Saturday, April 22, 2006

Memories of a Beautiful Country

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).

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This is the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. At night, it can be seen from miles away when it is lit up

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.


22 comments:

Chris said...

Thanks for sharing Chee See. Have you realised that people from the so-called "third world" countries tend to be humble and gregarious? I felt the same when I was in Thailand last year. Put us kiasu and kiasi Singaporeans to shame sometimes.

從慶 said...

keep up your good work..

Victor said...

I had the chance to come into contact with some Vietnamese some 20 years ago. I find that they are also very hospitable people, just like the Myanmese whom you have described here. Though they were not well to do, they invited me to an elaborate home cooked meal. Really heartwarming (not to forget stomach-filling too).

I just find out recently that my nephew's fiance is a Vietnamese. Good, I can practise some of my very rusty Vietnamese with her.

Sai OK, Sean said...

Mr. Lam, a great post and thanks again on behalf of the people of Myanmar. I felt warm and great reading your post. There are only so much I(we) want to talk but for the time being I will have to restrain myself and talk something politically correct.

Dont you worry about the words coming from your heart.I assure you that we are very understanding and we know it too well that you are stating the facts and it's not an insult.

visit us often and we need people like you to spread words of mouth about wonders of Myanmar. We are third world but spritually and the people are not...We are poor but I am sure you know..you can go around without any worry that you might get robbed or kidnapped.. And if we talk about personal safety and robberies.. we are next only to Singapore amongst ASEAN countries...and you know I mean it..we are lacking in physical Infrastructure and wealth but hey the rest is....I leave it to you.. Mr. Lam.. please comment on what you see and feel..

Lam Chun See said...

Oh yes - I forgot to mention. I felt very safe when I was in Yangon. Becos of a previous unpleasant incident in Jakarta, I always feel a bit paranoid when in crowded foreign cities. But everyone I met, my trainees, taxi-driver and hotel staff, assured me it was quite safe.

As you know, Myanmar is under military rule. There were lots of soldiers with M16s on the street. One taxi-driver told me; "If anyone try to be funny, just yell - and they will take care of you."

I think that's another attraction for us 'kiasi' Sporeans. One more attraction is that many Myanmar people speak English. Like us, they too were a former British colony.

household name said...

Mr Lam,
Lovely photos!

I've read 'The Voice of Hope', a book of interviews with Aung San Suu Kyi on various subjects. Think you will like it. I found it inspiring.

Ya, I agree with all the comments about people in supposedly 'less developed' countries having a lot more 'heart' than us Singaporeans. I see that in Thais, Indonesians, Filipinos, Malaysians, Cambodians... and I've concluded that it is a very 'Southeast Asian' thing.

Why are Singaporeans so 'different'? Maybe because we are too 'developed', in the material sense. And also, the majority us, being Chinese, are not 100% 'Southeast Asian'.

Lam Chun See said...

Household Name - Thanks for the recommendation. Don't be surprised if my friend the Rambling Librarian asks you to do a book review.

zen said...

The greatness of country lies in its people. After reading Chun See's description of Myanmar and its people, one should be proud that this country is a family member of ASEAN. I believe the Myanmar people would one day bring the country back to its glorious past.

Maria Palma said...

Mr. Lam,

It certainly is refreshing to read stories like this of exceptional customer service. It's very rare to come across this type of service nowadays in the U.S. Thank you for sharing! By the way, I've given you an award on my blog :)

Lam Chun See said...

Thank you Maria. Glad you liked this article. Just wondering how a US blogger on customer service finds her way into a Spore blog about kampong life and Qing Ming and so on.

Lam Chun See said...

"The greatness of country lies in its people."

Such a simple and profound statement. Wonder what are its implictions for Spore?

Victor said...

"Just wondering how a US blogger on customer service finds her way into a Spore blog about kampong life and Qing Ming and so on."

Simple, Chun See. All Maria needed to do was to do a google blog search with the search phrase "customer service" to find your blog.

Maria is right - after all, a hotel staff wishing you "Happy Birthday" is good customer service, except that it is a bit out of context/topic here. Besides, by quoting your blog, Maria had already got more than 3/4 of her post written, all by just a few keystrokes. And you couldn't even call it plagiarizing because she did attribute the quote to you and even gave you a trophy award for it. Very clever of her, right?

Oh before I forget, congratulations for winning the award.

Victor said...

Zen, did you read my challenge to you in Chun See's last post?

Victor said...

Oh I forgot to add that I strongly feel that Maria's Customer Service Award should rightfully go to the hotel cab driver instead of you. You should have been awarded Most Appreciative Customer Award instead.

Sorry that my responses comes in bits and pieces. Must be over-50 minds all work like that. The good thing is that it helps to boost your comment count.

zen said...

Victor - Thanks for your challenge, but I have given a reply of my status i.e. only a visitor to Chun See's blog, under the 'Poems' column.

We should not consider ourselves as ugly 'Singaporeans'. We are in fact noted for our generosity and compassion. Look at our aids given to Tsunami & Earthquake victims, despite being a tiny 'red dot' nation. However, we should take correct our shortcomings and polish up our 'rough edges'

Victor said...

Zen, I agree whole-heartedly with you about Singaporeans being generous and compassionate... and if I may add, gullible too - look at the NKF issue. (Not too long ago, the MM's daughter pointed out this trait in us and ruffled quite a few feathers too.)

But I am glad that we are polishing up the rough edges for that too.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor, her award to be was not for customer service. "Mr. Lam, I present to you the Good Customer Service Story Award :)". As a trainer/consultant, I understand why she always looks out for annecdotes of this sort.

Talking about gullible Sporeans, I am reminded about the many who paid good money to watch the famous Taiwanese 'singer', Shu Mei Fung (oops - hope I didn't ruffle any feathers here. Haha)

Anyway, there's another famous Taiwanese who calls us 'stupid'. In case you don't know, his name is Li Ao.

Victor said...

Of course, I know who Li Ao is. That big mouth appeared on the news so many times.

zen said...

Singaporean gullible - yes, but there is a price for everything. Those fellows who exploit our gullibility suddenly jolted up to realise that they may have to spend their coming holidays in the infamous 'Hotel Changi'

johnng said...

I totally agreed with you. I visited the country a few times between 1995 to 1999. The people are simply wonderful. Sadly their life is hard due to the action against the government by outsiders. There is lack of economic growth and infrastructure are lacking... I wish them well and hope that time is better now...

Maria Palma said...

Hi!

I'm a little late in the conversation, but just to let you know that I'm always on the lookout for good customer stories. I subscribe to a RSS Feed for the keyphrase "customer service".

I started the Good Customer Service Story Award to inspire more people to tell their good stories. Too often I read negative stories and it is very tiresome! I want to promote more positive story telling in the world instead of all the negative we see and read in traditional media.

shasha said...

him nice info here,,
I'm going to visit australia, but as I googling around and came across http://www.evisaasia.com, it stated the visa is only for single entry, does anyone know is there any way to get multiple entry visa? Currently I'm in Malaysia. need travel more than 1months.any help?