Saturday, March 23, 2019

Introduction to Yangon (Rangoon)

Myanmar is a relatively a new democracy, as per Western standards of nation-building. Just came out of military dictatorship, this nation is grappling with the entry of investments, economic zones and entry of tourists.
What's in the news?

The first time I read about Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is Amy Tan’s novel, Saving the Fish from Drowning way back in 2008. That novel used a ghost perspective looking at the American tourists travelling from China to Myanmar. The tourists were kidnapped by Karen people of Myanmar as one of the American teenagers was the prophesied savior who will lead them to victory. While the tourists did not know they are even abducted but thought it was part of a great jungle adventure! The novel is half spoof and fairy tale and an irony of sorts, how can you save the fish from drowning? It’s like taking out of the fish because you’re afraid for it to get drown in deep water. And it also talked about the uneasy political situation in Burma, including the debates on changing its name.  

Anyway, I got hooked with that novel that I gave it to my younger sister as her reading assignment. And it all came back to me when my colleagues told me about Myanmar and its recent ‘reopening’ to the world after the military junta was ‘overthrown’.

Myanmar is a former British colony and an extension of the Indian province, were problematic British soldiers and ambitious Indian professionals have been tasked to serve. The country has a long history of struggle for its independence from foreign colonizers up to the military rule after.
You might also wonder, what is the correct name, Myanmar or Burma? Before, it was politically incorrect to use the name Myanmar. The U.S. government refused to use Myanmar as it does not acknowledge the name change made in 1989 by the country's military junta.

The military rulers had changed several other mispronounced name places from the British colonial period such as “Mergui” as Myeik, “Rangoon” as Yangon, “Pegu” as Bago.

The name change to Myanmar was recognized by the United Nations and by countries such as France and Japan, but not by the United States and the United Kingdom. With some political reforms made by their former President Thein Sein, it was only with President Obama’s administration that the US started to use Myanmar.

Their democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi also uses 'Burma' in English but in her statements published in Burmese she has used 'Myanmar' instead of 'Bamar'."

One of our fellow traveler asked our guide what is the politically correct one to use.  Myo, our guide said, Myanmar have 135 officially recognizes ethnic groups. Burma (Bamar), is only one of it and is considered the largest ethnic group. Renaming this ethnically diverse country means inclusivity. Myanmar, is a Burmese word of Myanma meaning “swift and strong.”
Now back to our trip.

So when you visit here, it is a must I daresay you take the Free Yangon Walk Tour by Beyond Borders that happens every Monday and  Wednesday at 4PM. The walk starts at Maha Bandula Park in front of the City Hall and Sule Pagoda. You will learn a lot of inside stories you have to read only in history books and I know you have no time for that.

Sule Pagoda, a 48 meter (152 feet) high golden dome was used by the British as the nucleus of their grid pattern for the city when it was rebuilt in the 1880s. The pagoda's peculiarity is its octagonal- shaped pagoda. which retains its shape as it tapers to the spire.

Sule Pagoda at night
This is one of the most notable landmarks and a historical area for demonstrations and large gatherings. Sule Pagoda, for one is the gathering point for the 1988 Uprising or the  8-8-88 Nationwide Popular Pro-Democracy Protests and the 2007 Saffron Revolution, protests against Myanmar's military dictatorship led by the monks.

The day we arrived is the day of our walking tour too. February 27, Wednesday. It was an auspicious day too as we witnessed the huge gathering of people in support for the amendments of the 2008 Constitution.
Crowd supporting the call for the 2008 Constitution amendment at Maha Bandula Park, infront of the City Hall

Their 2008 Constitution was made during the military junta and it states that he Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) retain significant control of the government. 25% of seats in the Parliament are reserved for serving military officers. The ministries of home, border affairs and defense have to be headed by a serving military officer. The military also appoints one of the country's two vice presidents. The Commander in Chief of the army has powers that could even rival that of the President and with absolute power on state emergencies.
Looks like a good retirement plan for the army!

There is a call to amend the said Constitution however, the benchmark to pass the amendment is also extremely high! It requires more than 75 per cent of all representatives in the national parliament, as well as more than half the votes at a national referendum. This leaves no doubt that the military controls the current constitutional amendment process, given that it occupies 25 per cent of the seats in parliament. The provision on amending the Constitution must be amended foremost to ensure that this is no longer the case.

