Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Myanmar refugees indulge in traditional fare during Christmas

WHILE many celebrate Christmas with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, fruitcake and pudding, it is not the same at the Myanmar refugee community in Kepong.
For the Yuletide season, their traditional delicacy comprises boiled wild boar, stir-fried potatoes, diced cucumber and wild boar soup.
To some, it may sound repulsive but this is what brings the Zo people of Myanmar together.
David Mung, 31, is the head teacher at Zo Children’s School, a day school for Myanmar refugee children, in Taman Wangsa Permai.
“Boiled wild boar is a delicacy in Myanmar during the holiday season. There is nothing fancy in cooking it. It is just boiled with some salt and pepper and we eat it with rice. For us, it is important that we preserve our culinary heritage despite being in a foreign country,” said Mung.
“In Malaysia, you have many different cultures, not to mention the wide array of local and international cuisines. We cannot afford to splurge on food. This is what unites us as it is a reminder of what we had back home,” added Mung, who fled Myanmar in 2008 with his mother and sister because of religious persecution and the economic crisis. He has been living in Malaysia ever since.
The Zos form a group of Tibeto-Burman people inhabiting the Chin Hills in Myanmar.
Belting it out: One of the kids at the Zo Children School singing along to “We Are The World”.
“Our people who are good at hunting will be in charge of catching the wild boars in the Chin jungles during Christmas. It was fun for us as a community to take home the wild boar, cook it and eat it together.”
Mung’s mother, Mary, 55, was the one in charge of preparing the home-cooked delicacies.
“It is not easy to cook the wild boar. The meat has to be boiled overnight so it will be tender,” she said.
Before the meal, the children sang along to We Are The World — not the 80’s version but the latest one produced in 2010, via YouTube.
“It’s my way to teach English in a fun way. I also teach them songs from Boney M and Abba, which are my favourite bands,” said Mung.
The tiny Christmas tree at the school, situated on the first floor of a shophouse, was decked with mini-twinkle lights.
“We cannot afford a big, new Christmas tree so ours was donated,” said Mung last Saturday during their annual Christmas party.
Used toys comprising stuffed animals, cars and other items were laid on the floor where each had a number.
“Just like previous Christmas parties, we will include a lucky draw for the children to win some toys, donated by the public.”
There is no air-conditioning at the school which is no bigger than 900sq ft, but that doesn’t stop the festivities from taking place.
While many of us list high-tech gadgets and smartphones on our Christmas wishlist, the Zo children are over the moon to receive any toy, even though wrapped in recycled magazine pages.
Grace, 21, also from the Zo tribe, who works as a waitress at a nearby restaurant, volunteers her time at the school to help Mung.
“I’ve been in Malaysia for the past one year. Being at the school is like being at home for me,” she said.
The setting up the school was not an easy task for Mung.
“It was challenging because we didn’t have any money to buy books and basic school supplies. F,urthermore the parents questioned my qualifications as a teacher.
“But eventually they began to trust me with their children. Many of the parents are uneducated and work as odd-job workers. They needed someone like me to provide their children with the basic education,” said Mung, who runs the school with seven other teachers and volunteers.
The children, aged between three and 14, are taught Bahasa Malaysia, English, Science and Mathematics as well as music from 9am to 1pm. After they go home for lunch, they return in the afternoon to the school for computer lessons.
So far, the school has about 50 children. Mung is also a musician and learned his skills at a church in Myanmar.
“We cannot afford to buy new musical instruments so most of what we have like guitars and keyboards are donated,” Mung said.
Three years have gone by and Mung feels happy and tired at the same time.
“I stuck through the odds and hardships. As the head teacher, I feel it is important to teach the children good values. I look forward to many more happy Christmas occasions like these in future,” he added.