Rose Gar­den’s latin af­fair

Salsa, Mex­i­can fa­ji­tas and Brazil­ian chur­ras­caria in a ho­tel lobby.

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Review - Pho­tos: Zuza­kar BY ZUZA­KAR KALAUNG

O N a nor­mal week­day, the Rose Gar­den Ho­tel on Pan­so­dan is a rather for­mal af­fair. Se­ri­ous-look­ing peo­ple waltz in and out of con­fer­ence rooms. Tourists who have picked the ho­tel for its strate­gic lo­ca­tion set for a day of sightseeing in Yan­gon. On Sun­days, how­ever, the Naypy­itawes quel ook­ing build­ing lights up.

Every other week­end, at brunch time, the lobby of the Rose Gar­den turns into a ball room very much alike the pa­tio of an ha­cienda. Cac­tus pop up on the ta­bles. Wait­resses are wrapped up in red and green dresses. Wait­ers sport pon­chos and Mex­i­can hats. It all be­comes a very latin af­fair. Week­end was in­vited to try out the food and the South Amer­i­can at­mos­phere.

This was the sec­ond edi­tion -- and it will surely not be the last given the num­ber of guests present that day. Most ta­bles were booked when we ar­rived. The large dec­o­rated hall was filled with a joy­ful mix of lo­cals and tourists.

We sat down and were of­fered mo­ji­tos from the mo­jito bar. They were ex­e­cuted with pro­fes­sion­al­ism and a lot of gen­eros­ity. The Rose Gar­den baris­tas are not stingy on the Bac­ardi and the latin af­fair pack­age in­cludes an un­lim­ited amount of it (go easy, though, the event stops at 4pm, not 2am). We went for clas­sic mo­ji­tos but were told that more exotic ones were on of­fers, like the mango mo­jito.

We then vis­ited the dif­fer­ent Mex­i­can-in­fused sta­tions dis­patched across the room. We kicked off with the fa­jita cor­ner. There is noth­ing bet­ter to fill up an hom­bre’s belly than a corn tor­tilla wrap­ping a good dose of meat, fresh pep­pers, gua­camole and cream. The Rose Gar­den’s sta­tion tick­eted all the boxes. It had a choice of beef or chicken, and a dozen of cas­so­lettes of sauces and condi­ments to choose from. Once your se­lec­tion is made, the chef en­thu­si­as­ti­cally cooks the mix be­fore your eyes.

The que­sadil­las sec­tion was equally sat­is­fy­ing. Crunchy bits of tor­tillas filled with cheese and beef landed on our ta­ble, ac­com­pa­nied by cream, dice tomato and veg­eta­bles. As the chef ex­plained, the Burmese are not nec­es­sar­ily fans of Tex-mex cui­sine, but they love va­ri­ety. And there is a lot of this in the latin af­fair pack­age.

In fact, Tex-mex is a rather new ad­di­tion to the Yan­gon culi­nary scene. Manana oc­cu­pies a space in Pearl Condo and re­cently opened a branch down­town, but in our view, its prod­ucts lack the fresh­ness found in Rose Gar­den. Union Grill did a few Mex­i­can brunch, but it is not (at least to our knowl­edge) a re­cur­rent thing. Rose Gar­den tries to cre­ate “a niche on its own,” as one man­ager puts it. And it works.

La Ha­vana in Yan­gon The latin af­fair is very much a unique ex­pe­ri­ence. As we were pac­ing our­selves af­ter a few rounds of del­i­ca­cies, the mu­sic started and a group of two dancers from the Fu­sion Dance Troupe took the cen­tre stage. In be­tween two serv­ings, one can take a salsa class on the spot. The pair warmed up the dance­floor and guests quickly joined in to the tune of Igle­sias and the likes. Laz­ers and flashes were blaz­ing, an at­mos­phere of fi­esta took the whole lobby.

Af­ter we had danced out the calo­ries we had put in ear­lier, we con­tin­ued our ex­plo­ration of the dif­fer­ent sta­tions. The salad bar of­fered a rav­ish­ingly fresh corn salad. The gua­camole and dice tomato were al­most creamy. The bean salad had a de­li­cious crunch.

