Thursday, January 15, 2009

2 Myanmar pictures - street hawker & bungalows

2 pictures from Myanmar taken in Oct 2008

A famous temple where devotees pray to the snakes. A village near to Mandalay. Outside the temple, I have taken a picture of an ice-cream vendor.

Big spacious grounds are beautiful bungalows. On top of the hillock is The Governor's House recreated (see pictures in earlier blog). During the peak season (November to April), the rental of a room in The Governor's house is around US$300 per night.

These bungalows are more affordable to rent and contains a shower and spacious bedroom cum living room with space more than 4 x the average hotel room. Best time to visit is November and December where a hundred thousand flowers bloom. A visit to Pyin Oo Lwin will not be a "hardship" tour for Singapore wives who are not used to bumpy road rides and lack of good bathrooms.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pyin Oo Lwin - The Governor's House

Pyin Oo Lwin's best hotel would be The Governor's House. It is recreated as the original was burnt down during World War II. There is some dispute as to whether the British colonial masters burnt it to prevent the Japanese military from occupying it or whether it was the Japanese who did it.

The spacious master bedroom (picture) would have been the one lived in by The British Governor during his escape from the heat of Yangon during summer. During the peak season in November to April, the rental in the Governor's House can be as high as US$300 for the bigger room. There are chalets or small houses available for rent at a much lower rate. Those living in the chalets have their own breakfast room.

Lovers of architecture and history would appreciate seeing if not living in The Governor's House. My camera lens malfunction as it can't focus. I was confident of the Canon brand. I bought the camera, Canon EOS 40 in July 2008. Just 7 months ago. I used the camera almost every day. No problem in focusing, till around December 24, 2008. I had thought of buying a lens with a longer zoom but it costs $1,000. It will be heavy to bring 2 lenses for this tour. I did not think that the Canon camera would fail me. Well, it is an expensive lesson as photographs after Dec 24 were not sharp. It would be better to bring 2 cameras. Branded cameras are not what they used to be in reliability. A back up camera must be available.

Several competitors. I often wonder how they can sell all their perishable goods and how the smaller ones compete against the bigger ones with more goods. They are all selling the same agricultural products. Why are their customers? Do the smaller vendors with fewer products have loyal customers to survive? Is there severe undercutting of prices? My Myanmarese friends tell me that there is bad economic recession in Myanmar.

In recession Singapore, many companies just have to bring down their prices in order to secure a sale. Or they retrench their staff. Newer companies may charge 50% lower than older ones. At least in Myanmar, the villagers can still survive if they are farmers as they don't consume a lot like people living in developed countries.

I was talking to an unemployed dog owner who wanted to put his 15-year-old dog to sleep. The dog was blind and had difficulty breathing. It was humane to put an old friend to sleep to relieve his suffering. Could the dog live a year more if money was not tight?

The 28-year-old man was retrenched as a manager of a dormitory for foreign workers. The owner of the dormitory had many bad debts as construction companies stop or delay payments and therefore let him go.

"Foreign workers used to be sent back home if they complain," he told me. "Now, they band together to get the newspapers to publicise their plight of being abandoned and not paid by the employers to the MOM (Ministry of Manpower).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Make hay while the sun shines

During my primary school years in the 1957 - 1963, the English teacher wanted us to study English idioms for examinations. One of them was "Make hay while the sun shines". Singapore does have plenty of sunshine but I had no idea what hay looked like. There were small pig and chicken farms in this era.

Nowadays, travel and internet pictures broaden the minds of Singaporean children. I snapped this picture at the right time. It was on the bumpy road where golden rice fields lined the route.

I don't know whether Singapore children still learn such idioms. But "Make hay while the sun shines" still apply to living and business ventures. Only that, the financial people have been making lots of money out of ordinary people by structuring complex financial investment instruments bankrupting the retirees and even top notch investment companies and banks.

Pyin Oo Lwin - Revisit in Dec 26-27 2008

Pyin Oo Lwin gets a thumbs up from my family. It is a beautiful and cool low humidity garrison town. Not a hardship tour as hotel accommodation at The Governor's House is 5-star. There are smaller chalets which cost much less than living in the recreated Governor's House.

I have 3 pictures for viewers and these are my reflections after viewing the pictures and visiting Kandawgyi Gardens.

1. Tourism is down in Myanmar for the past 2 years unlike Singapore which has outpriced itself in charging high hotel rates. In Pyin Oo Lwin and other parts of Myanmar, the hotel rates are value for money. The average Singaporean family can stay in 5-star hotels of The Governor's House without being bankrupted.

