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Gossips & Travel Stories

Finding a Touch of the OC in a Tiny Burmese Village
OC Metro, March 31, 2005; by Kedric Francis


As I walk through Myet Kharr Taw village, I realize this is the farthest I’ve ever been from California ­ literally and metaphorically. I’m two hours of bad pavement and dirt road from Mandalay, Myanmar. I traveled some 36 hours to get here, with airport stops in Tokyo, Singapore and Yangon, and two days in Mandalay along the way. Each leg of the journey brought me to a place more foreign than the last, until now I’m half a world and centuries of technological progress from home. The dusty streets of this place are home to 500 souls who live in wooden huts and work ox-powered equipment likely unchanged for centuries. Their bright and smiling children learn their ABCs in a five-room school funded by German altruists, easily the most modern structure in town.

This isn’t a tourist stop. Few would make the trek, fewer still would think it worthwhile, but for three writers on a journey sponsored by Destinations and Adventures International (800.659.4599), it’s the highlight of a fascinating 10 days in Myanmar.

It’s the height of colonial pretension to use a cliché like “poor, but happy,” and yet that’s the impression the villagers give. They, like most everyone we met in Myanmar (luckily, we had virtually no contact with military officials who rule the country), are warm, spirited and quick with a laugh. The kids in 4th- and 5th-grade classrooms were eager to count to 10 in English, to recite the alphabet and to memorize and repeat our names in unison followed by spirited clapping ­ all under the beaming gaze of their proud teacher.

While exploring the village we stop at the thatched home of 84-year-old U Bo Ye. In his yard is the only combustion engine we see in the village. I pop my head into a small lean-to structure. Sitting on a woven mat is a beat-up baseball cap sporting the familiar logo of Oakley. Had it been an Abercrombie or Nike hat I’d have been chagrined, muttering to myself about the pervasive influence of globalism. But because it’s a local brand ­ and the only Western brand I saw for hours and miles ­ I smile. Even here. The OC is even here.

Later, we hit Ngapali Beach in Western Myanmar on the last leg of our trip, a blissfully underdeveloped stretch of beach facing the Bay of Bengal, complete (though far from overrun) with luxury bungalows and spas. We traveled to Ngapali with Myriam Grest Thein, the expatriate Swiss owner of Myanmar Travel, and her daughter Yolanda, a lanky 11-year-old (“12 in May!”) half Burmese, half Swiss supermodel-to-be. One night the six of us played a game over dinner. We went around the table responding to “Name your favorite” topics suggested by each of us: countries, actors, authors, etc. “What’s your favorite brand?” asked Yolanda when the topic choice was hers. Intriguing question. “Four Seasons,” said one, while others named Whole Foods and Porsche as their favorites. And the 11-year-old girl born and raised in Yangon, Burma? “Roxy,” she said with certainty.

Score another point for the OC in the global battle for the hearts and minds of cool kids everywhere, and here’s a note to our friends at Roxy/Quiksilver: Sign Yolanda up, before Hollister or Abercrombie beats you to her.

OCM

Travel stories:


A Glimpse into the World's most secretive Country
!NEW!
 
(October 2008)

 
Competition can sometimes be fierce, but also must be fair and legal   (August 2007)
My favourite place in the Golden Triangle  (June 2007)
Finding the Touch of the OC in a tiny Burmese Village (OC Metro) (March 2005)
EU's Hollow Lectures on Human Rights (IHT) (June 2004)
"Pass the Nyapi, Please!" (February 2004)
Travel Report from International Travel News (ITN) (June 2003)
Adventures with the Tuesday Club (March 2003)
About Myanmar Rumours and Unspoilt Beaches (October 2002)
Service in the Tourism Industry here and there - Still a long Way to go... (Summer 2002)
Near the Land of the Golden Triangle (May 2000)
A Heavenly Journey to Mt. Victoria (April 1999)
Shin Pyu Ceremony (April 1999)

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© 1999 Myriam Grest Thein