This may not qualify as my usual nostalgia blog because I am recollecting events that happened less than a year ago. But, I was prompted to write this post when I read about the Burmese Water Festival Celebrations in Singapore at Yesterday.sg and subsequently visited this blog by a Myanmar national working in Singapore.
Last year, I spent 2 weeks in Myanmar to conduct a training programme on Productivity and Quality Management for a group of government officials. Although the assignment was very tough, I had a great time. The Myanmar people I met everywhere were simply wonderful. And so I want to share some of my impressions and photographs with you. Although I did take some photos, most of them were of the activities in the classroom. At that time, I have not starting blogging yet. Otherwise, I would have taken more photos of the street scenes. As you might have read in an earlier article (What Prompted Me To Start This Blog), one of the reasons why I started Good Morning Yesterday was because the streets of Yangon reminded me of Singapore when I was young. (My apologies to my Myanmar friends – no insult intended. Just speaking from the heart).
This is the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. At night, it can be seen from miles away when it is lit up
On Sunday, I went to this church (Methodist English Church) near my hotel. After the service, I had a nice chat with the bishop of the Methodist Church himself
What I relish most about my visit was the warmth of the people I met everywhere. In Singapore, we talk so much about customer service. But I tell my friends, wait till you go to Myanmar. Take the hotel where I stayed for example (Singaporean-owned Grand Plaza Park Royal). One evening, when I finished my lectures and got into the hotel car, the driver greeted me with a “Happy Birthday Mr Lam”. Apparently, they found out from my passport particulars that it was my birthday that day. When I reached the hotel, I was similarly greeted by several of the staff. When I got to my room, there was a huge birthday cake waiting for me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even finish half - real sin to discard half a cake in a country like Myanmar.
One day I sent my shirt for cleaning. It was my favourite shirt which I kept even though it had a whiteboard marker stain which I had not been able to remove for months – part of the hazards of being a trainer. When the shirt came back from the cleaners, I discovered that the stain was gone.
My trainees deserve special mention. They were so warm and hospitable and appreciative and keen to learn. Mind you – many of them are highly qualified professionals; a couple of them even have MBA’s and even a Phd. And the respect they show to the teacher is something we simply do not see in Singapore these days. Everytime, I wanted to shift the projector, the guys in front practically jumped up to help me.
When I got to know them better, I followed a few of them (most of them brought their own lunch – to safe money I suppose) for lunch at a nearby ‘kopitiam’. They didn’t dare to invite me earlier for fear that I might find the conditions too ‘third world’. So they were very happy that I actually asked to join them. Knowing that these people had very low salaries, I insisted that I pay my own share before we went out. They agreed, but when the waiter came, they settled the payment before I could do anything. They said it was their tradition. So the next day, I insisted on paying 1,000 kyat upfront before I would join them.
On the final day, they brought me for dinner and cultural show at the Karaweik Palace, reassuring me that it was very ‘cheap’ as there was a promotion going on.
This is the beautiful Karaweik Palace on the Kandawgyi Lake
What saddened me most was the state of the economy; caused presumably by the economic sanctions by the Western powers. In my hotel, I hardly saw any Caucasian tourists. Most of them were business people from India, Thailand and maybe some Singaporeans.
Let me just cite a couple of examples.
In the photos below, you see the beautiful Inya Lake, near the Yangon University. At the edge of the lake, you may be able to make out some chalets and an amusement part. On closer look, I found that the chalets were all unoccupied and abandoned; and in a state of disrepair. What a waste. Imagine how popular such a place would be to Singaporeans. The facilities at amusement park were run down and the eating outlets quite empty.
People fishing at the Lake Inya. Across the road (right of this photo) is another Spore hotel; the Sedona
There was a Chinese restaurant next to my hotel – huge enough for wedding banquets. Out of curiosity, I went there 1 evening. To my surprise, I found that I was the only customer there. Just picture it, 3 or 4 waiters pandering to 1 diner. I thought maybe it was just a coincidence, and so I went there the following evening; and guess what? Exactly the same situation. I asked the head waiter and he told me that was the normal situation. They depended mainly on weekend wedding dinners and banquets, and occasional group tours – mainly from Thailand for their income.
I don’t know or care much about politics. But it just does not seem right to me to punish a people because of their government. I often see blog sites where young Singaporeans lambaste the government of Myanmar about their human rights record and so on. But it seems to me, these young people are simply echoing what they read in the internet from Western websites. If only they could make a trip to the country and see what I saw; maybe they will change their tune.
I am looking forward to another opportunity visit this beautiful country. This time I promise I will come back with lots of pictures of Singapore in the 60’s and 70’s.
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