Lotus flowers being offered at Doi Suthep Temple near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Although I've lived in Southeast Asia for over two years, I rarely do "touristy" things. My usual quick trips to Thailand involve an IKEA run, a McDonald's stop (or three), and lots of toasted sandwich lovin' from any number of 7-Eleven convenience stores in Bangkok. I take the short flight from Yangon every two months or so to renew my Myanmar work visa. It's high time I start exploring more of the area's hotspots, wouldn't you think?
Holiday lights, candles, and glass pieces on top of a table in Yangon, Myanmar.

The longer I live abroad the more important it seems to hold onto holiday traditions from my childhood. Retaining at least aspects of these habits helps keep a past part of me alive in addition to lessening the distance between loved ones. Although I don't make it home for Christmas as often as I'd like, I try to find ways to bring home to the table wherever I may be.

Just as important as clinging to familiarity is adaptation and creating newness. Throughout my travels I’ve sampled different ways to celebrate Christmas, and have combined these with what’s always been to sort of form my own way to do the holidays. 

Opening presents on Christmas Eve, a meat and cheese tray at dinner, as well as pussy willows are all favorite memories from my past. Mulled wine, having a gingerbread house, and deciding to take turns smashing the gingerbread house to bits with a wooden spoon are all acquired customs. 

What are some ways in which you hold onto holiday traditions while at the same time as embracing fresh ones? This photo essay provides a peek at the small gathering I hosted this year, and features old and new traditions I’ve combined to celebrate Christmas while living abroad.

Red pussy willows against a white wall in my apartment. Yangon, Myanmar.
Red pussy willows against a white wall in my apartment. Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
A gingerbread house and red pussy willows from above in Yangon, Myanmar.
A gingerbread house and red pussy willows were among several decorations for my holiday party. Yangon, Myanmar.
A table and Trek bike decorated with lights for a Christmas gathering in Yangon, Myanmar.
My table and Trek bike decorated with lights for the Christmas gathering. Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
Holiday party table spread with food, glass pieces, candles and lights in Yangon, Myanmar.
Holiday party table spread with food, glass pieces, candles and lights. Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
Cheers with four glasses of mulled wine in Yangon, Myanmar.
Cheers with four glasses of mulled wine in Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
Friends gathered around a table of food, candles and lights for a Christmas party in Yangon, Myanmar.
Friends gathered around a table of food, candles and lights for my Christmas party in Yangon, Myanmar.
A small Christmas tree with big lights as decoration for a holiday party in Yangon, Myanmar.
A small Christmas tree with big lights was a main attraction at my holiday party in Yangon, Myanmar.
Orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves used to make mulled wine in Yangon, Myanmar.
Orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves were all that was left of the mulled wine. December, 2015.
A smashed gingerbread house on top of a green plastic garbage bag in Yangon, Myanmar.
Smashing a gingerbread house to end the holiday party is a fun, new tradition. Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
A man from the village drinks a coke. Sagaing Division, Myanmar.

To get the chance to shoot some behind the scenes photos during the making of a Coca-Cola Myanmar commercial was a career highlight for me. Filming took place in a village just outside of KalaySagaing Division—an area overwhelmingly impacted by the floods of 2015 in Myanmar.
Colorful thread hanging above a wooden loom in Sagaing Division, Myanmar.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a rural village just outside of Kalay in Sagaing Division. Roughly two takeoffs and two landings away from Yangon, it’s one of the furthest destinations to reach in Myanmar. India sits just a short drive away to the northwest.

Peanut butter hummus and hummus with olive oil alongside flatbread.
International flavors find new roosts in Nyaung ShweInle Lake, as Myanmar continues to dish up prime places for adventure seekers to feast upon.

Nestled just off Yone Gyi Street near some of the touristy town’s most popular hotels is One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill. Offering an array of Mediterranean and fusion dishes you likely won’t even find in Yangon yet, One Owl Grill is a must-try restaurant when savoring Inle Lake.

Owls of all shapes and sizes and colors perch on walls of the tastefully decorated space. Its cozy interior spills outside through large open windows at night, leaving an entire street corner aglow. Almost as inviting as its open feel are two very clean, well-stocked restrooms.

Prices are extremely reasonable at One Owl Grill, especially for the authenticity provided. If you're hungering for something healthy while exploring the area, definitely go for the hummus with olive oil. 1,800 kyats gets you a good size bowl alongside a piece of freshly baked flatbread.

Red Owl at One Owl Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake.
If you’re in the mood for a bite of familiarity under four bucks, enjoy the scrambled eggs and bacon on flatbread for breakfast starting at 7AM. Dinner options such as sautéed pork leg with vegetables, and fried rice with garlic aren’t only delicious, they’re filling, and both are available for less than two dollars each.

Staff members are friendly, helpful, and open to feedback and suggestions. It was fun to help determine the final ingredients of a signature cocktail at One Owl Grill. Let me know what you think of the Ngapali Sunset. My favorite drink was the Red Owl, however. Hints of tamarind, strawberry, and lime combined in a beery brew makes for a very refreshing swig or three after a long day of boating and biking around Inle Lake.

Be sure to stop by One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill when in Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar. And nest awhile. Your taste buds will thank you. One Owl Grill can be found on Facebook, and check back often for its website to be fully up and running.

Sautéed pork leg with vegetables, fried rice with garlic, hummus with olive oil, and a mojito at One Owl Grill.

Exterior front of One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.

Customers ready to order at One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.

Decorative road signs outside One Owl Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.

Side view of One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.

Art on walls inside One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.

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FACEBOOK: One Owl Grill
WEBSITE (Under Construction): One Owl Grill
Chase Chisholm surrounded by nurses in an emergency room of a hospital in Yangon, Myanmar.

I refuse to only share about the high points of living overseas because that’s not life. It’s not real. A huge draw to being abroad (for me at least) is the struggle that comes with it—the hardships which add more depth. Risks are real. Especially when you choose to travel and/or live in places deemed somewhat dangerous, a little lawless, and always unpredictable.
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