Archive for category Burma

The Three ‘Annoyers’

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Being here in Yangon I find three things rather annoying, and after training myself to look at things through the “water lens”, all these are somewhat related to water.

First, food poisoning. I haven been having constant food poisoning ever since I got here. Locating bathrooms has become the first thing I do when leaving our guesthouse. Janine, fortunately, have no problem with this. All we have been eating is hot meals and all have tasted and felt clean. I am starting to wonder if this is something to do with the water.

Second, mosquitoes. They are everywhere – from our humble guesthouse to a five-star hotel, from dawn to night. A westerner backpacker, also a medical student, we met while taking a circular train around Yangon, mentioned that he was taking pills to prevent Malaria. The presence of mosquitoes is not at all surprising when I saw water stagnation almost everywhere from the railway’s window…

part of Yangon river

part of Yangon river

Third, taxis. The fact that all the taxis drivers have been very friendly and helpful does not cancel out my annoyance of having to negotiate the price on every ride I am getting. Coming back in Myanmar this time, I was asked to pay almost twice the price I paid last week at the airport. I negotiated with several drivers and all of them insisted the same price. I got very upset at first thinking that I was being ripped off only to find out later that there was flooding in the city and it had taken them hours per trip.

“Water really is a big issue”. The sentence Janine and I keep repeating to each other…

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Happenings

Happenings by their very nature defy definition. Yet if I was to try it would be a mixture of something random yet purposeful; unexpected yet perfect.
I really like being open to the type of random events that invariably lead to connection. Today we had such a happening.
We decided to go to an advertised antiques sale. Not really because there is any room in our bags or lives for antiques. And certainly not because it would be useful for the project. Rather because it caught my interest. For some reason the advertisement intrigued me.
We find ourselves knocking on the door at an inner city residential ward. I start laughing when I recognise the antipodean vowels of an Australian sister. As it happens she is an International humanitarian worker in the process of returning to her country. As such she is selling books and tapestries and beautiful artefacts accumulated whilst living many years abroad. It is interesting to see the inside of a Yangon apartment.
We begin to share stories when suddenly a voice says; ‘Are you Pushpa’s fellows?’
We look over to see a slender brunette woman holding some lovely scarves. Now you all know that Pushpa is the Director of this program, right?
We start laughing. It seems that it is todays happening to meet Susan who is the Yangon Director- Program Implementation for; Save the Children. She is so disappointed with the news that Pushpa is no longer visiting her for dinner tomorrow night. Greetings are shared and we will meet with her when we come back to Yangon after our journey north into the villages with Action Aid.
Happenings, I really like them. Of course, there have been other happenings also.
One evening a smiling Buddhist Abbott invited me to meet everyone at his monastery. It was wonderful to view the special stupa at the top of the five story monastery at sunset. I enjoyed sharing tea and spending time with the young novices.

Here is a small pic of the main Shwedagon Pagoda where we met. The women are sweeping the marble pavement clean.

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The following day I joined the English language class where the Abbott was a student. There were several foreigners who had all been invited to practice English speaking with students. English was spoken with an American, French and Kiwi accent that morning.
In our group we were lucky that we could move from, ‘hello how are you’, ‘what’s your name’ and ‘are you single?’ The group absolutely loved it when we branched into Maori language from Aotearoa New Zealand. The Maori words; aroha/ love, karakia/ prayer; waiata/ song; kapai/ good and many others catapulted our conversation into all sorts of interesting areas. For two hours we shared ideas about women’s empowerment from Action Aids training material. We practiced various meditation techniques and the monk and I shared understandings about Buddhist dharma.
And whilst this photo doesn’t show it there was a lot of laughter….I promise!

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Frustration and Calmness

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Patience has always been one of my weaknesses. Being a part of the peacebuilders fellowship and having to work in the field where not everything can be planned ahead, I am already feeling my patience being tested. I have always enjoyed flexibility and not having to sit in an office all day has been my ideal job, but waking up in the morning and not exactly know what to expect is a whole different story, especially in a place where I am not used to. I want to get this work done. I want to get it done properly. It is real people and their true suffering we are talking about after all. Not certain on how to walk that path is getting me anxious…

The almost unbearable hot and humid weather, which often followed by a heavy rain, coupled with unstable internet connection add up to my frustration. Thanks to Janine’s calmness and continued reassurances that keep me relaxed and optimistic.

Just when I started to get restless again and felt that I had to be doing something ‘concretely’ productive (though wondering around the city, talking to people, and taking a bus out of town were an unforgettable experience to explore the dynamic of the city), Janine and I heard back from the ActionAid Myanmar. We both had a good feeling about this and we were right.

