Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Settling in in Naypyitaw: The Search for the Three Kings Monument

  Well, it's been nine days now since I've moved to Naypiytaw (NPT), the capital of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar. Time to write some stuff down about how I'm finding this strange and interesting town. Perhaps, more importantly for how I like to share stuff, post a video letting you see what I'm experiencing here.

   When sharing my trip up here last week, I said that this place reminded me a bit of Disneyworld, but government style. Actually, a more appropriate comparison for the 'Hotel Zone', my first destination on arriving here, would be the Las Vegas Strip. But without the people. Or the gambling. Or the fun. Kinda plastic and fake; purpose built to impress, nothing organic about it.

   I've discovered there's more to this town than the mega-hotel filled hotel zone, the sparse and mysterious government zone or the Orwellian residential zones. There's a bustling outdoor market not 2 miles from my house. There are many good restaurants. There are regular people here just trying to make a living and have nothing to do with the government.

The Hluttaw Building - The Myanmar Parliament
   When I bought my new motorcycle on Monday, I had to go to Pyinmana, the next city over. See, Naypyitaw was created in 2005. Before it was built, this was marginal scrub land with a little agriculture and that's it. Pyinmana was the biggest city for a hundred or so miles in any direction, and it's NPT's sister city. Older sister. You can really tell when you leave and NPT and enter Pyinmana: the streets shrink from 18 lanes to 2. There's the normal (for Myanmar), ramshackle chaos of shacks, crumbling poured concrete buildings and busyness I've come to associate with Myanmar cities. And, since it's a rural outpost, you still see things like horse-drawn carts and cattle on the sides of the roads. Anyways, I'm writing about NPT, not Pyinmana. Suffice to say, there's a big chunk of real Myanmar just on the outskirts of town.
Pizza waitress, traditional Myanmar style

  One thing I found difficult to deal with when I first got here was how I'm treated by the people. At first, it was because I'm a guest at a hotel which strives to adhere to the highest standards of hospitality. Everything is “Yes, sir. Very good, sir” People open doors for me. They carry things for me. I get treated with the utmost respect in every interaction. At the place where I teach, a government ministry, it's even worse. I can't carry anything out of the classroom. Someone has to do it for me. They bring me everything and treat me like a god. Coming from middle-class America, an egalitarian society which kind of rejects the idea of any sort of aristocratic reverence, this obsequiousness rubbed me the wrong way. No, I don't want to be treated like royalty; that's not how I was brought up and it makes me a bit uncomfortable.

   Well, I've gotten used to it. I realize it's a cultural thing. I'm not putting on any false sense of superiority. It's just the way they treat teachers here, particularly nearly-middle-aged ones like myself. I have to set aside however much it makes me uncomfortable and just let them do what makes them feel more comfortable.

  As mentioned, I've bought a motorcycle. A Kenbo 125cc Chinese-made model. Brand new, under $600. It's the first time in my life I've ever purchased a brand new vehicle (excepting my first motorbike when I was 7 years old, and my parents helped with that). I'm loving it. Share my first significant ride by watching the video below. I set off to find the “Three Kings Monument”, some ways out of town and in a possibly forbidden zone... Do I make it?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Am I Staying in a Haunted Hotel?

On the Road to Mandalay
I've now been here in Naypyitaw, Myanmar for about 24 hours. Unfortunately, the negotiations with the Hilton fell through, and we weren't able to get the rate we wanted... or something like that. In any case, I'm NOT at the Hilton as promised, instead another place which although not as nice, is more conveniently located. It's across the street from BOTH of NPT's only two malls. Given the sizes of the hotel grounds and the roads here, I can zip over to the supermarket and back in under 30 minutes. So, the place has its good points.

It's a toll dog
Unfortunately, it's also kinda small, not a lot of room for my stuff and well, it's not the Hilton. The shower head was clogged. There's no bedside lamp(I bought one). Perhaps, however, the oddest peculiarity showed up at about 3 AM when I woke up to go pee. The window was wide open. I had no recollection of having opened it. What was going on?

See, Naypyitaw has a reputation for being haunted, which is kind of strange for a city that is only 10 years old. None of the buildings are older than that, but certainly the land is. Land that people used to live and farm on and had taken away when they started creating this capital. I've got two friends who've visited here and had spooky experiences. In both cases, their showers would turn on mysteriously in the middle of the night. All on their own.

This was running through my mind as I stared at the wide open window.

This morning, I mentioned this along with the couple other issues I have with my 2nd-tier hotel room to the head of our corporate department, the lady who coordinates our outside work (not the incredibly cute girl in the video below). This afternoon, on returning from my first teaching session at the Department of Labor, I got a series of visits from the hotel's maintenance crew. New shower head: installed. All the wet bar stuff in the fridge I won't use: gone. They even sent a guy with a screwdriver to tighten up the latches on my window.

Unfortunately, no witch doctor appeared to exorcise the spirits for me.

Here's some clips from the "Death Highway" - AKA the Yangon-Mandalay Road. There is a video there. Just click it. It's not showing a thumbnail because of copyright issues...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Final Observations from Yangon

When I moved in moved into my apartment 16 months ago, I didn't understand what moving into a place next a Buddhist monastery meant. The Thantapin monastery is a medium-sized religious place, housing a few score monks. Ever since I've moved in, however, they've been building a new building: a five story monk dormitory just outside my window. Perhaps because it's not a for-profit enterprise, it's taken more than a year to complete this medium-sized high rise.
It's finished now. Here, on the eve of me moving to Naypitaw for 4 months, they've cut the ribbon, moved the monks into their new home and are now celebrating. One of the final touches was a sound system with 5 humongous loudspeakers. Megaphones. One of these speakers is pointed right at my apartment. Today was the day they decided to announce their announceability. All day, my windows vibrated from the decibels produced from a 10,000 watt speaker 100 meters or so away.

Buddhism is about peaceful co-existence. Peacefulness isn't something that should be imposed on your neighborhood via loudspeaker.

There are no noise pollution laws in Myanmar. Anyone can do whatever they want in terms of what you hear. If I wanted to, I could amplify my ukulele and broadcast myself from my balcony as loud as I wanted. My TV is turned up very loud right now; the (recorded) Pali chants from the monks next door are still louder. Nothing I can do about it.

Tomorrow morning, I move to the “Hotel District” of Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw. I'll be there for four months, so this is my last night in Yangon for 2015.

I've loved and hated this town. If I allow myself, I can really hate the noise coming from next door. I could have also hated the little problems with the apartment I've lived in this last year+. I haven't shared with you on video too much what I don't like about where I live. In this video, I do.


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...