KLCC

  • There’s more to the Petronas than the towers: in front of Suria KLCC at the feet of the towers, there’s a fountain pond that has a fountain show every half hour. And there is a whole park just beyond that.

If this were a video, you’d be seeing knots made of water

  • There is a strange pleasure – an urban luxury, if you were – to riding trains. I guess it’s the Kidapawan boy in me still thrilled at the artifacts of metropolis.

Next station, crossing Lanao: interchange station to the Bartolaba line

  • Yup, the best way to enjoy a sexy metropolis like KL is to wander around alone. In lieu of having someone special wander with you, that is.

A record breaking phallic symbol jutting out from bush – I miss my girlfriend

  • Roses have the taste of love, and I could not help missing her again while sipping Minuman Bandung. The Johor style of the drink though has a hint of lychee acidity to it.

Love in a plastic glass

  • I think I just saw a snatcher running away in Suria KLCC!
  • The Malaysians deserve a reputation for having the most colourful sweets. Kuih never fails to impress whenever I see it.

Edible jewels


Clockwise from top: Pulut tai tai kaya, talam ubi, abok sagu, talam, lapis selatan, getuk getuk

  • It is a bad idea to visit KL’s historic center at high noon: Taunggyi’s cool sunlight made me forget how our latitude’s noons could be scorching.

The higher the photo quality, the higher the risk of skin cancer


  • And we were equally unlucky to find Masjid Jamek – where KL’s most primitive beginnings could be traced – was under renovation and open only to muslims for the time being.

I got a shot of its back though

  • Refreshing discovery by the confluence of the Klang and the Gombak rivers: Duterte is loved across Southeast Asia. Contrary to Western media coverage, the foulmouthed Philippine president really is becoming the poster boy of ASEAN independence. In Bangkok and Myanmar the case was similar. But the hat vendor outside Masjid Jamek was so much a fan of the man than when one of us mentioned Digong used to be our mayor, he gave us a free hat.


  • The Muzium Negara just made me drool with envy: the Malaysians are proud of their history and culture, and they’re making money by showcasing them.



Lovely, but I think it’s not Minangkabau enough



  • It is really in Malaysia that you see the richness and relevance of Mindanao history. The precolonial Moro polities were featured in the Muzium Negara. As a Mindanawon, Malaysia makes my heart bleed because it shows me what Mindanao could have been if it wasn’t so messed up by the Philippines
  • They have a separate section for the rubber industry. as a son of a rubber plantation family, it resonates to me. What is common between Kidapawan and Malaysia? Rubber.
  • It also has a section on the contribution of writers to Malay national consciousness.
  • Which just highlights one thing for the Filipino: Rizal is still the only writer to have contributed to National consciousness. The rest are victims of obscurity or are too busy squabbling with each other – irrelevant, to put it simply.

The tiny selection of Filipino writers on the shelves in Books Kinokuniya is sobering

  • Malaysia’s elective monarchy never ceases to fascinate me!

The royal headdresses of Malaysia’s nine federal monarchs


The headdress of the Yang Di Pertuan Agong

  • KL minus the Petronas Towers is so much more: the Muzium, Central Market, Petaling Street, and Jalan Alor.


  • Central Market makes me feel embarrassed at Davao’s Aldevinco.


  • Petaling Street feels like a movie set – a more humid version of Hong Kong’s Temple Street.
  • Stay away from chestnuts being roasted!


  • Jalan Alor, the longest food street I’ve ever seen, was where I finally reunited with my Singapore craving, Char Tow Kway, aka the carrot cake with no carrot.

Hello sexy

  • Food brings the world together: also in Jalan Alor, there’s a restaurant with Filipino staff serving Filipino food. And when I bought Char Tow Kway, the waiter exclaimed in delight at seeing the Burmese kyats still in my wallet – it turned out he was Burmese.
  • When departing from KL, KLIA can be very badly managed, with queues taking over an hour. You must get there at least three hours before your flight. Even if you live nearby.
  • Unsurprisingly, having a relationship means wishing you were with her. Anywhere really, but most specially when exploring a new, wonderful place.
  • I obviously did not take enough pictures! See a bit more of them on my Facebook album!

Notes on Federalism



The Pimentel Model

  • The greatest flaw of the current unitary system of government is that – like most of the things about our identity as a country – it was decided on by a select few and imposed on the rest of us against our will or without our fullest understanding. Our cluelessness about what happens to us is the root cause of our lack of National pride.


  • Federalism, if we are to adapt it, must avoid that – it must be a destiny we will all choose to take, every step of the way.


  • Public information dissemination and media coverage must be intense and sophisticated, from consultations to the referendum.


  • Something as important as changing how the country works must dominate the public consciousness – I want to see Enrique Gil and Matteo Guidicelli having a brawl over it in public.


