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Month 14 Reflection Posted

I just posted a new reflection, which you can feel free to check out: https://lifeinmyanmar.org/monthly-reflections/month-14-living-today/

I will be departing Myanmar on Dec. 4th and arriving back in the U.S. on Dec. 8th after spending a few days in Seoul. To that end, Month 14 Reflection will likely be my last one for this stint in Myanmar.

Looking forward to seeing family and friends in person back in the U.S.

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Election Results: Massive Victory for NLD

By now most of you have probably heard about the results of the 2015 elections here in Myanmar. In short, the opposition party (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won a sweeping victory.

People have been asking me what it’s been like here. It’s actually been pretty quiet overall. I’m sure if I ventured out to the rallies, polling stations, or the party headquarters I’d see much more activity, but there wasn’t widespread celebrations and parades in the streets across the city. Election day itself was actually the quietest day I have ever experienced in Yangon — it was like a ghost town.

This is just the first step in the path toward change. Yes the NLD has won, dethroning the military-backed incumbent, but the military is in fact still in the background. How much are they still holding the strings? Well, we’ll find out over the next 5 years that the NLD has in the coming term.

Here’s an article from the New York Times that sums up the challenges:

Myanmar Military Still Big Power Despite Opposition Victory

I found this map on Facebook, which is kind of janky, but it gives you a broad sense of the results across the country. Red = NLD. Pyithu Hluttaw = House of Representatives.

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The below image (I believe from Myanmar Times) is what the House of Representatives (Pyithu Hluttaw) is going to look like. That big block of green on the left is the automatic military presence. Red=NLD.

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The below image (from Wikipedia) is what the current setup looks like. The colors are a little misleading.

  • In the below image, the 110 dark red spots (just right of center) are equal to the 110 green spots above, which is the military.
  • In the below image, the massive green chunk (212) is the USDP (military-backed, but not technically military, party), which is equivalent to the small teal section above (28).
  • In the below image, the small lighter red section (to the right of the darker red section) is the NLD (37), which is equivalent to the massive red segment above (217).

 

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Hope that provides a bit more color, and a summary, to what you may be hearing in the news. There is a ton of additional commentary on the NLD, elections, incumbents, ethnic groups, etc. but I’ll let you all dig into that based on your interest levels.

Note: I pulled these charts at different points in time post elections (from different sources), so the numbers/representations may have changed or may not be totally accurate.

What’s up with the “visa run”?

So there’s a peculiar thing if you live in a place like Myanmar. Every once in a while you are supposed to fly out of the country, and then re-enter, in order to renew your visa. I haven’t had to do this before because I’ve either left the country anyway, or had been issued cushy visas through Proximity that bypassed that hassle. This disappointingly short Quora response makes some sense, I guess: “The main reason for this is likely to ensure that, should your visa be denied, you will not have the option of entering/remaining in the country.” However, with Myanmar’s eVisa system, one is able to secure the visa while still being in the country. What gives?

At first I was going to simply overstay my prior-issued work visa ($3/day fee and a light scolding at the airport is the extent of the damage, from what I’ve heard). Turns out that the sponsoring company who issued me the visa wasn’t too excited about that, so I had to make a last-minute pivot, apply for a tourist visa yesterday (buys me another 28 days), book my flights for a same-day trip to Thailand, and here I am, sitting in Don Mueng airport in Bangkok.

So now I have some more time to think about the absurdity of this. I received a visa, but instead of being able to go to some central location like the Immigration Office, and be like, “Hey guys, here’s my visa approval letter, can you stamp my passport and then we can call it day?” Or maybe just go through the departures immigration stands at the airport and walk back through arrivals immigration stand. Nope, $186.50 later, I get to spend the afternoon at Don Mueng airport. [note: there’s a chance there is an easier way, in which case this paragraph will make me sound stupid, but that’s ok]

Glass half full, I got to see a mind-bending display of airport mega-commerce (I think it was 10+ check-out stations for luxury duty-free wares) at the airport:

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AND, I got to eat a Subway sandwich (the honey mustard tastes like honey mustard):

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If this were to become a more regular ordeal, I’d probably try to see if there is an easier way, despite the daunting complexities and language barriers that seem, at least on the surface, to exist.

