Monday, July 22, 2013

Land of the Unexpected ... and here is why!

PNG prides itself as the Land of the Unexpected. The people behind the slogan must have thought of it as something cool to attract visitors to the country. However, expats living and working here are using that slogan to explain to their new foreign friends the culture shocks they experienced. Here are some typical "shocks".

The article that got me started with the collection of news that seems to happen only in PNG was my in-laws get upset when I beat my wife. Well, what do you expect from the Land of the Unexpected?

It must be tough to be a wife in PNG. Click to enlarge the article
It is also a land where you find a priest beating up his security guard, in an assault that lands three in court. This must be his way of teaching forgiveness and love. I suppose that this happens only in this Land of the Unexpected. Now you know!.

A priest teaching hands-on violence! Click to enlarge the article
PNG is a country known as one of the most dangerous place to live in. So far, I have kept silent on negative reports about PNG because I did not want to add more bad news to what is already out there on the world-wide web. It brings no benefit to anyone. However, I guess it is now time for me to give a more balance view of PNG.

The lawlessness in PNG can be attributed to pure criminal acts, tribal fights and century-old tradition of payback killings and witch-hunting.

In payback killing, it is alright to kill an innocent person from a rival clan or village. Click to enlarge the article
Criminal acts occur in all countries and in PNG, most incidents are not reported in the public media. It is extremely common in Port Moresby. Tribal fights and the ensuing payback killings and compensations payments are frequent occurrences too, almost always involving tribes from the highland regions and occasionally with the coastal peoples.

Coastal peoples always mention that highlanders like Tari, Engans, Chimbu, Wabag and Central people like Goilala are lawless people. They fear and dislike them. I don't think such generalisation is fair to them but that is the common perception among the coastal peoples. Go back home to your land, said one peace-loving highland reader to his fellow highlanders.

Tribal fights among highlanders are common. Click to enlarge the article
People would not expect the son of a PM to commit crimes. A five million Kina compensation demand on Somare was made when his son attempted to shoot the governor of East Sepik Province. We don't expect this to happen elsewhere but what is new in the Land of the Unexpected. For readers who do not know, Somare was the serving Prime Minister at that time.

Paying compensation to solve disputes. Click to enlarge the article
What do you expect from the cops or disciplinary branches of the government of a lawless country? You can expect police to be lawless too, such as the time when they put up a police blockade. Police beating up police is quite common here.

Police vs police happens regularly in PNG. Click to enlarge the article
On the prison front, you can expect correctional services officers to lock out their boss over unpaid allowance. This would never happen elsewhere.

Insubordination is accepted in the disciplinary forces. Click to enlarge the article
There is enough lawlessness in PNG. Corruption is another major problem. Ask anyone who has been stopped by the traffic police or who deals with government departments. If given half a chance to siphon off public money, the bureaucrats would do it without hesitation. Who to blame for the 10% cut game?

Almost every bureaucrat is a Mr. 10 percent. Click to enlarge the article
When corruption is of epidemic proportion, what is there left for the ordinary people of PNG? Nothing! They have to endure poor infrastructure and poor medical facilities.  Even the capital city of Port Moresby needs ambulances. Can you believe that? The government did not even have money for an ambulance! In fact, there are only two ambulances in Port Moresby, one provided by St. John's Ambulance and the other by Pacific International Hospital. Tough luck for people in emergencies finding both ambulances unavailable!

Port Moresby is probably the only city in this world without a public ambulance service. Click to enlarge the article
The corrupted are so bold. They even dared to cheat an elected MP by giving him a worthless cheque and fleecing him of K10,000. Talking about boldness! Nobody can measure up to the Papuan New Guineans in term of boldness.
Fooling an MP! Click to enlarge the article
The ordinary folks have somehow learnt from their corrupted bureaucrats on how to make easy money. Just be creative. For example, make a demand for K12,000 compensation for a dead cat if someone caused its death, say when it was hit on a highway.

A dead cat was worth a lot of money in PNG. Click to enlarge the article
Anyway, let's forget about all this negative news for a while. In this Land of the Unexpected, it is better to be seasonal fruit pickers in Australia. When farm workers return, they will be treated with great honour. They would be garlanded and welcomed home by none other than the Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations himself and feted to a dinner. I am not sure whether the Minister is encouraging more graduates to be seasonal farm workers or not.

It's better to be fruit pickers than doctors. Click to enlarge the article
If you are still thinking of visiting PNG, we would like to welcome you to the Land of the Unexpected. Just expect the unexpected.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Remember Inn, Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake)

I had read from a blog where the author said he booked his hotel through the hotel where he was staying. I decided to do likewise by asking the White House Hotel boss to help me book a room and to make the transport arrangement from Heho Airport to Nyaungshwe.

Remember Inn was a bit far from the jetty where the long boats to Inle Lake were berthed. It was near the town entrance at the North-East end of the town while the jetty was on the North-¬West end of the town.

English is spoken at Remember Inn. On arrival at the hotel, I asked for an air-conditioned single room but was given a fan room. It has hot water. I learnt from another guest that it did not have air-conditioned room because at an elevation of 900 metres, Nyaungshwe has cool weather.