We met with Dr. Ahamad, the country director, briefly and had a meeting with Dr. Kumar, who is an Advisor-Governance and Field Operations. Both doctors were very kind, informative, and welcoming. Dr. Kumar sat calmly on the other side of the table while Janine and I explained him about our fellowship and our expected outcomes of the project. He then kindly agreed to take us along to visit the villages and to live with the locals. Just before leaving his office, Dr. Kumar turned towards me and said “They won’t think of you as a foreigner”.

“I don’t speak the language though”. I argued (which I probably should not have given his amazing experiences and the lack of mine).

“They won’t”. He repeated with a reassuring smile.

Thinking back, this is one of the reasons why I chose to come to Myanmar. I was hoping that my identity as an Asian, among many others I identify myself with, would allow me to “fit in”. I am hoping that the people would open up to me and share their stories if they wish…

Again, I am writing this blog on a plane ride. Due to my family emergency, I have to come back to Thailand for a few days. Coming to the airport right after the meetings, I am still wearing a “longyi”. It would be interesting to see how people, including my family, react seeing me in this. This will be another small social experiment for tonight.

Smiling to myself, I take another deep breath and remind myself that things will be just fine…

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Yes, lets see where this bus takes us….

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Sometimes its useful  to wander around a new environment and observe. Namsai and I get on a local bus today. It is hot and crowded.

We don’t know where it is going but this does not matter too much as everything is new. We  pass many interesting places; the shipbuilders yard where large ships are being constructed: a water hospital;  a very large modern bridge to span the substantial Yangon river; the Asian General Electricity company…. Actually severeal hours later it seems that we are no longer in Yangon and we agree that now would be a good time to get off the bus.

By chance we have followed a river that has had a great deal of stagnation, pollution and sewage. People’s homes have backed onto it and once several laughing boys were jumping in and swimming.

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Day One Myanmar

Wash day

Wash day

My co-researcher Namsai asks; “Janine do you know how to Blog?”

Hmm, now that you ask…not really. I have a quick look at various suggestions. It seems that I should write a story that I would be interested in reading. Right. Good. I quite like to read stories that make me laugh or intrigue in some way. I feel bereft of all intrigue.

Namsai is blogging away. The words are pouring from her fingers. It seems that I am bloggingly illiterate… at least for the moment.

This first day has been gentle. I am happy to relax into this new environment as my flight from India was delayed leading to one missed night of sleep. However, my taxi driver sang most of the journey from the airport to the hostel. It was a very nice. Later he takes me back to meet Namsai’s flight. We recognise each other easily and talk into the early hours.

I have walked around the city streets in the morning watching the pink robed monk children chant for alms and receive food and money; I have met wonderful calm smiling people and found a computer adaptor plug in a bathroom plumbing shop.

WE have walked past the large hospital and open drains and groups of men doing lots of drainage maintenance work. Which is good because we have a torrential rain in the evening and the road is flooded within a few moments. After India it seems very green and clean. The states of Tamil Nadu and Andhara Pradesh have not had the monsoon rains for three years now so Yangon seems heavenly to me. The temperature has dropped from Chennai’s 39 degrees to Yangon’s 21 degrees. The humidity is high in both cities. The roads here seem well organised, with designated lanes and there does not seem to be a lot of traffic.

What I am surprised about is how expensive it is for accommodation. So much in American dollars. I met several locals who say that the pace of development has been very fast here. Just one year ago they said it was a green quiet city with virtually no traffic. Now there are hotels and buildings and development everywhere. I wonder how the locals can afford to live with this kind of change. The cost of living is going up fast. I wonder whether people will continue to be calm and relaxed.

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First Impression of Yangon

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Due to flight delay, I arrived Yangon late last night and did not get to see much of the city but I was very excited to meet Janine, my working partner here in Yangon. Having similar goals in mind for this project or simply because of her calm and caring personalities, we got along well and very much looking forward to working together.

My first impression in Yangon is that the city is more developed and westernized than I had expected. It almost seems to me that the city itself is changing and modernizing rapidly that maybe the people might not be able (or maybe do not want to?) to follow the pace. It is very interesting to sit in a totally western café (you can only pay in US dollars) and look out side to see people carrying a tray of fruits on the top of their head or eating betel nuts. Maybe because of the opening economy of the country, Yangon is surprisingly a very expensive place to live in. There is a high demand for everything, including accommodation, which Janine and I have been trying to sort this out and we will have to continue doing so.