  • Ralph Recto’s opposition to Federalism on the grounds of revenue disparity among would-be states shows both a lack of imagination and a blindness to the major root causes of regional backwardness – dependence on the capital, often operating as National-local cronyism (both executive and congressional), exacerbated by the red tape of the Unitary bureaucracy which demands approval of projects from faraway Manila, is why progress only trickles down the regions at best.


  • Federalism would cut our low-earning regions’ allowances, but it would also give them the impetus and leeway to be more industrious and find allowances for themselves. Recto should know about that, his own father had once so eloquently advocated self sustainability and warned against the ills of economic dependence on a greater power.


  • Sometimes, being a doting and overprotective parent can actually stunt the growth of your children.


  • Capacity building for the would-be states must be an integral component of the transition process to a Federal system.


  • The peripheries of power have been so used to relying on the capital that devolving power to them would be expecting Skyscrapers to be built with tapping knives and pick axes.


  • The Philippines has long seen the bullying of the rural by the urban, by the industrial on the agrarian. Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao have long stifled the growth of the rest of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.


  • No, Imperial Manila is not the only villain. There is also Imperial Cebu and Imperial Davao. And there are small-time bullies stealing all the lunch money in each province and region too.


  • States must all sit on the federal table as equals, regardless of industry. The United Arab Emirates, where power is distributed in proportion to revenue, is not the ideal model in that respect.


  • Otherwise, our states would only squabble. There is a reason why regionalism is a bad word, and the capital has used this to justify the imposition of National homogeneity with hegemony.


  • In that respect, the upper chamber of the legislature needs to see fundamental reform. Right now the Senate is the exclusive club of the hegemons, those who succeeded in reaching the top of the vertical melee for power. It seats so many dynasts and oligarchs you might as well call it the Philippine House of Lords.


  • Whatever you do with the Senate, it must serve to be representative of each of the Federated states: have senators elected at large per state like the American Senate, or give the membership selection to the State governments like the German Bundesrat. Ideally, each state should be given their own way of choosing their representatives for the upper house.


  • Fundamental to Federalism is the cultivation of the individuality of each component entity, drawing strength in diversity. Because the other states of Federal Malaysia did not impose their system on Negeri Sembilan for uniformity, they were able to have a model after which their unique elected monarchy could be patterned.


  • A healthy federation is pied, dappled, freckled.


  • Sionil Jose’s concern that Federalism would empower the local warlords– a concern echoed by Grace Poe’s opposition to it in the elections, is not unfounded. And yet his own recognition of Duterte’s revolution is the answer to that: Federalism would help to localize this revolution, not giving a boost to the local powers, but cutting them off from their hegemonic National protectors. No more national padrino system or complicated top-down bureaucracy centered in distant Manila to blame, if a state is doing poorly the people know who to lynch.


  • Local self determination is more than just economic and administrative. More fundamentally, it is cultural – it is existential. For would-be states to stand up on their own feet, they must first know who they are.


  • Structural decentralization must occur not only administratively, but also socioculturally. Philippine Federalism must first and foremost be a cultural federalism.


  • Most of the eleven states in Nene Pimentel’s Federal Model for the Philippines are cultural chimerae, regions lumped together even if they had little shared history, soulless products of the illusion of National homogeneity imposed from the hegemonic capital since the time of Quezon.


  • Region 12, SOCCSKSARGEN, is a prime example of how local identity has fallen victim to the Unitary hegemony. The poor region, whose convoluted acronym of a name nobody can pronounce, was frankensteined from the dismembered remains of the historical Cotabato sultanate, and its provinces rarely interact. Struggle as it may, as a region it has no sense of identity.


  • The federal state to which Region 12 would belong in the Pimentel Model, Southern Mindanao, is equally soulless as a polity. The Kidapawanon has little affinity with the Tagumeño in Davao del Norte or the Pantukanon in Compostella Valley. If not kept in check, Davao would dominate the whole place, or Davao and GenSan would squabble to the detriment of the other towns.


  • The fact that local history is not taught in our schools is both one cause of regional resentment against the national, and the reason why it is inconceivable to the likes of Senator Recto that the regions cannot support themselves. We have for so long seen the Philippine peripheries as mere dependents on the might and money of Metro Manila. Teaching local history, and national history in the context of the local, will teach our local children to own their destinies because their historicity will be taught from such an immediate perspective. This will be crucial to making Federalism a success.


  • Education, culture and arts, social welfare – all of that, and more, have to be bottom up. Federalism would be hollow if those were not devolved.


  • The communities of the would-be states, on the local level, must take the responsibility of adapting cultural self-determination into their own hands, carving their own collective identity against the grain of the imposed homogenous national. No more National offices to give you curricula and templates, you must build your souls from indigenous materials.


