Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The office continued…

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The level of English in the department was not high and I had a translator for 90% of the assignment. Generally the older generation had much lower English skills as it had been forbidden to learn English for a long period, but younger staff had been learning in schools. One staff officer told me they learnt English reading, writing & grammar but that had not included speaking.

My translator was in his late 20s and was kind and patient with the translating duties, but it was interesting to see how little he knew of the world. He knew of New Zealand due to the dairy exports, but could not place it on a map. Europe was a theory and he really had no idea where countries were or much about them. Fair enough, Europe is not close and not very familiar. What surprised me was he didn’t know where Laos was, even though it shares an international border with Myanmar. Also interesting was the foreign music he knew. He suggested U2 and Pink Floyd as being good music, but had never heard of Beyonce or some more modern artists I suggested. (I checked with Andrew and while he didn’t actually know who BeyoncĂ© was he had heard of her).

People's names were not gender specific - Win Win Zar could be male or female. And there is no family naming convention so a child could be any combination of names, usually none of them related to their parents’ names.

They did use a more casual  "Older Sister / Brother" reference, like in many other parts of Asia.  Ma Ma for ladies, plus a cut down of their name, not their full name. So I became Ma Ma Pau.

With the office being 20km from the Hotel the GM told me they would provide my lunch each day and asked what fruit would I like for a snack. And every day I had lunch -noodles, rice or soup-served at a desk outside my office right smack bang in front of the finance department.  I had brought some ground coffee and a thermos with me from Laos. A month being served instant coffee was not an option for me. When I told my translator I had come prepared they made me pots of real coffee for lunch and afternoon tea. As well as fruit snacks I was pressed daily to try traditional Burmese snacks. Plates of sticky rice and coconut, fried wonton things, condensed milk cake…no need for those muesli bars I brought with me for emergencies. I didn’t like everything served up, but on the whole –Yum.

Then one morning I got called out to my “eating desk” and was served Mohinga, a local speciality fish soup curry with noodles. I had had it last time we were in Myanmar, and it is delicious. But what made it special was the GM had told the admin girls to buy the ingredients the night before at the market and make it from scratch for me. That happened once a week and one week instead of Mohinga it was local Shan noodles for afternoon tea. Some days I didn’t need dinner back at the hotel. Oh, and a girl usually stood and waved a fan over me to keep any random flies away - Andrew doesnt do that for me!


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