Next was the ce­viche bar. Ce­viches con­sist of slices of fish fil­lets mar­i­nated in lemon with a good dose of co­rian­der and chill­ies. The cit­rus starts at­tack­ing the flesh of the fish and cooks it; the spice gives it fla­vor. Rose Gar­den of­fers at least 4 dif­fer­ent types. The seabass is a great clas­sic. The oc­to­pus in ce­viche-style was a novelty to this re­viewer -- but a great one. The prawn ce­viche in mango juice was also a pleas­ant sur­prise. The tuna passed with fly­ing colours.

But the high­lights of the day was the chicken, lamb and beef in chur­ras­caria style. A chur­rasco is a South amer­i­can equiv­a­lent of a bar­be­cue. It would be no dif­fer­ent from what we are used to if it was not served on long spikes, cut and served di­rectly on the plate by a Burmese som­brero al­ways keen to top you up.

A few dances and mo­ji­tos later, we were set to con­sider dessert. A choco­late fountain and a as­sort­ment of choco­late desserts did not sound very latin at first, but one should not for­get that choco­late was cul­ti­vate and cooked in South Amer­ica be­fore it took over the world.

The Latin af­fair pack­age costs USD $26.00 per per­son. Chil­dren ages 4 to 11-year old get a 50% dis­count. The pack­age also in­cludes a dip in the ho­tel’s pool. No latin lover is of­fered though, that sort of latin af­fair will have to be looked for else­where. For the rest, Rose Gar­den has you cov­ered.

I F you’d like to know how things are go­ing in the world of ro­bot­ics, you would do well to at­tend Robocup — the world cup of ro­bot foot­ball — and not spend too long look­ing at the field.

Ro­bots are ter­ri­ble soc­cer play­ers. They can’t run, they can’t jump, they some­times wan­der off the pitch in a stu­por, and af­ter kick­ing the ball they of­ten fall over like tod­dlers hit­ting a wall at the end of a Smar­ties binge. In the pan­theon of com­puter-driven non-hu­man sport­ing ac­com­plish­ment, if Kas­parov v Deep Blue is a 10 and send­ing a Black & Decker Toast-r-oven down a slope tied to a snow­board is a one, then ro­bot foot­ball might rate a five. The novelty of a yel­low-carded beep-boop-beep-boop from some deeply funded Ger­man univer­sity’s tech lab wears off pretty quickly.

Or at least it does for me. Al­most ev­ery­one else at Le Palais de Con­grès de Mon­treal, the air­plane han­gar-like site of the 22nd Robocup In­ter­na­tional Com­pe­ti­tion and Sym­po­sium, is riv­eted, if not by what’s hap­pen­ing on the var­i­ous fields of com­pe­ti­tion, then by what’s on their in­sanely wired lap­tops, where the pro­grams that will even­tu­ally lead to more au­tonomous ro­botic sport are be­ing fine-tuned.

There are 35 coun­tries, 5,000 ro­bots, and 4,000 hu­mans par­tic­i­pat­ing in this year’s Robocup. Some of the soc­cer bots look like ca­ble boxes on wheels; oth­ers look like skin­less garage Ter­mi­na­tors with red-lit death eyes.

For na­tives of school and univer­sity ro­bot­ics labs, Robocup car­ries more than a fris­son of ex­cite­ment. “It’s the thing we wait for all year,” says Lau­ren Co­p­land, an 18-year-old engi­neer­ing stu­dent from Min­nesota. “Last night at din­ner I sat next to one of the MIT teams and hon­estly, I couldn’t even be­lieve it was hap­pen­ing.”

Co­p­land is wear­ing a red boiler suit bear­ing the name of her school and her team’s spon­sors. It is tied at the waist. “The sweat in here is crazy,” she says, breath­lessly. “Peo­ple have been here all night. Our coach told us when we came in this morn­ing, ‘get ready, it’s go­ing to stink. It’s go­ing to be a mess.’”

In­deed, the packed room is a col­li­sion of hy­per-com­plex thought clouds min­gling with clouds of al­most hal­lu­cino­genic body odour. Every­where you look, some noo­dle of an 18-year-old ge­nius from Bonn or clip-bearded prof in ter­ri­ble jeans from Sydney is sit­ting with a drill or a ro­bot head in one hand while tap­ping on a com­puter with the other, sur­rounded by crack­ers, gra­nola bar wrap­pers and empty Ga­torade bot­tles. Half the peo­ple I speak to have what could best be de­scribed as M&M breath.

