Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mission to Yangon

It always amuses me that in the work we are doing when a team of people visit the site of a project, it is called going on Mission. I had planned to visit the finance team of my last project a week before the official Mission but on Friday afternoon, before the Monday I was due fly up, I got word that the finance team were going to Nay Pyi Taw for training and could I defer my travel for a week. Nothing like a 4 hour window to email the travel agent in Hanoi to request the changes while contacting the hotels in Yangon to rearrange bookings.

At the same time Andrew was scheduled to go back to NZ for some meetings. Our original plan was that we both left and returned on the same days, meeting up at Bangkok airport, even though we both returned into Laos on separate flights. So I had to fill in time in Vientiane for a week on my own, while Andrew ate lamb and drank wine in NZ.

Finally I got to Yangon. It was good to be on somewhat familiar territory.  No, I don't want someone to wheel my suitcase 200m from the taxi desk to the terminal. I managed to get it to the airport, through check-in and off the baggage claim by myself but that last 200m is considered to be the last straw?  In the taxi we weave in and out of the city's permanent rush hour traffic (and this is 6pm on a Sunday evening) and I watch the local buses packed to the brim, the drivers chewing and spitting betel, and it feels pleasantly chaotic.

 Much of the work we have been doing this year has been independent, so it was a bit of change to have to co-ordinate with a team of people from different countries. Pros include having people to go to dinner with and others to work out where we are going and who we are meeting. Cons include having to follow someone else’s timetable – what do you mean you want to have breakfast at 8:30am – I will have been up since 6:00am and will be hungry...What do you mean I have to sit through another consultation meeting... but from these meetings I did learn a lot about the Ayeyarwady river and it’s importance to the Burmese people.

From my project summary
The Ayeyarwady is Myanmar’s largest river basin and has been described as the heart of the nation.    Today the basin accounts for over 60% of Myanmar’s landmass, accommodates 70% of its population, and transports 40% of its commerce.  It is a river of global proportions, with an average annual flow equivalent to roughly 85% of the Mekong.  Groundwater resources in the basin are believed to be even greater than surface water resources.   


Most of the staff of the ministry I was working with finished work at 4:00pm on the dot and quickly left the building to get on the buses to the government ferries to take them to the other side of the river. I was told most of them lived on that side and looking at the trees and other greenery it looked more appealing than the main city side.

Yangon Buildings

It was also nice change to be in Yangon for more than one day and to have a break from Nay Pyi Taw.
My one weekend there I took the opportunity to see a couple of places I had not been before. We have eaten a lot of street food, but it is less appealing here to sit on the roadside with the volume of traffic, the rainy season and the high levels of fried food on offer.

Yangon street food

On the other hand there was the chance to return to some very good restaurants and to try a couple of new openings. One in particular stood out, Gekko, a Japanese influenced offering from the people who have Union Bar & Grill (which also remains excellent). I also got to the house of memories in an old colonial villa that had once been the office of General Aung Sang


I walked past Happy World beside the Shwedagaon pagoda and thought to myself that stagnant smell of the lake doesn't make me feel very happy. I wasn't surprised no one had taken the paddle boats out to cruise around the smelly waters. But the smell didn't stop the girls sitting on the tree to watch the group of boys just out of shot. The right hand picture looks a bit green, but that was what it looked like in reality, green outfits, green grass and lots of green water.

Yangon Happy world

I really liked the decorated footpaths, which were not at all slippery after a rain shower


And although the picture below is a bit blurry (iPhone+moving taxi) I really liked the idea someone had taken the child’s peddle car down to the local fix-it shop. I also wonder what sort of child in Yangon would have a toy car that big. Probably a wealthy one I suspect.


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