Where are you – and what are you doing – on your PiA fellowship?
I’m the Mandalay bureau chief for the Myanmar Times newspaper, which is the most respected news organisation in Myanmar. Mandalay is the second largest city in the country, and is traditionally seen as the cultural capital of the country. I manage about 40 staff working primarily in the bureau’s newsroom, marketing and distribution departments, and write articles for the paper as time allows.
I’m probably also the person who drinks the most Dr Pepper among Mandalay’s 1.5 million residents. There’s not much (any?) competition, but this is still a significant achievement for me. Another great life accomplishment was winning the “Most Potential” award in an eleven-dude mustache-growing contest.
What activities do you do in your spare time?
There’s plenty of interesting people in Mandalay and I look forward to chatting with them at the local gathering spots. I periodically visit the gym and play tennis regularly, and in the future I expect to devote considerable time to removing the slice from my tee shot. I also love the Mandalay zoo.
My favourite weekend past-time is to escape the heat by taking my motorbike to temperate Pyin Oo Lwin hill station in the nearby mountains. It’s a tiring 1.5 hour ride up quite steep roads, and arriving in the town is to arrive in a green oasis, notable for its quantity of strawberry jam and waterfalls and pony taxis plying their trade.
What is the most significant thing you’ve learned during your time on PiA?
How to ask for “two beers, please” in Burmese.
I have some previous experience in journalism, but marketing and distribution have been entirely new ball games for me. Add into the mix the scarcity of Westerners in Mandalay, and it’s all been one big learning experience, especially since my position requires me to make decisions that affect these departments.
What has been your most embarrassing moment in Asia? (So far … there will be more!)
Maybe I’m getting too thick skinned, but nothing really. I refuse to drive my motorbike around town wearing a longyi (Burmese sarong), which I reckon would be quite embarrassing, and just put it on at the destination when required. I’m also past the point where me not understanding the waiter’s frantic hand gestures and ending up with beer served in a plastic bag with a straw is embarrassing in the slightest.
What do you miss the most from home?
- Takeaway coffee chains
- Taxi drivers who don’t start to cry after you show them a map of the city they’ve spent their entire life in
- The sound sleep that comes after going to bed with crisp autumn air
- Big Macs (but not the fries, weirdly)
- Bars open past 11
- Well-stocked libraries and significant variety in book stores
- Internet connections that don’t require valium to make the experience seem high-speed
- Football live on television at the same time of the day it is socially acceptable to drink beer
- Communicating in both parties’ first language
What do you miss the least from home?
- First World beer prices
- Traffic police who don’t accept bribes
- Having to actually search out enjoyable Asian food instead of being surrounded by it
- Snow/ winter
- How far I had to go from home to see something interesting
- The relative infrequency of me being the tallest guy in the elevator
- Waiting for traffic lights in the middle of the night (they shut off here around 9)
- Electronic banking taking all the fun out of pay day
What do you hope to do after your PiA fellowship?
I’m planning to be doing the same job in the same city. It’s a great gig. It’s also an interesting time to be in Myanmar; it’s been invigorating watching it all play out as the country reintegrates with the West.