Lessons for My Father, Part 2, the Darker Side

IMG_0298Yangon    Don’t get me wrong.   A visit to Yangon is amazing, but it’s no walk the park.

·      Let’s take walking for example.   There has been some work on streets and sidewalks, and in fact I regularly saw a pothole patching team in the central city.   The new sidewalks are interesting.  First they are about 2 feet at the curb, I assume to put the walkers and workers above the street flooding in the monsoon season.  Sometimes there is a ramp going up, but more often there are a couple of loose rocks arranged to get you up the curb.  Nonetheless all of this is good, because every other sidewalk is a shopping or parking area, so most folks have to walk in the street, which has its own challenges.

·      Public transportation is one of those challenges.   The buses are all private companies with routes like the collectivo system historically in Buenos Aires.   The drivers and touts work on commission for a piece of the farebox, averaging $10 per day the driver and $5 for the tout, but it’s a 6 AM to 9PM hella day, and the buses are packed out with people.   For walkers they are worth a wary eye, because they also careen at top speeds on their appointed routes.

·      The electricity problems we discussed are vexing for more than just development.   Everywhere there is valuable equipment like a TV or a refrigerator; there is an industrial sized surge protector.  Early in our visit there was a brief surge, which blew out the adapters of any in our delegation who had anything plugged in, including an adapter connected to nothing.  Between Chaco and I we lost 5 or 6 plugs.  A couple of hours of adventure in the electronics district a dozen blocks away found a Lenovo that worked and some other fixes, but it all cost money.  One of our number lost an Apple plug, which was a whole different matter of heavy searching and a bigger hit to the pocketbook, since Apple Computers, and in fact no Smartphones are common here.   A Sim card for a Smartphone can cost close to $1000 we were told.

·      Then there are the various “south side” problems that 50% of our crew encountered on the visit and all of us worried about constantly.   Most were caught unaware and brought low, one thought a cup of tea on the street, others were less sure.  In my case on the last day of our visit, the Lucky Seven was anything but.   The Lonely Planet guidebook for Myanmar described the Lucky Seven as the favorite tea shop in the city.   I noticed that it was less than two blocks from our hotel, furthermore the author described the mahinga dish, a sort of soup, as among the best in town, so that’s what I ordered in a moment of sublime recklessness on our last day.  Let’s just say that I made it through a tour of the fascinating National Museum with Chaco, and I answered the bell for our last meeting with the head of the Federation of Trade Unions of Myanmar, but by 6PM I was in bed and am only moving, barely, now as we get ready to roll for the airport in another hour or so.  Thankfully, cipro is available over the counter in generic form for about one dollar for the treatment regime or they might have had to leave me here.   Don’t leave home without it!

I just wanted to share a couple of caveats for visitors, and I’m not even counting the forced labor, lowest wages almost in the world, crony capitalism, chilling fears about censorship, military government, and some of the other issues we’ve discussed throughout the week.

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