Zizi - "I don’t like my sister any more that I like my friend or someone else"
While staying in Inle Lake, we went for dinner at this very nice restaurant and we met Zizi. She has asked us not to put her photo on the blog so safety reasons; she's in a new territory where she is not yet very welcomed by the community so she needs to be careful.
1. What is your name, where do you come from and what do you do for living?
My name is Zizi and I’m a new local member to the community. I moved here about six months ago. I come from the very South, the Mon state, but I’ve moved around and changed careers so many times that it’s hard to remember where is my hometown and what exactly is my job.
Right after high school, I started working as a voluntary teacher. I was assisting the Principal and teaching mathematics, English and basics of science, physics and chemistry. The kids were between 10 and 17 and some of them were almost my age, so in order for them to respect me I had to be serious and not always smiling. I loved my job, and the kids and their parents really liked me as well.
Soon enough other nearby schools started requesting me to work with them as a part-time, and simultaneously I started a home school program for children with special needs, mainly because I knew how valuable and important it was for the kids. When I had to leave, for safety reasons, many of the children cried, and so did I, a lot.
After my dad passed away and we moved away, my grandmother got sick so while my mother was taking care of her, my sister and I had to work to make a living. I did all sorts of things, from private tutoring for some kids in the community and running a family business producing small plastic objects like hangers and umbrellas in a small factory we owned; to managing a small convenience shop.
At some point I started a social program for the poor people of the community, to teach them about health and hygiene. I was helping the communication between the hospital and the families because when children get sick, the parents usually don’t understand what’s going on and they don’t go to the doctor. Instead, the most poor people go to the pagoda to worship, they light a candle and pray. They think sickness is because some spirit is mad at them for something they did, like peeing under a tree or something crazy like that. So, I tried to educate the families, explaining them the real reasons for sickness and trying to make them go to the hospital.
And now, here in Inle, I’m a chef, a waitress and a dishwasher. I do everything at my restaurant!
Before coming here, I stopped working for a while. I went travelling because I had to find out what to do next and where to go.
I decided to come to Inle mainly because of the climate, which is not so hot, and because of the region’s tradition. People told me here the environment was very calm and slow, not so aggressive, which was good for my mom, who’s almost 90. But in the end it’s not quite like that.
Even though it is calm, it is aggressive in a not so obvious way. People are not outgoing, and because I’m new in town, they are suspicious about me. They don’t think it’s normal for a woman to run her own restaurant. I’m the only woman here that has her own business and they don’t like that. And the police is not helpful either, so I don’t know who to trust.
One time, my scooter was stolen, and when I went to the police they just laughed, they didn’t even look apologetic or tried to help. The same happened with another lady in the community because she’s a widow with a teenage girl. So, I don’t believe in the police.
2. What advice would you give to someone like us that just arrived here?
Burma is not as bad as India but also not as safe as countries like Hong Kong, so in public spaces like bus terminals and other crowded places don’t trust everyone. It’s nice to be kind and sweet but sometimes people missuse it.
3. What would you say is your favourite food?
It’s very hard to say, I eat so much especially now with the restaurant. I’ve gained a lot of weight because I try everything I serve in the restaurant to test if it’s good.
The thing I like to cook the most is curry, it’s my speciality! My curries are a bit different from other people’s. But I prefer eating vegetables, any style of vegetables as long as they’re not dry. Only watery or in a sauce or juice, easy to swallow.
The best vegetables are in this region - Inle Lake. The Northern region has better vegetables because the climate is cooler and the top soil is richer. In other parts of Myanmar there are rubber plantations, which affect the top soil and then when you grow something else, it’s usually not so good.
4. What's your favourite place here?
I don’t have a favourite place or a place that I like the most. I think I’ve practised my mind since a young age to generalise everything and not be so extreme. I don’t like some people more than others, for me everybody is the same, we are all human beings. I don’t like my sister any more that I like my friend or someone else. And I feel the same with the food and the places.
I value everything. I dont treat you better than a local girl just because you are a foreigner even though I don’t know you well. I just value everyone the same, their attitude, their soul and their mind. That’s how I was thaught by my father and my grandparents.
It’s the same with the places. Every state, every country has it’s own beauty. In Myanmar, we have a lot of beauty in different regions. The truth is there is no most in reality.
5. What would be the perfect Sunday afternoon plan?
I work practically everyday. About six month ago, I took some time off to help a young lady that wanted to start a private nursery school in the north of Shan state. For me the perfect plan is to be able to take some time to help other people. Unfortunately, it’s not normal for people to stop doing what they do for their own benefit to help others.
When I decided to help this lady, people thought I must be rich because I was working for nothing in return. But people are wrong to think like that, if you want to help someone, just do it. If you keep worrying about yourself, will that worry ever end? No, it never ends! So it’s ok to take a break from your worries.
6. What do you usually do for fun?
Learning. I love learning new things. Nowadays, we’re lucky because we have different ways of learning. One way is by talking to people, another is by going to places and exploring them. And then there’s Internet, of course. I read a lot on the internet and I listen to interviews from people I admire and respect such as Dalai Lama.
7. Who’s the person you admire the most?
Remember there are no most! But Aung San Suu Ky is a person I admire, many ladies in Myanmar do. Every time I find things are difficult, I look up to her and I encourage myself. It’s difficult for us if we don’t have someone to look up too, it’s too tough.
The biggest problem in the country right now is the mindset of the people, and the way they respect each other. Our education system is kind of dead, it does not evolve and people get very rusty in their brains. People become greedy and selfish, they feel they must keep to themselves everything they have and envy what other people have. It’s all about “me, me, me”. But this is not what Buddhism is about. We don’t have to go to the pagoda everyday but it’s very important for us as a buddhist country to understand the values of the religion.
Our children need to be educated to value every single thing, every single moment, every single item we have. There are many countries that are in worst situation then ours. We must value what we have and understand the meaning and the benefit of sharing. We don’t have to be rich to share. If we had that mindset settled in people’s minds we would have so much to give. At the very least, love and a smile.
Aung San Suu Kyi is helping to change the way people think. A lot of people call her “mama” because she’s like a mother to the Burmese people. She teaches every little thing like your mum would teach you, she’s a loving woman. I wish I could meet her.
8. What would you like to ask our next host?
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Tips & Recommendations
Gather a group at your hotel and get a boat to take you around the lake. It costs 30000 kyats (about 18€) for the entire day and it takes you to many different stops - fabric factories, cigarette producers, buddhist monastery, floating gardens and so on. Everything around the Inle Lake is really worth seeing.
Rent a bicycle and go to the vineyards and have a taste of the different Burmese wines.