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.
© 1999 Myriam