Travel Perspectives – Bagan, Myanmar

Nietzsche said that there are no facts, only interpretations.

That is the sentiment Bagan reminds me of.  Visits to the ancient ruins of Bagan year after year make me realize how I have palpably changed.

Bagan is heralded as the epitome of the Burman national superiority in Myanmar.  The military draws its inspiration from Bagan heroes, proudly placing their statues as a backdrop in official ceremonies.  When I was a young kid, I was told that there was nothing quite like Bagan anywhere else in the world.  I was told that Angkor Wat was great, but it was just one temple.  Bagan is all other civilizations combined and on steroids.

Then we travel to places and read books outside of classrooms only to find out that my childhood teachings have been a lie. Continue reading

An Ode to Those Turning 27 This Year

This year, most of my peers are turning 27.

A quick Google search tells you that 27th birthday is a desolate place:

Someone sounds freaked out.

Someone sounds freaked out.

You probably have seen a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother series, which started around our junior year in college.  At the season premier of this show, Ted Mosby starts off at the age of 27.  Like some of us today, Ted at 27 has started feeling anxious to meet his soulmate even though he clearly is not ready to settle down in any way as we later witness in subsequent seasons.  Ted perhaps feels this way especially after his best friend Marshall gets engaged in the very first episode.

Now we are all Ted Mosby-s!  We are 27!

Because I want to know how I am faring in life and what my peers are doing, I looked up some statistics about this unique age although technically, every age is unique in one’s lifetime.

  • Fun fact numero uno.  The official median age of Myanmar, according to its most recent census, is 27.
  • The last time we had a population census, back in 1973, most Myanmar women were already married by 27.  To be exact, about 78% of women my age were married four decades ago!
  • In the United States, 27 happens to be the age an average American woman gets married.
  • If you are a health conscious 27-year-old who is getting hitched this year, you are likely to stay with this partner for another four dozen years, assuming you stay well into your seventies with copious help from salt caves, kombucha tea and quinoa.  That is an awful lot of time to be spending with a complete stranger.  Think about that!
  • Umm…I guess you are probably wishing you are not reading this, but science definitely says that the quality of female eggs measurably declines from age 27 onwards.  Perhaps this explains the earlier cries for help found on Google search engine about turning 27.  But this is the truth: the female fertility peaks at 27.  Our eggs will never be better, prettier, or healthier than they are right at this very moment.
  • According to National Center for Health Statistics (United States), women between 20-59 years of age have had four sexual partners (seven for men, but I think they exaggerate).  I have a lot of opinions about this survey, since the selected age range is too wide for the result to be meaningful at all.  In any case, there is no way to know statistically how many sexual partners Myanmar peers have, especially now that there is this uber conservative law banning sex outside of the confines of marriage, but honestly, how do you think you are faring in this area? Wink, wink.
  • The Atlantic did an article on Today’s 27-Year-Olds, reporting mostly facts which surprise nobody.  About half of 27-year-old Americans are indebted.  College dropouts are more likely to be unemployed.  Likely to be living with parents than roommates. Et cetra.  If you have a job right now, be thankful.
  • However, the same Atlantic article surprised me with the following reports.  Only a third of us have a Bachelor’s degree.  Among all 27-year-old with debts (not confined to student loans), about 55% have debt more than $10,000.  Only fewer than half of us are single.  The majority of Bachelor’s degree holders still report being single (that only means they are not co-habitating or married, but maybe in relationships).  That means that if you are in-between relationships right now or have a Bachelor’s degree without debt, you are “special.”  Add being Myanmar to this equation, and you are probably double, triple or data-unavailable special because (1) most Myanmar youths seem to marry earlier than their American peers reported in the Atlantic article, and (2) there are also fewer university graduates given the average Myanmar person finishes only up to fourth grade.
  • Divorce rates have always been lower for Myanmar women in the past, but I have a feeling that my generation is going to change this.  In the U.S., the often quoted number of divorce rates is 50%.  Conventional interpretation is that half of marriages fail, which is actually not all true.  Most divorce stats get dragged down by those who marry too early.  The stabilizing factor sets in at the age 23-25, while marrying late does not guarantee a more successful marriage either.  At a personal level, I take this to mean that dating decisions this year should not be taken lightly.  Time to get out of relationship ruts before Valentine!  Before you go and book  that table for two at La Carovana!  Do it.
  • Hopefully, we are doing better in life at 27 than people on this site, or at least having as much fun as them!
  • If you are a very, very talented 27-year-old musician and happen to die this year, you will officially be conducted into the Club 27.  Unfortunately, there are not very many perks to this club membership.
  • Random fact: Jon Hamm was dropped by his agency at 27 and could not find any work.  Jon Hamm, of all people!  At 27.
  • Finally, I am going to again mention Dr. Meg Jay’s Thirty is not the New Twenty.  Her book The Defining Decade should be a pre-requisite life reading for any recent graduate!  According to this school of thought, turning 27 = having three more years of focusing on things we want to work on about ourselves.  If we want to change anything about ourselves in life, work or love, the time is NOW.