And most do not want to speak with me. “Ex­cuse me,” says a woman from one of the Ira­nian teams, “but talk­ing is not now pos­si­ble, be­cause my ro­bots are very much want­ing me.”

To write that this is a world of nerds is miss­ing the mark; Robocup is more proof that we are liv­ing in a post-nerd world. At the open­ing cer­e­mony, the pres­i­dent of the Robocup Fed­er­a­tion, Daniel Polani, a pro­fes­sor of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence at Univer­sity of Hert­ford­shire, mocked those who once mocked Robocup. “Peo­ple would say, oh, go and be a doc­tor, be a lawyer — do some­thing real.” Now, says Polani, ev­ery­one knows ro­bots are our fu­ture, “and we will all make so much more money than the doc­tors and the lawyers.”

So rib­bing the ro­bot wonks to­day is like laugh­ing at com­puter geeks in the 1980s. We all know who has the last laugh. Oliver Mitchell, a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist fo­cused on au­toma­tion tech­nolo­gies, says the tech­nolo­gies be­ing em­ployed by Robo cup­pers “are el­e­men­tal to what we’ll be see­ing com­mer­cially not too far down the road.”

“The same vi­sion that it would take for a ro­bot to kick a ball to its me­chan­i­cal team­mate could be used in ro­bots in a man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­tre,” says Mitchell. “The way a soc­cer ro­bot can avoid an ob­sta­cle on the field? It’s the same way an au­tonomous ve­hi­cle might avoid ob­sta­cles on the road. The ques­tion here is what tech­nolo­gies will come from com­pet­i­tive play? How will the ma­chine be­hav­iour end up be­ing use­ful to the agri­cul­tural mar­ket­place, to au­tonomous driv­ing, to smart cities?”

In re­cent years, Robocup has ex­panded com­pe­ti­tion into cat­e­gories that have more di­rect real-world ap­pli­ca­tions. There is now a lo­gis­tics league, and one for do­mes­tic ro­bots, and one for work ro­bots. The team in the red boiler suits are not in Mon­treal for foot­ball, but rather Robocup Res­cue, a com­pe­ti­tion for ro­bots de­signed for use by emer­gency med­i­cal work­ers. Their ro­bot is try­ing to ma­noeu­vre a net­work of pipes — a stand-in for de­bris typ­i­cal of an earth­quake in an ur­ban set­ting. “The ro­bot has to get through with­out break­ing the pipes, or touch­ing the walls,” explains Co­p­land, “be­cause if there is a col­lapsed ceil­ing, mov­ing any de­bris can bring ev­ery­thing down.”

I re­treat to the Robocup bleach­ers, pass­ing the pen where do­mes­tic ro­bots serve drinks and tidy rooms, and an­other where ro­bots are re­peat­ing num­bers back to other machines. I think of a friend of mine who works in Sil­i­con Val­ley, who told me 15 years ago that soon phones and tele­vi­sions and com­put­ers would all merge onto the same de­vice, some­thing we’d carry around. Back then, I could barely be­lieve such a min­gling could ex­ist. I think about Google Glass, and out­sourced mem­ory, and bion­ics that can make the leg­less faster than those with nat­u­rally able bod­ies.

I think about com­mer­cially avail­able sex ro­bots, and ro­bots that con­nect with autis­tic chil­dren and Alzheimer’s pa­tients, and how Adi­das has brought some man­u­fac­tur­ing back to Ger­many by us­ing fac­tory ro­bots in­stead of hu­man labour. I watch the green pitches be­low, where glossy white ro­bots are play­ing the beau­ti­ful game slowly and grace­lessly, al­beit with­out any­body pulling any levers. And I know I am watch­ing the seeds of the next big change.

We are turn­ing into ro­bots, and ro­bots are turn­ing into us. What this means for mankind is fright­en­ingly un­clear. So for now, my hu­man mind finds re­lief in the fact that ro­bots are still ter­ri­ble at foot­ball.

Paso doble in be­tween two serv­ings of que­si­ladas A Tex-mex salad The fa­ji­tas sta­tion Choco­late del­i­ca­cies

The bar­man in ac­tion.

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