Thursday, May 23, 2013

Singapore English Subtitled for the World

This afternoon I watched on YouTube “Bizarre Foods” featuring this city state. All the Singaporeans appearing in the program were speaking in English and some parts were subtitled in English for the people of the world.
Beauty and dissonance may be relative terms, but when you have to listen to dissonant chords, one example of which is the Singaporean (or more precisely Chinese Singaporean) accent, from beginning to end, it is a form of torture. It simply doesn’t sound beautiful to me. Very far from my sense of beauty and grace.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Burmese Days

My Burmese days: It was a journey under relentless heat wave with the temperature going over 40 degrees.

On my way to Yangon (SilkAir MI 518, April 22), I for the first time, complained to a flight attendant asking her to tell those two kids not to run up and down the aisle. The flight takes only about two hours and forty minutes from Singapore to Yangon, but when I was trying to have some serene moments, those kids were disturbing me in a big way. It seemed that my tolerance level of flying had dived down after the flights between Singapore and San Francisco last year, which were certainly tortuous.

On 22nd, checking into Traders Hotel, Yangon, I was attended to by a front desk girl, who couldn’t start sentences without saying “If you don’t mind…”
At around 7:00 pm, I went out looking for cheap beer as the hotel was charging US$4.00 per can. I started walking from the hotel probably along Montgomery Road almost to Bogyoke Aung San Market, which I mistakenly thought was a train station, before trying side alleys still looking for cheap beer. My first surprise with the night time scene of Yangon was its dark alleys. Many shops were already closing down and people were having dinner at unlit roadside stalls.

Finding no beer, I came back to the hotel but decided to cross the road (Sule Pagoda Road) to walk a short distance. And luck was there. I soon found a tiny shop which was selling Myanmar Beer at 800 kyats and Tiger Beer at 900 kyats. I bought three each. Back in Room 602, I had a room-service vegetable dish with my beer. Seeing what was brought, I found I had ordered the wrong dish. The hotel’s free internet connection worked fine.

My work was tough as sweat was streaming down into my eyes and dripping onto my notebook but fun as I believe I have this capability to enjoy hot and not very clean environment, which reminds me of my childhood days of playing outdoors. I felt the same joy when I was working at steel plants in Korea and a garbage incinerator site in Taiwan. It was at the Yangon airport, waiting for a domestic flight to Mandalay, when I went to my first daytime pee. While I was working, all liquid to be discharged from my body had been out as sweat.

Another reason why my work was tough is that I had big trouble understanding Burmese-accented English at production facilities. Making it worse was mechanical noise which was very loud. In Yangon, I had to turn to the CEO’s secretary, who spoke okay English, to let the factory managers know what I was asking and vice versa. In Mandalay, I depended on a sales guy, who seemed to love saying “you know,” to do the same for me. Sorry for the secretary, who came to Traders only to pick us up (What’s the purpose of your visit was what she asked) and ended up working as our second interpreter. But I definitely needed her, though I believe there were occasions of “lost in translation.”

On Wednesday night, we had BBQ and noodle dinner together at YKKO Kyay-Oh restaurant. Nothing was spectacular but I definitely enjoyed the group dinner.

On 25th, one of the three men from my client company was feeling sick probably with food poisoning since the morning. But after our morning work, we squeezed a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda in the schedule, where my soles were almost burnt under the midday heat. Everybody has to be barefoot in the premises of all pagodas.

We left the pagoda at around noon and arrived at Yangon Airport for a domestic flight to Mandalay (Air Mandalay 6T 501 via Heho) early enough. Leaving him, who had no appetite because of poisoning, behind at the departure hall of the airport, the other two and I searched for an airport restaurant for lunch. There was one, but we had to go through a few metal detectors before we reached there. We had simple late lunch with beer.

By the time when we arrived at the airport at Mandalay, another man was ill too. I asked the sales guy, who took the same flight to accompany us in Mandalay, if there was a pharmacy at the airport where we could get some drugs, and instead he took us to the airport clinic, where the doctor dispensed medicines for diarrhea and vomiting, to the two sick men, accepting no money.

At the hotel restaurant at Mandalay, I had dinner with the only man who was still okay. Each of us gulped down three bottles of Mandalay Beer.

The following morning, I walked around the hotel only to the entrance of Mandalay Hill. And the healthy man, though he had managed to climb up the hill, was not so healthy when we all met at the lobby, another case of food poisoning. That I am free from any poisoning symptoms showed that it was something to do with what they had eaten on Monday or Tuesday, when I had dinner alone at the hotel.

We went to another factory and then moved on to a 40-acre empty place where a new factory would be built. From the main road (paved), we crossed a railway (a train per day) and walked through a narrow unpaved pathway, beside which was a hut where a family was living with a few cows. It was so hot that I thought my contact lenses were melting on my eyes even with sunglasses.

We visited yet another factory, probably in Kyaukse, driving on bumpy, unpaved roads, along the way seeing tiny roadside shops and many pagodas on mountains and rocks. Back in the center of Mandalay we visited a few mom-and-pop shops to see what products they were selling. It was another super hot day. Back at the hotel, we had dinner at the same restaurant but not until so late without the last man who had his turn to be ill.

In Yangon, I saw at least two offices of the National Leagues for Democracy with large photos of the General and her daughter. The same photos, sometimes only the General’s, were at a few factory offices too.

We left the hotel at 6:30 am on April 27 for the Mandalay airport for them to fly to Japan via Bangkok and me to Singapore to via Heho and Yangon. I had so much time waiting for the domestic flight (Air Bagan’s W9 143) that would bring me to Yangon.

There was an announcement for each arrived flight in Burmese and English, which sounded like Burmese. Somehow I missed the only announcement I needed to hear. Or this particular flight was not announced in English. When checking in, each passenger got a small color-coded sticker on the chest, which showed which flight they would take. Someone of the airport staff found my sticker and prompted me to the bus which then carried us to W9 143.

On this flight, unlike the one from Yangon to Mandalay, no seat was assigned. You take whatever seat is available.

The flight arrived at Yangon at around 11:00. Walked from the domestic terminal, where I had been only two days before, to the international one in Yangon, I started a long wait there until MI 517, which was scheduled to depart at 16:40. I finished “Dinner with Lenny” within half an hour and started walking around inside the small airport building, going in and out of the security check area. I tried to find a restaurant for lunch but couldn’t find any.

Check-in for MI 217 began at 14:00. I finally found a restaurant near the gate and had soup noodle with chicken (US$4.00) and Myanmar Beer (US$3.00). I arrived at Changi at 20:50.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Orioles Jerseys at Outram Park Station

Delighted to find mother and son, probably, at MRT’s Outram Park Station, each of them wearing an orange Baltimore Orioles jersey. On the back of the mother’s jersey was printed “PALMER 22.” Fabulous! I’ll get two Orioles jerseys, one with “BUFORD 9” and another with “JOHNSON 15”.