It’s also probably good I’m not testing the boundaries on the overstay given that elections (first truly “democratic” ones in ~50 years) happen on Sunday (the day before my visa expired).

Anyway, in other news, I had a chance to go bowling last night with some friends from Proximity. Talk about a throw-back bowling alley:

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The grandfather clock is an interesting addition.

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Keeping half the lanes off seems to be a power conservation thing.

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I actually had the best game that I can remember. All those elementary school bowling classes at Bradley Bowl coming back to me!

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Hoping for an uneventful trip back to Yangon this evening. Will plan to post again with more transparency around next steps. This tourist visa has lit a bit of a fire under me now to try and hammer out those plans.

Structuring Time

I wanted to provide a quick update, although there isn’t a whole lot to update on. I continue to work on exploring different paths for next steps while keeping my antennas up for potential short-term consulting work.

Last week I completed my first paid consulting contract (a couple days work), which was with the Chin Human Rights Organization (http://chro.ca). I helped them take a pile of raw data on flood/landslide damages from Chin State and structure/analyze/present it to both aid organizations and local community-based organizations with the goal of helping to efficiently channeling resources to the people in need.

Aside from that, I have been trying to structure my days to give myself a goal and keep myself feeling as if I am building toward something. I was inspired by a hilarious blog post about procrastination (“How to Beat Procrastination“) on a blog called “Wait but Why” which talked about placing one brick each day in order to build a house – that is, to accomplish larger goals (by the way, here is the original post in the series on Procrastination that hooked me: Procrastination Matrix – warning: it’s a bit brash). To that end, I have been trying to devote about 1 hour per day to each of the following areas, which in the short term don’t seem that exciting, but hopefully in the long term will bear fruit:

  • Exploring local start-up opportunities
  • Explore job opportunities at existing organizations (both within and outside of Myanmar)
  • Practice the Burmese language
  • Study the Bible/Christianity
  • Do something creative
  • Do something physical (at least 3x per week)

That fills up about 5 hours per day, with some flex time for meals, breaks, other things that come up, chores, or some items that take more than one hour. For today, I’ll provide an update on two of those.

1. Local start-up opportunities: I continue to meet with my friend about potential paths to start a business here in Myanmar. For a while we were thinking of a model that would serve ex-pats but hire locals. I was able to triangulate in on an estimate for total ex-pats living in Myanmar (from developed nations), which comes to about 10,000 people. Assuming multiple people per family, this number is maybe more like 5,000 family units. Even if each family spent $100/year with the company, the total market size would be $500,000. Assuming we could capture 50% of the market (which is aggressive), that means at scale the business would generate $250,000 in revenue (needed to cover all costs). Quite a small market. So because of that we are now pivoting to consider other potential paths, but a lot is still up in the air.

2. Creative time: This is a more recent addition, which sort of spawned out of the vacuum of time I have here when I would be doing something like watching TV (although we don’t have cable), watching a movie (although legally buying/renting movies here is challenging/expensive), or reading a book (sometimes I’m just too tired or unmotivated). I have recently really gotten into an animation studio called Studio Ghibli (now defunct). Perhaps the preeminent Japanese animation studio, which was led by Hayao Miyazaki, one of the greatest animators (arguably up there with Walt Disney), it has been known for its production of classic animated movies such as My Neighbor Totoro. Throughout my life I’ve loved to sketch, and I’ve faded in and out of it at different points in time. However, watching some of these hand-drawn movies has been inspiring, so I’ve taken up sketch again (at least for now). In a previous sketching kick back in Boston last year, I had bought a set of sketch pencils and eraser, which I had brought with me here. I started out with a simple line drawing, but I’ve never really learned how to shade, so that’s something I’ve just started to try as well.

