9 days in Myanmar.

My final travel journey of 2013 brought me to Southeast Asia’s last “frontier” which recently opened up to the world after multiple sanctions were lifted by members of the international community.

Development – It’s pretty amazing to witness the pace of development in the two largest cities – Yangon(capital) and Mandalay. Just a few years ago, it would cost about US$2000 to get a cellular sim card due to the lack of infrastructure. Today, the people of Maynmar can get access to a sim card for about $2, allowing a “mobile” revolution to slowly creep into the crevices of their society. I noticed that Samsung and Huawei have strong footholds in the smartphone market – very well positioned to benefit from the emerging market boom in Myanmar. From my travels, another lead indicator of development is roads. Compared to the less developed Southeast Asian capital cities such as Phnom Penh and Vientiane, I noticed that the state of development of roads in Yangon was almost a decade ahead. Overall, I was extremely impressed that the military junta years continued to allow significant progress in Myanmar, a stark contrast to the tragic Pol Pot regime that plagued Cambodia.

People – The only terrible experience I had with humans during the 9 days was with a group of foreign tourists who were acting obnoxiously one night in Yangon. The people of Myanmar themselves are generally very welcoming and genuine. They are also inquisitive about travellers and where they come from. For the most part, prices quoted to me were similar to that which a local has to pay – this, is pretty amazing for Southeast Asia where in countries like Vietnam, every item has a “local price” and a “tourist price”. Even children who were trying to sell us postcards at Bagan would walk away smiling when you turn their offers down. Your experience may differ, but I can conclude from my experience that no one in Myanmar is out to cheat you.

faces

Travel Sites – The typical travel route may look like this: Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay-Inle Lake. We decided to swap out Inle Lake with Hsipaw, the gateway into the Shan State area of Northern Myanmar. We accessed Hsipaw from Mandalay via the old Burmese railway built by the British – a beautiful 12-hour train journey across the hills of Northern Myanmar. From Hsipaw, I hiked to the Palaung hill villages and stayed a night in Taung Sant (pop: 250) – the vista along the journey there some describe as the “Switzerland of Southeast Asia”. Along the way, I hitchhiked a 1950s-era-looking lorry and a motorcycle up and down treacherous mountain passes respectively. The people were really nice, and thank God they had great driving skills too.

Trekking Shan State

truck from the 1950s the trekCrossing the viaduct [Mandalay-Hsipaw]

Photo 18-11-13 8 05 44 am

What I missed – To truly appreciate the entire country of Myanmar would take one about 25-30 days I reckon. There were 3 things I read about which really intrigued me but I couldn’t afford the time to visit; if you ever make it there, do send me pictures!

  1. Naga people in the far-North: The Naga tribes dwell in the far-North and each year the one that successfully kills a tiger with his bare hands takes on tribe leadership. Democracy anyone?
  2. Kayan women in the far-East: You’ve probably seen this on the Discovery Channel – women with multiple brass rings around their elongated necks. Anthropologists hypothesized that these women protect the women from being enslaved by making them less attractive to other tribes.
  3. Chin people in the far-West: The Chin women have intricately tattooed faces which are believed to represent true beauty. With the passage of time, only the older women-folk still continue with this practice and are the very last of their kind to bear these ancient marks on their faces.

Relocation.

It’s official.

December 12th 2013 – I will leave Singapore on a one-way plane bound for Austin, Texas.

I have spent the past three years living in Singapore and it is perhaps timely to pen down some reflections of my first years out of college. At the young age of 19, I put my name down on the dotted line to take on a $400,000 obligation with the Singapore Government in return for a tuition scholarship to fund my college education. (Note: For those who want advice on whether to take up a scholarship, I offer free consultation sessions over Skype.) In choosing between going to school in New York, London or Illinois, I opted for the college-town in the cornfields of Champaign-Urbana to spend three years of my undergraduate life. After three amazing years, I made a painful decision of giving up the opportunity to embark on a Masters program at my dream school, and moved back to Singapore to serve out my scholarship bond. It was going to be a six-year obligation.

During my time in Singapore I had the privilege of meeting some amazing individuals through the start-up community who taught me to be passionate about life. They lived their passions and worked everyday to develop ideas and projects which they believed in. It started with Mel from Books & Beer, then Min from Playmoolah, then the folks at The Hub, and from then on I literally entered “the land of Narnia”. Shortly after exposing myself to this bunch of crazy misfits, I got inspired to start my own little project which has since grown to become an awesome social community in Singapore. (Side note: through the community, I got to meet my girlfriend which may just be the best thing that happened to me this year) I also got to know a world-class hustler and a great friend who gave me the opportunity to work on an amazing idea together with his team. While the government job provided little inspiration to me, the start-up community constantly fuelled my imagination.

In August 2012 I emptied my entire savings, broke my bond and left to explore the land of Mongolia.

After my trip I returned and began work in in-house Strategy Consulting with Dell in Singapore – a great job that helped build-up my finances again (since my bank was sitting near $0 after paying off the remaining debt obligation on my bond). However, my insatiable appetite to develop and launch ideas continued to drive me to create products that impact people around me. In April this year I published my first blog on Singapore-specific lifehacks and a few months later I launched an e-commerce store that solves a very real first world problem in Singapore.

The past three years can be described as one heck of a roller-coaster ride.

Very soon I will be moving to Austin, Texas – live music capital of the world and one of the best cities to live in North America. Coincidentally, it is also among the world’s top entrepreneurial cities! I hope to continue to inspire and be inspired.

I will leave behind:

  1. My beloved family and friends
  2. Tete, One Cent and the wonderful start-up community which constantly inspires me
  3. The best thing about Home – Singapore food
  4. One of the most unhappy countries in the world
  5. The burden (for now) of having to take out a 30-year mortgage to buy one of the world’s most expensive housing