Thursday, August 27, 2015

Messages From Myanmar #01

Messages From Myanmar #01
28 August 2015

Hello there… Rodger French here.

I am pleased to report that A.J. and I are alive and/or well and now living in Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma). The trip over was long (22 hours in the air, 12.5 time zones) and uneventful, notwithstanding that I spent most of my birthday in pressurized flying tubes. But Anne cashed in some serious frequent flyer miles, so we flew the Dallas-Seoul leg in Bidness Class. Best birthday present ever.

[World Travelers Sidebar - Pensacola to Yangon jet lag is truly massive.]

We are ensconced in a furnished apartment in Tower 2 of the Shangri-La Residences, one of many new high-rises catering to the flood of foreigners engulfing Myanmar. Now that the military regime has loosened its grip somewhat, international sanctions have been lifted and business is booming. As a result, construction is spilling into the streets and traffic is increasingly heinous, so much so that we will likely forgo the purchase of a car, relying instead on taxis.

[Comestibles Sidebar - Thankfully, I have successfully scouted some places within walking distance where we can acquire provisions. This is essential; one should be able to walk to food.]

The Embassy, which is decidedly not within walking distance, has a similar design to the one in Ghana, so it feels very familiar. The check-in process is underway and, assuming the Burmese MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) cooperates, we should have all our necessary documentation squared away soon. Más o menos. We think.

The same may hopefully be said for all our stuff. Once we are street legal, shipments can be released for delivery, a process that could take many weeks. Meanwhile, we are making do. Our place feels very much like a hotel, so much so in fact, that we don’t know exactly what we’re going to do with our possessions once they finally arrive. And the kitchen is quite small, more suited to a large boat. But we are comfortable and secure, so we’ll make it work.

[Connectivity Sidebar - This is the first posting where we have had Internet access the instant we walked through the door. Which is a bit unexpected and kind of impressive, actually.]

Apart from essential shopping, we haven’t yet begun to explore Yangon, although I can confirm that there are Buddhist temples everywhere, as well as some beautiful lakeside parks. As it is monsoon season, we have daily rains, often downpours, which occasion flooding in the streets and the running of sewage in drainage ditches. And the constant high humidity necessitates 24/7 operations of the air conditioners and dehumidifiers we are fortunate enough to have.

[Slimy Sidebar - Comfort aside; without fans, A/Cs, and dehumidifiers, some very nasty varieties of tropical spores and mold quickly assert their dominance. Not. Acceptable.]

Although we’ve been here less than a week, I am pleased to confirm that the Burmese with whom I have come in contact are, as expected, very polite people. (I’m working assiduously on my bowing technique.) And, thus far, I have been able to walk the streets without being regarded as an ambulatory ATM, for which I am most grateful. (Not the most insightful observation, granted; but it’s early yet.)

Myanmar is a very complicated country with a rich and complex history, much of it, not unlike our own, utterly appalling. (It seems to me that issues of inequality and religious xenophobia are particularly intractable.) But we are here at a historic moment. And, as we approach the elections in November, no one is able to predict with real certainty what will happen. Which is a bit discomfiting, but also kind of cool.

In any case, you may rely on this correspondent for periodic updates. Next time, perhaps, with photoz… jet lag permitting.



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Stateside Memo

Stateside Memo
12 August 2015

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Assuming that the appropriate bureaucratic constellations align in a timely fashion, Anne and I will be departing these American shores in a week or so for Myanmar, aka Burma. As the kidz say, “Shit’s gettin’ real.”

But first, permit me to offer a few fully-half-baked observations on the state of affairs in the US of A from my perspective as an expat, patriot, and once-and-future resident.

1. The pandemic of junk food abuse in the United States continues unabated. Good times for us aficionados of exotic potato chips, bad news for public health. And our obsession with bacon has gone completely around the bend. Bacon ice cream? No. This madness must cease.

2. Basic cable television is basically boring; that is, when it’s not actively appalling. There are exceptions; for example, Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” sayonara, featuring his brilliant soliloquy on “bullshit” and exit music by Springsteen. Also, “Castle” reruns. (No apologies; they remind us of Buenos Aires.)

3. Regarding the so-called “Confederate Flag,” or, more evolutionarily, the “Banner of Treason in Defense of Slavery,” the “Banner of Treason in Defense of White Supremacy,” and the “Banner of Treason in Defense of American Apartheid:” The mercifully few folks I’ve observed proudly flaunting their “Banner of Treason in Defense of Heritage” appeared to embody pretty much every white racist jackass stereotype. Honkies, please!

4. The United States has forfeited any conceivable prerogative to cast aspersions on any other nation’s electoral process (including Argentina and Burma, both with elections later this year). Indeed, achieving parity with the Italians seems less unlikely every day, now that Donald Trump has assumed the role of Silvio Berlusconi, albeit without the charm.

5. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team totally rocks. ‘Nuff said.

6. Gas prices in both Alabama and South Carolina have dipped as low as $2.15.9/gallon. Therefore, since he wrongly gets the blame when gas prices go up, I’d like to take a moment to say “Thanks, President Obama.”

7. Moment of Zen: After three blissful years of not owning a car, we have logged about 4,500 miles on a rental vehicle during home leave, often on seriously overcrowded highways unconducive to happy motoring. But one day, while driving on I-85N through NC, I slipped behind an 18-wheeler belonging to an automobile racing team and driven by a real pro, drafting for a considerable distance until he exited at a weigh station. Possibly the best driver with whom I’ve ever slipstreamed on our Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. (Thanks, Ike.)

Finally, since there is no such thing as too much bacon reiteration, the third in the ongoing series of my postings from exotic locales is available from at a ridiculously reasonable price:

This is a companion book to the first two volumes:

Collect the set. Coming soon: “Messages From Myanmar.”

All thanks to family and friends who generously accommodated us, thereby making our trip Stateside a rip-roaring success. We are deeply grateful and love you madly.

Hasta Birmania. Onward.