An outsider looking in, I don’t know if they will get the votes considering the current composition of their Parliament, but boy, it was such a huge crowd and palpable excitement of a non-violent gathering. But we also saw military officers in plainclothes that day taking pictures. Memories of my student days rallying with military intelligence officers taking pictures came into my mind.
Which make us- the Philippines and Myanmar like siblings! We have that same experience in terms of military rule, dictatorship after colonization. So,  it is now surprising to see a lot of Filipino NGO workers here in Myanmar, sharing the experience about Martial Law, community organizing and development principles. And with our current President appointing retired generals in the major Cabinet positions, we Filipinos are like Myanmar, militarization of the bureaucracy! Same same but different.

The walking tour have introduced us to the colonial buildings in downtown Yangon with British colonial era designs: Victorian, Queen Anne, Neoclassical, Art Deco and British-Burmese. Many of these buildings are clustered along streets laid out in a chessboard pattern centered on the Sule Pagoda.

Downtown aerial view from
Top: Rander House (1932) now Internal Revenue Department took over the lower floors, while the top floors were turned into apartments.
Left:  Accountant General's Office and Currency Department where collections of colonial government revenue that came from opium), salt, custom duties, railways, post offices, telegraphs and major irrigation works.
Right: Sofaer’s Building  designed by Isaac Sofaer, a Jewish immigrant from Baghdad, where Egyptian cigars & European luxury items were sold 

If you are interested more with the colonial buildings in Kyaktuada Township, Yangon's downtown area, check out Architectural Guide Yangon:  for more in-depth history of each buildings. 

We also chanced upon people preparing htamane, sticky rice along the road. 

This where the financial district thrives with smuggled books, bookshop area in Pansodan Street. We went as far as the bridge going to the jetty during sunset. One thing you will notice here, they have a lot of crows!

Inquisitive Walking Group at Myanma Port Authority on the background 

We ended the tour at Yangon Stock Exchange, formerly the Reserve Bank of India. We parted ways with our guide Myo and our fellow travelers. 

Liezl and I were famished with all the walking! So, we went back to Maha Bandula Park to try the local food in one of the many stalls offering noodles and fresh juices. We ate rice noodles and sugar cane juice, ordering in halting English and sign language. The young woman serving our noodles and her twin sister (we assumed) were amazed. They thought we’re also Burmese. They keep on giggling at us, Asians. I told her, we’re same same. 😊 They wore dresses and with thanaka, that paste-like powder in their faces that served as moisturizer, make-up and sunscreen.

rice noodles with fresh veggies for the famished souls!

Here’s a thing in Myanmar.  You will see young men and women in all ages wearing thanaka and their traditional clothes still. Men still wear longyi, a tubular textile rather than pants as compared to other Asian counterparts. Polo shirts on top and longyi, hoooow comfortable!
hand-painted postcards from Hla Days 
of course, I tried the thanaka on myself. It leaves a cooling sensation on your face! I brought one home.

So while we in Southeast Asia are same same, this is distinctly Myanmar- thanaka and longyi. And they are proud and tall with it.

We walked to Hla Days, a social enterprise store with a collection of different products across Myanmar. I bought handmade postcards, hand-painted by differently-abled persons while Liezl was charmed by a lovely wrap-around skirt.

Downstairs is the highly rated trip advisor Rangoon Tea House. We went inside to look and indeed, it is full of tourists. Liezl and I wanted to try it, but we realized we only have a few thousand kyats (chats) left and only for taxi fare.

We hailed a cab and told him our hotel. We are negotiating in broken English still when this delivery guy on his bike stopped and helped us out. He told the cab driver the address in the local language and told us the amount he is asking. 4,000 kyats. That’s around Php 138.00. We agreed immediately. And only to be told, it was already expensive! Our grab ride from the hotel to downtown area is 2,300 kyat (Php 79.00).

Travel Tip: ask the person in charge in your hotel reception to write your Hotel’s name and address in Burmese.

So yes, fellows, it’s kinda cheap even to our Pinoy standard cost. I will share our guesstimate costs with our no-frills chill itinerary in a separate post. 

