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A flower girl in Yangon

June 6th, 2010:

I scrolled down the window after she came rushing to my car, stopped by a red light.  She was so cute with a natural smile and bright teeth. In her hand I saw a string of white flower I did not know the name — something like bunga melor.  I am not a flower man though.  She waived the flower to me.  I was more interested in her and not the flower she wanted to sell.  I could not resist to ask.

“Name belu kole?”

” Tay Myat Noe.”

“Atek belau le?”

“Tse nit.”

The red light turned green and I had no time to reach for the money. I knew it was about 100 or 200 kyats only or maybe less. She threw me an unhappy smile before rushing to the roadside again, waiting for another red light.  No sale made this time.

She was just 11.  She should have been home or in bed already at 10pm.

It was an interesting sight at the Shwegonedain intersection in Yangon, Myanmar. In this city, everyone has a story. Every face tells a story.

“Whats is our core business?”

14th May 2010:

Today I traveled to Kanbauk, a small village in southern Division of Thanintaryi in southern Myanmar, to attend to some staff problem.

The flight time was 1 hour and 20 minutes on Twin Otter 300 series and throughout the journey, some 10000 feet above the fertile delta area of  Ayeyarwaddy, I dozed off at once upon take-off with head hanging in the air as the seat had no headrest. Not sure myself why I was so tired, mentally. May be the work pressure, I supposed. Pressures which made my heart beat faster. Pressures which put me at the corners most of the time. Every now and then the thought about changing job came to my mind, but I paid no heed. Now it was here again!

Waiting for me on the ground were a couple dozens of unhappy employees — casual workers we hired to upkeep our facility. Days earlier they sent a memo from an anonymous gmail account to the  management demanding some kinda compensation. The whole issue or mess rather started when the top management  of this organization at HQ started asking the employees, “what is our core business?”. That simple question sent line managers scramble for some kind of actions to be taken on their part, in order to re-channel their resources to support Company core business. On my part, manpower optimization is the area to focus.  Laborers, drivers, gardener, security personnel are non-core. Yes we need their services to support our core business, but we do not want to own them. The management has decided to transfer their employment to other company which in turn will provide us the manpower services we need. The idea is simple. A simple plan which could go either way. Happy staff. Or unhappy staff. But it seemed to me now I am facing the latter.

On brighter note, am I in the business of making people happy? I am not running an amusement park, right?  Somebody in me kept poking: “Who and what makes me happy?”.

How to get to Kanbauk?

This is a small village in southern Myanmar. No tourists allowed for security reason (only 60kms to border Myanmar/Thailand). Meant for hard-core workers, as this is a logistic hub for oil & gas industry. If you must come here, a chartered flight from Yangon to here takes about 1 hour and 20  minutes, depending on weather condition. Another alternative is by bus from Yangon which takes the whole night and part morning. Yet another way to reach here from Yangon is by commercial flight (Air Yangon) to Dawei and drive up to Kanbauk. Dawei-Kanbauk distance by road is about 50 kms. 

“Book me AirAsia free ticket, please.”

May 2010:

In this country banks are owned by the Government. Banking system is traditional and primitive. Read my previous post on this.  Only 2 banks can deal with foreign currencies. Banks have no products. No credit cards.  No debit cards. No ATMS. No housing loans. No car loans. All transactions were in cash. Even my salary was paid in home currency, and when I ran out cash to buy foods here, I either borrowed from friends or waited until I went back home for meetings or holidays.

So when offered free seats recently, it was an opportunity for ‘kaki jalan’ like me’. I could not get the seat to places I wanted to go to like Beijing or Taipei. After heavy “investment”  — yes I stayed up late until 1am one morning and the next day was a working day —  I managed to get seats to Makassar (airport code UPG) somewhere in Indonesia, south of Kalimantan. The name is so exotic and may be there is something special there. Travel date is in March 2011. I don’t know where I will be at that time.

Shared this experience with my local staff. The  most vocal among them said: “We cannot get the free seats ‘cos we cannot pay online. We do not have credit cards.”

Monsoon’s coming to Yangon, finally

May 17th 2010:

It has been hot, really hot in Yangon for the last couple months. Temperature rised up to 46C in some areas. They expected rain during last Thingya n Water Festival, but God said NOT YET. A mosque near Aung San Stadium conducted special hajat prayers to call for the rain last FRiday. The doa (prayers) led by the young Imaam was so long that it took about 20 minutes.

Myanmar Times has been reporting about cases of sudden death due to heatstroke. Yesterday I read about a taxi driver, died at the busy intersection in Yangon.

Last week the paper quoted more cases in Upper Myanmar like Mandalay and Magway. Details could not be verified.

So the heavy pouring rain today — started at 10:30am when I was en route to lawyer’s office — was a sight of relief to everyone and other living things. Plants, grass and trees and even frogs, who started singing in joy.

“They are your employees, by Laws”

May 17th 2010:

I was in his office to seek his legal opinion on our stand-off with our employees at our plant in southern Myanmar. He was our local legal counsel, so to speak.

Counsel’s view was crystal clear. They are your employees and you have some obligations on them.  You cannot simply terminate their contract and pass it over to another Company. I argued on the basis that my Company  has no contractual obligation whatsover, for one simple reason — they have no contract of employment with us.  Yes they worked with us and we paid them daily salary, but that’s it. No other benefits for them. They are not our permanent staff. My argument went down in the drain in front of the old man but spoke well in English, but rather slowly. He reached for old law books from his lower drawer. It was very hot in his Yangon downtown office — mid 40C.

“Still valid you see. This Act was passed in 1923. Workmen Compensation Act 1923. This one defines the workman.”

I browsed thru the yellowish stained pages, written in Burmese, but some pages got English translation.

“This clause (m) says contract of employment not necessarily signed . It can come in form of expressed or implied, oral or writing.”

I nodded my head in agreement. Facts were presented in front of my very eyes.  I am the man of facts and how can I deny these facts. I looked down at the busy Pansodan Road and words of my boss in the HQ kept coming back to me : BE EXTRA CAREFUL IN TERMINATING LOCAL STAFF. YOU DO NOT KNOW WHO THER FRIENDS ARE AT THE TOP.

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