  • Percy Bysshe Shelley could not be more relevant to the debate on Philippine Federalism. The poets, he once proclaimed, are the unsung legislators of mankind. Our cultural devolution lies crucially in the hands of our local artists, whose duty it will be to create our local sense of selfhood –to carve our collective souls from the wilderness.


  • If they would only stop banging on about Duterte and each other. We need our intellectuals to be intellectuals right now.

Myanmar Sweets

I am a future diabetes patient, with an almost nerdy love for sweets. And part of my enjoyment here in Myanmar is exploring its little known desserts. Here are some of them in pictures


Mon Pya Lu (မုန်ပြာလူ) : I’ve written about them enough already!


Nga Chatae: black rice in coconut milk


Assorted Burmese cakes. Clockwise from top: Sanwin Ma Kin (ဆနွင်းမကင်း, semolina cake), Kyauk Kyaw (ကျောက်ကျေား, agar cakes), Kauk Nyin (ကောက်ညင်း, sticky rice cakes), Nga Pyaw Sanwin Ma Kin (ငှက်ပျောဆနွင်းမကင်း sanwin ma kin made with red banana)


Assorted Indian sweets, including some jalebi (caramelized pretzels) and gulab jamun (custard balls in syrup) in the bowl


A colourful assortment of barfi (Indian hard milk sweets, analogous to Filipino pastillas), including some made with gram flour (the yellow ones)


Agar jellies: the purple ones are taro flavoured, the white ones coconut flavoured. I do not want to decide which is more delicious.


Two kinds of halawa (semolina pudding, mixed with poppy seeds) from Pathein (they were selling some in the streets here in Taunggyi): the original  with butter and the dried version


Clockwise from the top: the dried and buttery halawa, Burmese mooncake, mon pya lu.


Htou mont: cake that ranges from chewy to creamy-crumbly to jelly-like, topped with dried fruits and nuts. This is a delicacy of Mandalay


Fried bread with condensed milk


Hpa Yon Yo (ဖရုံယို): crystallized white gourd. They look (and sound) like tiny slabs of jade. These beautiful sweets are an Inle specialty.


rice cakes in banana leaf (analogous to Filipino suman)


Mon loun (မုန်လုံး): balls of rice flour, sugar, and milk. Somewhere between starchy bread and polvoron.


Lassi (yogurt milk shake) with jaggery (palm sugar syrup)


Mon Unauk (မုန်ဦးနှောက်): literally ‘brain sweet,’ glutinous rice paste in banana leaf, served with coconut cream and sugar

This list will continue to expand and be updated as I discover more sweets and learn more of those which are already here. I am thankful to all the local students, teachers, and SAG staff who treat me to these treats, and who will probably help me expand this list and my waistline.

God have mercy on my blood sugar.

Kengtung Monastery

(Since there is very little information online about things here in Myanmar, I’ll be trying to make posts about the different places at least here in Taunggyi. For the first post is the Buddhist monastery nearest to where I live, the Kengtung Kyaung. This short history is partly written by one of my students, Nan Do Dhar Sa (Noom), who is a young monk in the monastery)20160704_064125

Kengtung Monastery (Wat Kengtung or Kengtung Kyaung) is named after a city in eastern Shan state, whose people donated funds to build this monastery in Taunggyi.


A coloured bas relief depiction of the Buddha preaching under the Bodhi Tree at the back of the wihara, facing Kambawza street

Most of the people from Kengtung, who largely belong to the Tai ethnic group, are very charitable. It is Tai tradition (specially from those in Kengtung) to seek to build temples wherever their people visit. This monastery is thus a branch from Buddhist institutions in Kengtung, and this is why it is named after the city even if it is in Taunggyi. There is a similar monastery in Yangon.


The wihara, with a pair of impressive naga adorning the stairs


The Thein at the center, with the Ar Saung (monks’ living quarters) to the right

The Kengtung Monastery at the capital of Shan state was founded on June 23, 1980. The villagers from Kengtung spent 300,000kyat just to buy the land. At the time it was very difficult to get money, and this was a large amount. The large Wihara (the prayer hall) was built a year after in 1981, then the Thein (or the Ubosot, the Ordination hall) was built in 1994.


Kengtung Monastery’s wihara as seen from SAG

The Founder of Kengtung Monastery is the Venerable Dr Jao Khru War Seng Lar, who was born in Sipsongpannar (Xishuangbanna), on the Burmese border with China.

Kengtung Monastery is located on one corner of Kambawza and Ye Htwet Oo streets in Taunggyi’s Forest Quarter. Just across Ye Htwet Oo is Ko Myo Shin Nat temple.