Line drawing inspired by My Neighbor Totoro (which I replicated from looking at a picture):

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A sketch based off of the shading tutorial by Will Kemp Art School (after realizing that I really need to start adding shading to my line drawings without fearing that I’m going to ruin them):

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I started to get frustrated the other day when I was pondering why I stopped taking art classes (the last time I can remember taking one is my freshman year of high school), as it is something I enjoyed and still enjoy. I guess poetry sort of took its place (and then some acting) in high school, and then more creative writing in college, but this seemed to fall by the wayside as “adult life” overtook things, popping back up over the years now and again. Feels like there could have been a healthier way to balance art (or artistic creativity more generally) and business/work, but who knows.

Another quick update is that my roommate (co-lead of Proximty’s design team), has officially launched the new product he’s been working on for the last couple years. It is a solar pump for rural farmers here in Myanmar. Here’s a picture I took from the product launch:

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Here’s a really cool view of Shwedagon Pagoda that I had while eating at a pizza restaurant one night:

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Here’s a great restaurant that I went to that featured Shan style food:

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General Update

You’ve probably just seen the transportation post I wrote, but I wanted to provide a more general update on things going on.

Work

This is probably the most pressing item and something that is on your minds as well.

Here’s a quick rundown:

  1. Joyable, online mental health (San Francisco, CA)
    • Dinged after the data analysis round.
  2. Searchfunder, online crowdsourcing platform for small/mid-sized businesses in the U.S. (Portland, OR)
    • Option to work with a couple of my business school classmates on a start-up.
  3. Anthem Asia, venture capital fund (Yangon)
    • Meeting pending to learn more.
  4. Local start-up, social business to empower the marginalized in Myanmar (Yangon)
    • Active conversations with a potential co-founder.
  5. Yovel, social business for North Korean resettlement (Seoul, Korea)
    •  Option to work with a friend in Seoul on a young business

For #4, a potential concept is a way to standardize low-skill processes that could be taught to the marginalized here in Yangon and provided as a service to ex-pats (e.g. this is a company in India with a similar concept: Zimmber). Not immediately drawn to the other options as of now (#5 could be cool but would be a drastic and high-risk shift). My visa expires Nov. 9th, so I need to figure out a way to get a visa renewal until Dec. 21st, which is the general deadline I’m giving myself to figure out next steps (its when I fly back to the U.S. for the Christmas/New Year holidays).

Food

Quick update that I’m still eating well, and have not been getting sick. I’ve done some Korean cooking, with the help of a Korean-American friend who lives here in Yangon, which has been great.

The first two pictures are of Korean tofu stew (sundubu) and the second two of are Korean-style pancakes.

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Here’s is part of a menu from a restaurant I went to the other day with a few friends (two of them had birthday). Kachin is a ethnic minority in northeastern Myanmar. Here’s more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kachin_State.

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Activities

Today, with a friend, I visited the Logos Hope, which claims to be the largest floating book store in the world. It has been docked at a harbor in Yangon. It is operated by a German Christian charitable organization and has a clear Christian influence. The boat was quite large, but I was underwhelmed by the bookstore, which was comparatively small. It was so impressive though to see the sheer number of people there.

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Elections

Just a quick note on elections to finish up this post. Elections are approaching (about a month away), and there is more of a campaigning presence these days. Most notably, I’ve been seeing many flags in Yangon supporting the NLD (National League for Democracy), represented by Aung San Suu Kyi.

I just took the below picture today which shows a poster of Bogyoke (General) Aung San, who is Aung San Suu Kyi’s father and who was assassinated in 1947 by political rivals (prior to the 1962 coup that led to the subsequent military rule for the next 50 years — and the more recent reform processes that have been taking place). (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myanmar)

Note: You can also see an advertisement for Ooredoo in the foreground, which is one of the two private mobile operations (the other being Telenor) in addition to the government operator (MPT). I believe that green wall is actually part of a huge advertisement on the side of a building for Sunkist.

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