Just 2 days ago, I asked an ex-Singaporean why he stayed at the Swiss Hotel in Singapore when I sent him and his family back to the hotel after dinner. He said, "Why save money for my children to spend?" He could afford to indulge in staying in a 5-star hotel in Singapore, having sold out his shares just before the stock market crash. I doubt the average Singaporean can afford Singapore's 5-star hotel.

2. The flower festival at the National Kandawgyi Gardens is in November and December. The scenery reminds me of China's Chairman Mao's "Let a thousand flowers bloom" campaign. Lovers of history will know of the sad consequences.

For those who had seen the martial arts movie "Ip Man", see the young man with an oval shaped face and big eyes. He looked like the younger version of the Japanese General acting as the antagonist to Ip Man in the movie. Many female movie goers go for the handsome actor in the movie and the antagonist's eyes were charismatic and remembered by one lady in her 20s after viewing the movie! Looks do count in life.

3. Flowers in bloom. Children are expensive to bring up in Singapore as they go to school for many years. The younger generation seems to be careful - one child is enough. In a way, the younger generation is smarter as they have more spending money. Go on tour and live life to the fullest as there is no guarantee that children are excellent investments. Many young men die young due to their lifestyles. When they should be "flowers in bloom", they don't take care of themselves, get into drink driving and drugs or murders and robberies.

4. "Mum's little helper" photo. Bringing up a male child is very difficult. I just read about the young man who went out past midnight in Chinatown as this is what young men loved to do. He was killed by a gang arising out of a "staring incident". Several young men in Singapore died in crashing their cars due to drink driving or speeding thrills or getting involved in bike accidents.

5. "Smell the roses". For those over 50 years who can't walk or who have no appreciation for flowers at the Kandawgyi Gardens in November and December, a tram ride is available. When you are in your 30s, walking and hiking in Myanmar enable you to "smell the roses", the fresh countryside air. Instead of going from Point A to B in a tram ride, walk and check out the varieties of flowers and vegetables planted in the Gardens, de-stressing yourself.

In conclusion, Pyin Oo Lwin is not a "hardship" tour for the Singapore wife who dislikes discomfort and unexpected blackouts. No bumpy roads from Mandalay. Cool climate. Low humidity.

Myanmar Tourism helps the ordinary residents to earn a living as more tourists lead to increased employment of the villagers and improving their standard of living. Instead of going to Australia's Gold Coast for the 3rd time, why not bring your children and wives to Pyin Oo Lwin?

Singaporeans interested in tourism in Myanmar, e-mail or tel +65 9668-64686 and I will make some arrangements for you.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lake Indawgyi, Mohnyin Township, North Myanmar

Dec 24, 2008

A hundred sparkling stars dotted the black sky on Christmas eve in this village by Lake Indawgyi. It took 7 hours of car travel from Myitkyina. It was around 5 p.m. The only accommodation for foreign tourist was the military guest house. There were only two foreign guests - my family and a French man. This village is seldom visited by foreign tourists other than Buddhist pilgrims.

Yet there were many churches as I passed the over 20 villages on the way to Lake Indawgyi. The Christian missionaries were dedicated many years ago and brought education and care to the poor villagers.

I expected freezing cold winter days and nights in December. But the days were bright and sunny and cool. The nights were cold but not freezing.

"No electricity except from 6 pm to 8 pm" the guest house caretaker informed us. This was OK with me and the two sons who were now grown up. My sons had served national service for two years and were used to hardship. Except for the mother. It was just not her type of tour.

Dinner would be by candle light if taken after 8 pm. No hot water for bathing. The shower was not working.

I enjoyed this "back to nature" environment. Black skies with hundreds of stars in a village with no lights. Complete blackness. As there was an unhappy Singapore mother, I asked the guide whether this lack of electricity was the norm. The guide asked the care-taker.

"For 20,000 kyats (S$20.00) or a full house of 15 guests, I would have turned on the power generator to provide electricity." Even the Yangon travel agent had not known about this situation.

But it was the most memorable breakfast my two sons would ever have. A bona fide candlelit breakfast with no lighting outside. I don't know whether they appreciate the tour to visit and understand more about the ordinary Myanmar farmers and villagers. Definitely they would not forget the bona fide candlelit breakfast and mummy's complaints. Such tours are not for Singaporeans who want efficiency and comfort of first world countries!