Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Messages From Myanmar #11

Messages From Myanmar #11
17 February 2016

Photo Update Alert:

Hello there… Rodger French here.

This past weekend was a double dip for national holidays: Friday was Union Day, when Myanmar celebrates the Panglong Agreement of 1947, and the following Monday was President’s Day, when the United States celebrates mattress sales. For A.J and me, the long weekend provided an opportunity to take a break from Yangon, so off we went to Singapore.

I don’t know a lot about the world’s only island city-state, but I can testify to the following: It is tropical, crowded, and booming, with construction everywhere. It is very clean (seriously, there is nearly no observable funk) and everything seems to work, especially the excellent public transportation system. Singapore is also saturated with immense shopping malls, in some areas literally every single block. It’s actually amazing.

[Commerce Sidebar - Amazing and yet somewhat depressing. This worldwide trend for malls that have the same brand-name stores and carry the same brand-name brands makes for a generic/boring brand-name shopping experience. It’s like walking through an endless Duty Free zone.]

In our defense, we didn’t spend much time haunting the malls. We chose instead to utilize the Singapore Airlines Hop-On Bus and joined other tourists (mostly Chinese and Australian) in exploring the city and its attractions:

Singapore Flyer - A 165 m (541 ft) Ferris wheel that provides wicked cool views of the entire city, particularly Marina Bay. Unfortunately, the capsules are enclosed (some trifling safety concerns, one imagines), so photoz tend to have an unavoidable bluish tint. But a lovely ride, just the same.

Chinatown - The Lunar New Year (Year of the Golden Monkey) was still being celebrated and the ‘hood was decked out accordingly. Strolling past the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, and the Sri Mariamman (Hindu) Temple, we made our way to Maxwell Market, a place famously fraught with food hawkers, with hopes of an exotic lunch.

[Exotic Lunch Sidebar - Some guidebooks suggest that the best approach to hawker stalls is simply to get in the longest line, the length of the queue being indicative of the quality of the food. But standing for over an hour just to eat chicken and rice did not seem the wisest use of our time, so Anne and I bailed on Maxwell Market and scored some delicious “KFC” (Korean Fried Chicken) in a quiet little place on the main drag.]

Singapore River Cruise - We love boat cruises, so the opportunity to get off our feet and into a breeze was most welcome. The history of Singapore is fascinating, especially the era when the port was still a haven for the disreputable and dangerous. The highlight of the cruise was the spectacle of the Merlion (head of a lion, body of a fish, and all kinds of awesome), the official national icon.

Raffle’s Hotel Singapore - Named for Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, this very swank and metastasized 5-star joint has been catering to the connected since 1887. It is indeed a beautiful hotel and the gift shoppe is quite deluxe. We arrived at 11:30 and the gringos were already lining up at the Long Bar, home of the Singapore Sling (interestingly, a ladies alternative to scotch invented in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon).

Peranakan Museum - Housed in a refurbished Chinese school, this small gem of a museum is dedicated to the culture of the Peranakan; meaning, as I understand it, mixed-race descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled on the Malay Archipelago. We latched onto a tour in progress with an expert docent who exposited on many topics, particularly Peranakan wedding customs. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and the cultural highlight of our visit.

On our final evening, A.J. and I walked to the slightly downscale mall next door and had Indonesian fast food: Cheap, plentiful, and tasty (and no lines) - a fine way to wrap up our holiday. And we returned to Yangon with a list of sightseeing possibilities for another occasion when our two great countries inadvertently sandwich a weekend between national days of celebration.



Monday, February 8, 2016

Messages From Myanmar #10

Messages From Myanmar #10
08 February 2016

Hello there… Rodger French here.

Coming close on the heels of Groundhog Day, today marks the beginning of the Chinese (Lunar) New Year: “Year of the Fire Monkey.” And, to compound the awesomeness, it is also Super Bowl Sunday Monday. I will explain.

Super Bowl L - excuse me, “50” - kicked off on Sunday at 18:30 ET; but since Yangon is 11.5 hours ahead of, oh, let’s say Charlotte NC, kickoff here was 06:00 the next day, hence Super Bowl Monday. Which was celebrated in All-American style by the two-dozen or so hardy fans who showed up at the Marine House bright and/or early for the game. The Marines did a fine job of hosting, offering scrambled eggs, French toast, juice, and coffee at modest cost.

The spectators, mostly guys, came for the game, NOT the commercials (largely unmemorable except for the CBS promos, which were actively irritating) or the halftime show (except for BeyoncĂ©, maybe). The game had the requisite compelling story lines: two great defenses, young black QB vs. old white QB, and… well, that was about it. In the end, however, there was only one story and it was about one great defense. For those of you who haven’t heard, Denver beat Carolina 24-10.

[Halftime Sidebar - The halftime show was, like the featured band Coldplay, acceptable. But running in a couple of ringers (Bey and Bruno Mars) was a smart move. Historically, their performance ranks… meh, somewhere in the middle, between the worst show ever (Black Eyed Peas, no contest) and the best (Prince, IMHO).]

The game itself was a mess and a bit of a bore: 18 penalties, 15 punts, 12 sacks, 7 fumbles, 2 interceptions, and several blown calls by the refs. Credit Denver’s defense, they were fierce and deserved to win, although Carolina’s offensive play calling was suspect as hell. The old white QB got his second ring and will hang ‘em up (if he has any sense at all), while the young black QB got his ass handed to him. But, “young” being the operative word, he could well be back, hopefully without having to carry the whole damned team next time.

Anyway… kudos to the Embassy Yangon Marines for hosting America’s premier TV patriotic/religious/commercial sporting event here on the other side of the planet. It was a fun opportunity to hang with fellow expats, viewing the appallingly overhyped finale to another season of a brutal sport that indisputably destroys the brains of many of the people who play it. And no, the irony of my hypocrisy is not lost on me; and yes, I am trying to come to terms with it. But that’s not so easy… I really do enjoy many aspects of the game.

[Personal Sports Sidebar - My father and I bonded watching the Cleveland Browns way back in the day. And just for the record, Jim Brown is still the greatest football player ever.]

In other news, A.J. and I are off to Singapore next weekend to continue celebrating the “Year of the Groundhog Fire Monkey.” Details and photoz presumably to follow. Happy New Year!