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Bogyoke Market, Yangon

One other thing that really strikes me is that the people are really nice and friendly. I came in the country not having any picture in mind about how the people might be, but they would have met my expectation in any category. Right when I sat foot at the airport, a couple of teenage girls just kept smiling at me that I got self-conscious and was wondering if I dressed inappropriately or if there was anything on my face. People are really open and helpful with general information about the city and directions, but being a foreigner in a country that I do not speak the language, I also keep reminding myself not to trust anyone so easily and double check everything. However, doing this kind of work when I need to build trust with the people and gather their stories, I wonder where should I be drawing that line and boundary when I start working…

Overall my first day in Yangon was long but interesting. I am really looking forward to observing and learning more from this city and the people. I am looking forward to hear about their stories of water issues as well as any other stories they are happy to share.

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On my way to Burma

It is dark and hot and noisy. Soon, in  a few hours time,  I will go to Chennai international Airport and begin the journey to Burma. I am feeling quiet and  serious as it seems like a big task. A little daunting.

I have spent the last week reading about water conflict and finding out more about Yangon and Burma in general. There have been helpful training materials from Pushpa.

My doctoral study on hold for the next few months whilst this project is underway. It seems wonderful to be able spend some time in the field and I am very mindful of going quietly into this. I have made some contacts with scholars and health professionals from Yangon. There has been fascinating reading on the various NGO initiatives.

I am looking forward to meeting my fellow researcher Namsai and I am glad that this will be a shared project. We will meet for the first time tomorrow night  when her flight arrives from Thailand. We will then look for an apartment and a place to base ourselves.

There is much to learn and I suspect I am moving into a state of readiness. Something is changing within me as I  prepare to listen and observe.

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Preparing to be a story teller….

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Once upon a time a somewhat bewildered researcher starts the process of adjusting to a thirty degree change in climate whilst negotiating visa applications in India. The new Prime Minister of India is being sworn in.

She ponders…going from 6 degrees to 44 degrees slows everything…

Water is precious: for survival and for comfort. These things are precious for life and peace.

As I approach this fellowship there have been some happenings. All stories have them. There has been a six day intensive at Bangalore CREST research center on the practical chapter exploring the heart. Participants have practiced peace  through inner processes of attunement. The outer expressions have been very aware and mindful. It seems to be an experience at the opposite end of the spectrum to that anticipated as a Peace fellow in Myanmar…

Time will tell.

I am curious about the culture in which we are about to gather these stories. In particular I am curious about the real storytellers and the ones that we will act as scribes for….

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Preparing for Yangon

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I am honored to be selected as a CCS peacebuilder fellow 2014 to Myanmar and have been looking forward to it ever since. This will be my first experience working in the filed and I am very much excited as well as nervous about it. Planning my trip to Yangon, Myanmar, I keep reconsidering whether I am ready for this work. My flights and hotel (for the first few nights) are booked, and if nothing goes wrong, I should be able to obtain my visa in couple of days. With logistical preparation aside, I also keep wondering whether I am emotionally ready for this.

After finishing my intensely enriching first year of graduate study at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy focusing on international security and international conflict resolution and negotiation, I left the lovely city of Boston and went travelling in Europe while visiting my family. I am writing this blog on the plane ride to Bangkok, where I am planning to apply for the visa. Tired but happy to finally travelling back to my home country, I am also worried and stressed. Political situation in Thailand is unstable and unpredictable after the coup de ‘tat on May 22. After the coup, curfew has been placed in many areas of the country. Rumors are flying everywhere and there is an obvious distrust among the divided people throughout the country. Hearing and reading about this got me very frustrated and stressed. I am frustrated because no matter how much I want Thailand to overcome this long-standing political crisis, there is only little, if not nothing at all, I can do. I am frustrated because I feel powerless.

All this got me thinking about the work I will be doing in Myanmar. Realizing how upset I am with the political situation and conflict in Thailand despite the fact that this has very small direct effects on me, I cannot imagine living in a conflict where the stake is as high as one’s survival. Water conflict, in a sense, is not a win-lose conflict because no one can/should lose his/her fundamental right to survive. Peaceful conflict resolution and negotiation seem to be an appropriate way out. With that said, I am very excited about the program and looking forward to sharing stories of the people and my own stories with you. I will do my best in reflecting their living conditions, ways of living and perspectives, and I truly hope that these stories can make a difference. Until next blog!

At thousands of feet above the sea level

 

Twitter: @wangshuiqing

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