Solar Impulse ii in Myanmar

Exciting times we live in!

My Swiss colleague is excited for sure, about the arrival of Solar Impulse II in Mandalay next month.

Powered only by solar energy, Solar Impulse II will fly across the world with the management of two Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, stopping by Myanmar on March 10th, reportedly along with their 70-person strong team who will arrive early and ensure a safe landing. A feat and a scale of coordination with the Ministry, President’s Office and private sponsors, unthinkable just a few years back.

The duo will begin and end their journey in Abu Dhabi, stopping ten times along the way. Having landed in Mandalay before on a balloon, they want to come back again to Mandalay, the third stop during this pioneering journey.

This is just the coolest thing ever happening in Yangon, and I’m not saying this just because I’m affiliated with the sponsors of the event (disclaimer). A lot of people use money to accumulate materials. The Piccard family, in line with their familial tradition, uses their material privileges to do something inspiring to so many others.

Yay for solar!

Green Carpet Event in Bhutan

That’s right. GREEN carpet. Red is so passe. And I was a fashion paparazzi for a day!

Here is my search for the best and worst outfits at the annual Paro Festival held at Paro Zhong. But I just couldn’t find the worst. Everyone looked so gorgeous!

Yours truly and friends got mistaken as local Bhutanese at this event, starting with a police telling me to make way for tourists (I think) and with other tourists stopping us to take pictures despite our disclaimers. One American lady even explained to us how digital cameras worked by showing us our digital image. Thanks yo!

Still, a brief moment of flattery. Brief.

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Bhutan = Everything in this country is RED!

Bhutan will be remembered as a country with a lot of red. This color brings up various memories and associations depending on the context. It can mean: Communism, love, passion, anger, violence, blood, Valentine, cheap lounge chairs in a fast food restaurant, and commercialism (most of the successful brand logos bear red). In Bhutan, red is Buddhism, originating from the robe of monks and nuns. The Bhutanese national flag shows off red as a deference to the Buddhist heritage.

The roofs are red, because that signifies the Buddhist heritage.

The roofs are red, because that signifies the Buddhist heritage.

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The rice is red.

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Even the green beans look red!

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The corn looks red.

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Beer is red.

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The butter tea I received looked red!

I am not going to sit around here and pretend like Bhutan is a rarefied quaint little exotic country. It has its shit. Bhutan has its fair share of trouble with census. Domestic violence is widespread. When asked if corruption exists in Bhutan, a Bhutanese man answered very politically:

“Bhutan is a free country and corruption is like stars. They are there during the daytime but no one takes any notice of it. You can only see the stars in the dark during the night-time.”

Nicely put! That said, Paro definitely makes you feel as if you are in some romanticized fictional kingdom in one of the Jataka tales, with the beloved King and Queen. This city has only 55,000 inhabitants. The farm houses look intricately designed with floral details and yet strike you as minimalistic and elegant. The soil is rich, with the stream flowing through the city, allowing people to grow red rice, potatoes and buckwheat. Wild flowers are everywhere!

I feel alive here.

 

Tide will ebb

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This is the late night view of Shwedagon Pagoda from Thanlyin bridge.

Now you can see it, but there’s no guarantee buildings will not be blocking it in ten years’ time. Five?

I’ve been back in Myanmar for 20 months now. Every conference I go to, and over a lot of “I’d like to pick your brain operating in Myanmar” meetings, I keep hearing one message over and over: Things are happening here!

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Phnom Penh Nights

It’s a very live-able city.

Food is cheap. And there is a variety to it. Modern conveniences are there. Rent is affordable. Job opportunities abound if you know where to look. Spas offer amazingly cheap rates. The best, fresh coconut costs merely 50 cents. People I have come across are interesting. And if you are a heterosexual young male, gender ratio among expats definitely favors you. The only down side is that there is a lack of green space, which is made up for by the river front view.

My trip to Phnom Penh was long due. I hadn’t been out of Yangon for already three months. If you count only trips you take for yourself – and not for business, social obligations or relationships – it was since March that I hadn’t taken a break for myself. This was a much needed reset. I had thought I was going out of my mind.

My very first meal in Cambodia was ironically a semi-Japanese place, a quick five minutes away from my hotel near the Russian Market, chosen by my very thoughtful college buddy John who drove all the way to the southern tip of the city from his office up north so that I wouldn’t need to get around on a tuk tuk.

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“Cozy” is one of those words you use when you try to be sanguine about some unfortunate situation, much like the usage of the term “interesting.” If you are like most guys, you would rather disappear into thin air than be described as “nice” or “sweet” by a girl they fancy.

But when I think of this place, “cozy” is the word I use in the most genuine and blissful way. I felt cozy. And comfortable. In the most relaxed and carefree way. Without the need to worry about running into anyone or be engaged in any obligatory small talk. Generally, people, noises and spot lights are what I crave, but not when I am in Phnom Penh. Anonymity is calming.

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Just when I thought the ambiance couldn’t get any better, I studied the menu while waiting for John and Wes, sipping my passion fruit mint shake, listening to their tracks and watching staff get busy with noodles in the open kitchen in their “Noodle me please…” shirts.

And look! They have only two items as the main fare. The beautiful thing about this menu is that there is nothing to be studied. You make so many decisions and choices every day, it’s sometimes best to not have that luxury. This could be an urban legend but Obama is said to have the same shirts so as not to waste any of his presidential brain space on fashion every morning. Decision fatigue, some people say.

Which is why this noodle place is extra charming. You show up hungry and they feed you. That’s the best kind of menu, and a wonderful break from the many new presumptuously low quality dining establishments in Yangon.

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Sesame Noodle Bar
Street 460, between 135 and 155
Toul Tom Poung
http://www.sesamenoodlebar.com/