That's it for Day 1 of our Yangon adventure! 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Karma and Chance Encounters

I was in Mandaluyong 2 weeks ago for a meeting. I was representing my cousins who are planning to have a franchise of a gluta drip and spa and I’m meeting its owner at Coffee Bean. The owner was late for 30 minutes. I don't mind as I have brought my work along with me.

I was midway my work when the spa owner arrived. He and I had a good chat for an hour, he answered all my queries and the needed requirements. He left and I continued my work when someone tapped me on my shoulder..” May Cheeeee? Is that really you?”

Standing in front of me, is our smiling, bespectacled high school valedictorian who is now an oncologist. At first I could not believe this man is the boy whom I kicked his chair he almost feel on his face! I always remember this incident and I always feel bad but somehow happy knowing that I have a story associated with this humble doctor. Fun times.

We told anecdotes and memories shared at our high school alma mater. We updated each other on our current works, difficulties and passion projects that needs pursuing. We decided to have an early dinner slash merienda catch up. He’s just living in the area and knows a good place to chill. We rode the tricycle and reminisced our high school days riding the tricycle after school despite the hazards of overloading. Looking back, we’re indeed reckless, wild and free.

We talked and laughed till our bellies ached. I still can’t believe that after how many years of not meeting each other, we will have a brief encounter here in the Big Metro, of all places! He also told me was just done with his laundry and decided to drop by at the coffee shop. And the delayed start of my earlier meeting coincided with this chance encounter.   

Partly, one of the reasons why I’m restarting this blog is because of Lance. Lance is first person I know who’s been blogging (bottling his brain!) since high school and who reads voraciously! Imagine, he can still blog despite his daily rounds at the hospital! 
Now, that’s a challenge for my procrastinating self.

Snacks with Merlot at Locavore. Sooooo Tito/a!! 😊

Thank you Doc Lance for reminding me to go back to what I love doing. Indeed, ‘old’ friends keep you grounded. And I can’t help but think of Murakami’s quote:

Even chance meetings are the result of karma… Things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019


After much prodding from friends, I am back slowly into blogging. As I posted here, I’ve been all wrapped up with bigger responsibilities the past years. I’ve been travelling both for work and personal inclination. I still do document my thoughts through my journals or notes in my phone.

Just recently, I deleted the notes in my phone and I accidentally deleted its back-up as I was trying to free up some space. %^U@$CRYVX. There go my daily thoughts in Batanes!

I post a few pictures in Facebook every time I travel and several friends messaged me how, the budget and what places to see. I promised them to post about it once I have my free time.

It’s been months and adulting has a way of sucking up all your energies. I know this should not be an excuse but, I warn you now. As you grow older, naps and long uninterrupted sleep is your bestfriend!

Anyway, I just want to say Hello and thank you for the friendships tested by time, for the new acquaintances, travel companions I’ve met along the way and to my online clients who believed in my writing skills even though this virtual space has been in hiatus for quite some time.

I will try to share the backstories- anecdotes, people I’ve met on the road, travel mishaps and some tips on the places I visited. Again, I am no expert. I just want to share to you the joy of exploring.  You do not need to be rich to travel. There are a lot of budget airlines now, you just need to take note of those seat sales and your vacation leaves!

Also, I won’t be telling you how to be frugal to the point of haggling too much (sobrang barat) to the detriment of the locals. Know when to haggle as if you’re being made to pay 4x the average price, and know when to respect that tourism is the only source of income and the impact of high inflation rate in the area. Take note: Hindi mo ikakamatay ang dagdag na Php 50 sa bayad sa habal-habal or tricycle especially when you’re travelling solo.  Travel to help local economy, buy the local products.

This is your Dora Lakwatsera saying, thank you for staying and let’s explore together.

Watch out for the next blogposts.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Hiatus and Growing Wings

This is a repository, a  sort of extension and 'cleaned up' version of my doodles and stories in my journals. And I have a looooong list of drafts in this "virtual diary" from months of being on the road. I don't claim to be a travel blogger or anything. I just like the idea of sharing stories of having a good laugh or mishaps with strangers.

But lately, I just stopped writing. There's a kind of hurricane that sucked up all your energy that all you want is to just stare in the wall. Or stay in bed the whole day.

You know the feeling of craving for something but not knowing what it is? Or the feeling of having too much in your plate and you decided you are not that hungry at all? That and a whole lot more.
No this is not depression. Just a much needed hiatus to find my swank.

