Lismore. Friday, 12.40pm
Like most Australians, I own a lot of stuff.
If I laid all the things I owned end to end they would stretch from Nimbin to Goolmangar – and that’s along the road, not as the chopper flies.
Okay, I just made that up, but that sort of dodgy illumination of quantity is common. Like, if you laid all the plastic bags in the world end to end they would reach to the moon and back five times. Huh? I think that means there’s a lot.
Some things I own I really like: my iPad, my grandfather’s fob watch and a double manual orange juicer shaped like a woman’s body. These are great things.
But my favourite thing is my tiffin tin, a stainless-steel container of Asian origin for carrying your tucker around in.
Tiffin tins are popular in India. Tiffin is a British word created in India originally meaning ‘second lunch’. The idea of afternoon tea was an unusual one to the pre-colonial Indians but they took to it with the same relish (pardon the pun) with which they took to railways and a postal system.
I got my tiffin tin from a shop in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in Burma (or Myanmar). There it’s called a timanjak. (I’m not sure how it’s spelt in English…)
Everybody in Burma carries a tiffin tin. School children carry them to school, workers to the factory, farmers to the field, businesspeople to the office.
My tiffin tin is a little two-compartment job, but I have seen six-storey tiffin skyscrapers that feed an extended family. Each compartment holds a different food – perhaps a soup, a couple of curries, some rice and a little something sweet for afterwards – all held together with a tension clip.
Mine has brown rice in one compartment, a veggie curry in the other. I do love Thai food.
An unhappy woman passes where I’m sitting on a bench seat in Woodlark Street. She’s dragging a bawling girl of about six by the hand. Spying me and my tiffin tin, the girl stops crying and gawks as I shovel curry and rice into my mouth with chopsticks.
I refuse to accept meals in plastic containers. It’s my act of defiance against the schools of plastic that are replacing fish in the oceans. It’s my rebellion against a disposable, toxic culture that shows no respect to food or planet.
The lady in the Thai shop knows this and is very happy to fill my rod nam dum hua (as tiffin tins are called in Thailand). She smiles when she sees my tiffin tin and me enter her shop.
Sadly, as single-use plastic containers invade Thailand along with junk food, sex tourists and Russian mafia, the rod nam dum hua is disappearing.
In Burma, the tiffin tin still reigns supreme because the long isolation from the modern world imposed by the military junta shielded that country from some of the ravages of consumptive living – there are few plastic containers plying the rivers, plastic bags snared in trees or bubble wrap blowing across the rice paddies. The Burmese still carry tiffin tins, having missed the Tupperware party.
Of course, the global plastic empire has now pried open that country, the snap-lock sandwich bag and the plastic shopping bag already colonising the cities.
Yes, I own many things. I have a 1958 vinyl recording of Billie Holiday singing You’ve Changed. I have a Superman moneybox that says, ‘I will save you’ when you drop a coin into his head.
But my favourite thing is my tiffin tin, which I carry everywhere so I can say No to having my meal served in rubbish and yes to a sustainable lunchbox.