Category Archives: People

Greed is good

I have been quite active extending my business network since my last article a couple months ago. Within a few months I expect to sustain my family with mostly Myanmar income.

One of the people I recently met was Jouni, who came from London to create the most innovative web agency in Myanmar. We plan to work together in the future, as we share the same technology background and have the same vision of excellence in IT.

Wishing for more congestion

As we were stuck in traffic jams, Jouni made the remark that Myanmar people will only try collective solutions after the individualistic ones have failed. As a consequence, we should wish for the city to be so clogged by car traffic (air pollution that not matter) that the leaders have no choice but to investigate those collective solutions. Traffic jams are very egalitarian, they afflict rich and poor the same.

City development & Environment

Yangon is suffering from anarchic construction. Everywhere, old trees, gardens and heritage buildings are being wiped to make room for ridiculously expensive condominiums that will remain empty since nobody can afford the prices asked.

There seems to be no will from public authorities to anticipate and improve the public infrastructure (roads, electricity, sewage system) before it is too late. With 30% more cars in the street every year, this is critical.

Personal behavior

Nouveau riche are showing off everywhere in Yangon, by building the biggest houses (complete with neoclassical columns), by purchasing the biggest and most wasteful cars (hummer for example), by gold-plating even walls. I know few wealthy people who behave low-profile and it is because they are hated enough that they do not want to be recognized in public.

The use of private security people is widespread, every door or window is protected by a steel grid, barbed wire lives at the top of every wall to protect from undesired exposure. How about trespassers, will they be shot on sight?

When purchasing the biggest cars some may be thinking that “in case of accident the other will die and not me”. The driving problems are made worse by the total disrespect for the driving rules, where everything is allowed to pass before the neighbor, at the cost of making the problem worse collectively (driving in one-way lane, doubling on right, use the turn-right-only lane to actually go straight). I find very funny that many cars proudly display a “drive safely” sticker.

Business attitude

Civil servants and private sector employees are underpaid, they do not get their share of growing economy. After all, only the “investor” is taking risk so they should reap all the reward. As consequence, corruption of policemen is widespread, public sector bleeds (especially in the medical staff) and private sector employees jump ship at first opportunity, as their employer show no consideration to them.

The same short-sighted mentality is also found in business relationships, where no investment is done by Myanmar party unless the foreign party pays for the feasibility study and pilot projects. “If they don’t pay all, we don’t go”. In western businesses it is expected that when researching new ventures everyone takes their share of investment if they want a share of future profits.

By not sharing control nor doing any investment, by trying to corner the markets as if they were still closed, Myanmar businesses are headed to painful times, as they won’t have fixed their competitiveness and productivity issues when efficient foreign competitors enter the market.


Drivers Wanted

As we were returning from dinner with our good friends in Shwe Sa Bwe restaurant, we suspected that our driver is drunk, as he barely managed to extract our car from the parking lot, missed the crossing of Parami and Kaba Aye Pagoda roads, would not stay on the lane and in general took very dangerous moves. We had to tell the driver to slow down and return home at senator’s pace.

During the 2 years I have been living in this country, I have seen a number of drivers. My little family share two cars and drivers with my wife’s parents and sister. If one of the drivers has been with us all these years, we were not so lucky with the second driver. In Myanmar, it can be quite difficult to find good drivers and then keep them, because the turnover in a full-employment country is be very high, resulting in either low-quality and/or more demanding applicants (we are quite open).

We got so far:

  • the trusty and reliable driver, who drives safely and can anticipate our every move to save your time. He stayed with us for more than 2 years, even if he once considered becoming a taxi driver, we treat him as if he is family.
  • the young and impertinent driver, who abandons the car and visits my friend’s house without asking for permission. After he was resigned we found out that he had show us a fake driving license.
  • the 65 year old, quite friendly driver, with his tattoos and large smile, who (at our surprise) left after 3 months because he wanted to earn more to sustain his two permanent mistresses.
  • the youngest of all, our interim driver, who is paid by father-in-law’s company and that we borrow every time we need an extra driver. I like him quite a lot even if his English is limited.
  • the last driver, with his teeth stained by betel, who drove us while drunk the other night.

We decided to let that last driver go on 31st December because of his unacceptable behavior. However, he surprised us by resigning on his own to “become a taxi driver”. My mother-in-law was so pleased that she let him go early with his full month paid. My father-in-law doubts that he will be successful as taxi driver, as he has to learn to not scare away the clients. We will know soon what happens to him, because taxi drivers have to pay 10.000 kyats (around $12) per day to the taxi owner, which is quite a lot for local people.

So, if you are a skilled driver looking for a new home in 2013, who behaves well, please contact us. You will be paid well and have bonuses every time you have to stay after 19h00.

Dear reader, I wish you a mingalar 2013, that is a year of joy and prosperity.

Thadingyut concert

In Myanmar, Thadingyut is the Festival of Light, three days to celebrate the end of the Buddhist lent. This year, Thadingyut happens between 29th and 31st October.

In a middle-class township of Yangon, the former capital of the country formerly known as Burma, an improvised concert stage has been erected between two buildings. A large but peaceful Crowd is filling the main street, the parking lot behind the buildings, and every window of each floor.

People at Thadingyut concert

The Diva is now singing and the Crowd is one with her. Parents, Children, Grand-Parents, Friends, Couples, Families, Single people… everyone is taken over by the music.

Meanwhile a baby is crying because he hears the voice of his aunt in the distance and feels left alone.

Once the four songs are over, all children and young adults come and ask the Diva for an autograph or a photograph with her.

Then the Diva and her parents swim out from the Crowd, exhausted… Ei Bien Meh… Let’s return home, just opposite the street.

The formerly crying baby is now enjoying deep sleep.