Category: Myanmar, 2013

Ferries, Trishaws and Visions for the Future

January 27

After breakfast at the hotel, we head for a return visit to U Hla Win’s gallery, but, as we are early, we walk through a market near Hillary’s apartment. It’s nice to see a market at which there are no tourists, though Hillary indicates that this is a market frequented by richer people, who drive there.

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We spend another hour with U Hla Win, who enthusiastically shows us around again. There is a watercolor that both Carol and I like, and we’re mulling it over. May depend on whether U Hla Win is prepared to move off of his “fixed price.”

We head down to the jetty to take a huge ferry over to Dalla, a fifteen minute ride. For foreigners, the ride is two dollars each way. For the working class folks who commute to Yangon daily, the ride costs 4 cents, each way. Hordes of people walk onto the boat, ranging from monks to people in ordinary dress to some who are dressed to the nines (for reasons we will later discover). Vendors on board hawk everything from watermelon to cigarettes to shirts to trinkets (including a plastic snake we purchase for Jasper). It is quite a scene.

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On the other side, Hillary and Carol to bargain for two trishaws, bicycles that have a side platform that will sort of fit two people, one facing front and one rear. Carol and Hillary share a trishaw.

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Our drivers pedal us around town, stopping at a modern pagoda that looks a bit like an amusement park, which houses both Buddhas and nats, and then at a Christian orphanage, where a service with lively music is taking place. The orphanage houses 17 kids, including the five children of the man who runs it and his wife. We leave a donation and move on.

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We pass a spot where Hillary says a wedding is going on. When I ask whether we are invited, Hillary asks if we’d like to go, and I say, “of course.” We are welcomed warmly and invited to eat (we decline). It is an Indian-style wedding, and this being the fourth of these that I have crashed (the other three on three different trips to India), I am now entirely comfortable pushing to the front, taking photos and greeting family members. It’s a festive affair with a loud band and a distinctly non-traditional dance by a young Indian woman. This solves the mystery of the fancy dresses on the ferry.

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We ferry back and drive to a spot for lunch, before moving on to the home of Damon and Stacy Zumbroegel, friends of Dotty, and our connection in getting to U Hla Win. Damon was a very successful architect in San Francisco and has had a long-standing interest in the Far East. He’s been coming to Yangon for nine years and moved here two years ago, Stacy and their two small daughters joining them a year ago. He has retired from his architectural practice in the US, which has spawned half a dozen other successful practices, since he left. I’d say he’s about fifty.

Damon thinks that the dramatic changes we’ve seen recently have been in the works for years, and decided to come here before any of it surfaced. A couple of years ago, when he and Dotty wanted to talk, they had to do so in a whisper at the back of a coffee shop. two years ago, he could not teach a meditation class, because it would bring more than five people together. the number of ex-pats, which was at about 200 a year ago has swelled to around 2000. He is certain that Daw Aung San Su Kyi will be elected president. She is, he says, “the real deal.”

Damon is completely unabashed in talking about the for-profit opportunities in Myanmar, and plans to establish a unique brand of hospitality-based operations around the country. He will use these as a base for sustainable growth to provide all the necessities of food, clothing, medical and shelter through a non-profit entity or entities he is creating. Damon has a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish. He calls his project Vihara, and subtitles it “sustainable hospitality in a peaceful abode.” At this point, he has half a dozen Americans and about ten Burmese working for him. His initial developments will be outside Yangon and in Bagan, where he has already acquired land. He’s to send me details, and I hope that we will stay in touch.

We returned to our hotel for a few hours of rest and blogging. Hillary picked us up and took us downtown to an Indian storefront restaurant, with waiters and staff shouting back and forth at each other. Our dinner was nicely-paced as we were done in roughly 22 minutes, at which time I paid our $5 tab (no tip necessary). I decided to save the goat’s brains with rice dish for our next visit, though it certainly was tempting.

Beer and snacks back in the very peaceful hotel bar, before retiring for the night.

Ferries, Trishaws and Visions for the Future

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