Hello, 2016.  Happy New Year, y’all!  Wishing you all the best from Italy.  This post has been pre-scheduled.

Live flavorfully

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This will be my motto for 2015.

Whatever job I do next year, I want to do it with purpose, knowing that the skills I am learning will help me move onto my next step, no matter how small, boring or insignificant the task at hand may seem, be it applying a business licence, stuffing envelopes or bargaining for a good package from a vendor. Everybody else will have opinions. How Wall Street types think of nonprofit careers, what social activists think about my corporate job, what investment analysts think about sales and marketing teams, or what operational guys will think of a social media strategist … artificial demarcations with all these types and tendencies matter little to me now. I want to try a little bit of everything while I am unattached with a lot of room to explore still.

Whoever I hang out with next year, I want to be present. Productivity matters less than presence. Chilling triumphs getting worked up at little details. Patience is cool. Schedule only one event in one evening, so that people I am with will not feel shorted. I want to stroll along aimlessly, instead of having to know the plan and schedule even on weekends. I want to be genuine with people without being mean, which is to say that I will at least attempt to be open even to the ones I cannot connect with, instead of staying aloof with them. I want to forgive more and reconnect with former friendships to an operational extent, instead of denying their former significance. This is no one’s fault. People grow out of jobs, friends, lovers and cities, and this is okay.

Whatever I consume in 2015, I want to consume it with integrity. This means I will bring a mug to the coffee counter, but will try to consume coffee more responsibly. Chances are I probably do not need a fourth coffee at 4 o’clock in the evening. Consuming with integrity also means owning up to oneself. Hypocrisy is when I make fun of people drinking bottled sparkling water and secretly buy a bottle at the back of City Mart when my colleagues are not around. (Hope they are not reading this). Consumption with integrity encompasses more than food and extends to consumption of news and social media. Clicks, likes, re-tweets, shares and hypes should carry certain responsibility. Unfortunately, junk will almost always get more clicks and likes. Refusal of junk is a job in and of itself.

I want to live more compassionately, authentically and openly. This is my motto for the New Year.

The Wall

Whenever I am outside of Myanmar, I take advantage of much faster Internet speed and gorge on one thing – Ted Talk videos.  They make the best accompany when I go about getting ready for bed in my otherwise hauntingly quiet hotel room after a long day of meetings.  Ted Talk is a great alternative choice when I do not want to hear about planes getting shot down or the spreading of Ebola on BBC News.  Call it a tool for productive apathy.

The Talk Talk that popped up this time around was by Parul Sehgal and her examination of envy in literature and social media:

“Jealousy is exhausting. It is a hungry emotion. It must be fed. And what does jealousy like? Jealousy likes information. Jealousy likes details. Jealousy likes the vast quantities of shiny hair, the cute little pencil case. Jealousy likes photos. That is why Instagram is such a hit…We live in envious times. We live in jealous times.”

– Parul Sehgal, editor at New York Times Book Review, An Ode to Envy Ted Talk

As a recent owner of an Instagram account, I am obviously very late to the Instagram game for my generation.  Because my job expects me to be just a touch keenly aware of the pulse of the popular culture, I have to have a social media presence, even though I initially find the idea of Instagram particularly perverse. 

We all know life does not look like perfectly touched up Instagram photos.  The social platform itself is designed for neither deeper communications nor expressions.  Instagram is not exactly about shared meanings, but it is about brand promotions, more so than other social media platforms.  The Instagram feed feels like seeing someone on the street without saying hi.  It does not allow for an explanation.

Because there is a thin layer between admiration and envy, I feel I have to tread Instagram waters very slowly, taking baby steps.  This blog post is basically a long-ass cry for help in how to use IG. 

In her Ted Talk, Parul Sehgal concludes that jealousy is a problem with geometry, not emotion.  A matter of where we allow ourselves to stand. We do not need to be resentful of others’ excellence. We can align ourselves.  What a lovely idea that makes you pause to think.

Jealousy is my most disliked emotion.  I do not like feeling jealous of others.  I do not want to be an object of envy myself.  I do not want a jealous partner, nor do I want to become one. It is a subtle form of manipulation when a romantic partner tries to get someone riled up and makes him/her jealous.  Jealousy makes workplaces unproductive.  It is stressful and drives people away.  It is like you are on the other side of a thousand layers of glass walls and there is nothing you could do to make better of the situation.

Paro, Bhutan
A wall at Kyichu Lhakhang, Paro, Bhutan
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Walls TS1 Construction
Downtown Yangon
More walls in downtown Yangon

Thought this song aptly captures the sentiment of this post:

The Wall by Yuck

Trying to make it through the wall
You can see me if you are tall
Looking over…

And I know that I am in space
And I know that it’s not real
It’s just the way I feel
Looking over…