My friend once remarked, "Oh you no longer update your blog?" I just smiled. I still helped out friends on their travel itineraries and even customized how-to-tips. I blame Facebook and Instagram for the instant snaps and captions. The sort of I have to post it now thoughts that you no longer have the energy to compose a longer one later on.  I blame my laziness and lack of discipline. Or I clearly believed that wrote a lot of stories and poems in my head during sleep and when I woke up, I just can't remember a single word.

I still write in my notebooks and rediscovering my old notes- laughing at my silliness and wondering how it came too easy before.

For now, I keep busy staring with this Totoro goodness:


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Day 4: Phonm Penh Touristitas Yayas

We don't have a specific itinerary in mind for Phnom Penh is intended to be a time for bonding with Marj and her cute adorable baby, Ema Ayeesha. Marj is my coursemate, boardmate and after-college roomie. How we were able to withstand each other despite our different personalities is something for the books. She is a kikay, a leader and endearing personality. We  went out separate ways when she decided to leave the apartment. Later I learned she found her love and started a family in this foreign land. To adjust in a new surrounding is not easy. Transition is never easy, but love makes you do impossible feats. And I am so happy for this woman who found her own self, and able to maintain her lithe figure after pregnancy.

She booked us at Burly Guesthouse, which is very near their apartment. Also her husband Tom knew the manager and asked them to let us have an early check-in. The check-in time is still at 10AM so we decided to eat our breakfast at the nearby restaurant and lounge around. The food serving is good for two already but since we're too famished, sharing is not an option. There are a lot of monks collecting too and the children were taught to give respects to them.

It was already past 10AM when we went to the hotel and checked in. Then the reception the check-in time is 12NN. Early check-in means we have to pay $5 extra. We relented since we badly need to lie down in a comfortable bed. Then we asked the reception for the bus ticket going to Saigon and if they have arrangements. They said yes, we can have it for $11 and there will be a free tuktuk that will pick us up. When we inquired again later in the afternoon, the bus ticket price rose to $12 and there is no more free pick-up. We do not recommend this hostel. The service is just bad, the room is passable.

We took a long nap. Then we trooped to Marj's place and meet Tom and their little bundle of joy. The first meeting with Ema was a disaster and for this time, we wanted to give a lasting impression. It is a such humid day and we can't subject the little girl to the glaring sunlight. So we went to the Aeon Mall and talked nonstop. It's as if years of separation was just yesterday. We laughed, talked and bonded at the Breastfeeding Section of the Mall! Oh boy! I was so impressed by the big space allotted for mothers to feed the babies and for those with toddlers who can  play. The cushions are soft, well-maintained and of course, you have a lot of privacy! We had the place almost for ourselves for an hour before other mothers came to feed their own hungry babies.
Ema still is not happy. 
Can I be a nanny? $700 salary excluding benefits!
The mother almost faint when she heard my asking price. 

We walked and checked out several stores and eat a lot. Ema is such a well-behaved darling and she just sleep. She was dead tired from walking while strapped unto me! We've been teasing Marj that she should get us as nanny. She will not only get a nanny but a tutor too! But sadly, she can't afford us. 

The mother has to go home early to put Ema in bed while the three of us are still up for an adventure. We told the driver to drop us off Russian Market. I searched earlier the site for some areas of interest and Russian Market is on the list and it is just along the way. So we walked around and realized this is an old market, much like our Bangkerohan market. The place is so lively, full of people buying fresh produce at a low price.

Since we will not be cooking, we decided to go to the Night Market near the bus terminals. There, the street foods are sumptuous and they have mats at the center area where you can have your own picnic. Sharing a meal alongside hundreds of people in a square is like a huge family picnic at night! I tried the ginger mint tea and it is the best remedy for the very humid night.

Then we bought our pasalubong of shawls and shirts. Found a very wonderful shawl with butterfly prints. I always go gaga for shawls and I have to stop myself from buying more since I already purchased several kinds from Siem Reap. We were able to get a lot of discount from one stall owner as the two girls almost bought a dozen shirts from him alone. 

We also met a lot of Filipinos buying a lot of stuff on sale at the night market. They shared that they were also on vacation and spent it in Saigon and Phomn Penh. Then they recommended a place to stay at Saigon's backpackers' area.

Before midnight, we hailed a tuktuk and called it a day.


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