The room was large, airy and clean and it looked like it has just been refurbished recently. Free breakfast was also provided. There was free wifi too. For USD15, it was certainly great value for money.

The white building on the right is Remember Inn
Entrance to Remember Inn. The reception is on the left
Reception. The boss was the guy in spectacles
The common room on the first floor
My room was on the left side

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mya Thida Hotel, New Bagan

Mya Thida Hotel is owned by two friends, who both returned from Singapore after the Myanmarese government started to open up. According to Aung Si Wint, they returned to Myanmar in September 2012 and opened the hotel two months later. It is situated in New Bagan. The hotel can be booked through Agoda.

Si Wint worked as Air Bagan manager in Bagan before leaving for Singapore where his family is still residing. He worked in Singapore for six years. His partner, Kyaw Wai Linn, an ethnic Chinese Myanmarese, worked in Singapore for over 10 years and had recently earned a degree there. They were colleagues in Singapore.

We took the hotel van to see the temples and pagodas and they were driving and taking us in turns, in the morning and afternoon respectively. It was during this guided tour that I got to know them better and found them very friendly and helpful. They both speak good English. I was also told by Si Wint that Wai Linn speaks Mandarin too.

The hotel has actually garnered very positive reviews on Agoda and for the price I was paying, it was really very good value for money. The hotel has been refurbished and repainted after they took over. There was free wifi. The room was large, airy and very clean with hot shower. The amenities were basic and complementary bottled water was provided, so were a bath towel, shampoo, tooth paste, tooth brush, facial tissue and toilet tissue.

School Street where Mya Thida Hotel is situated.

Mya Thida Hotel

The newly built fish pond in the garden

The balcony with two easy chairs and a small table for guests to relax

Room 103 where I stayed

Si Wint behind the counter and Wai Linn in singlet and longyi talking to us

The hotel van. That was Wai Linn washing the van before our departure

Mya Thida Hotel has a very high rating on Trip Advisor

It also has very good recommendations from guests on Agoda

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Looking for New and Crispy USD

While doing my research on Myanmar, I read with concern that USD must be new and crispy, with no creases or other blemishes. In addition to USD100 and USD50 notes, readers were also advised to bring small USD bills such as USD1, USD5 and USD10 to pay for hotels, airlines and entrances to tourist sites.

I had with me sufficient USD100 and USD50 which I managed to obtain in Port Moresby. However, I did not have the small bills and I was unable to obtain them in Port Moresby.

Now, I am from small town Sibu. I checked with the two money changers there, i.e Yewon and Segi Bintang Ganjaran prior to departing for Yangon. No luck! They did not have new crispy USD and no small notes. Earlier, I was in Kuching on the way back from Port Moresby and there was insufficient USD at the lone money changer operating at Tun Jugah shopping complex.

There was one last place I could check and my last chance to find the small bills, i.e. at the airport in Kuala Lumpur. When I arrived at Airasia Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) from Sibu, I went straight to change my USD100 bills to the small notes. Both money changers there shook their heads. I could not believe it! Did they mean they did not have the small bills or they did not want to change my USD100 bills to smaller bills! They did not say anything, just the negative response. I suspected that they did not want to change my USD100 bills because they would not make any money by doing that.

I bid my time and when I saw a different counter clerk at one of the money changers, I inquired with her. She told me that she could not change the large denominated USD to smaller bills with me but I could buy them. My guess was right. Now, I did not want to buy more USD because I had enough of the currency with me already. Under this circumstance, I had no choice but to pull out my Malaysian Ringgit (from my wallet and ATM) and bought another USD200, which I requested to be given in small clean bills.

How crispy and clean should the USD be? Bloggers have described them as followed:

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I had bills in the following conditions. 

Guess which were not accepted!

The USD10 which was my deposit with OK Travels and Tours was initially accepted but when the tickets were delivered to me, I was asked to replace it.

The USD20 was rejected by White House Hotel where I stayed when I tried to pay for my final night's stay.

As far as I could see, there was no crease, no spot, no tear nor folding lines in both bills. The only reason I could offer was both bills did not "feel" crispy new. The "new" here means the feel of freshly minted notes, not the year.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 7: Last Day in Yangon - Maha Bandoola Garden

18 May 2013 (Saturday)

Today was my last day in Myanmar. I have to catch up on my eating as I had only tried a few types of Burmese food.

The sun would be out already by 5:30 a.m. in Myanmar. I was not sure whether Shwe Htoo Restaurant would be opened early. Anyway, I went out. Surprise! I was the late riser. The streets were already full of people. It was 7 a.m. and Shwe Htoo was opened. Great! I had two rounds of meals there. The first was a kind of fried rolls (I forgot the name) and the second was Thosai. The milk tea was good and I had two small mugs of it.

There, I had a chit-chat with the teenage helper who served me. He said he was learning English. He wanted to come to Malaysia to work also as he has friends there. He spoke in halting English and has a lot to catch up.

After the breakfast, I crossed back from Anawrahta Road to Maha Bandoola Road through 31st Street. My objectives were to visit Maha Bandoola Garden and take pictures of the few historical building there. Then, I went to Bogyoke Market again, this time, hoping to buy a piece or two of quartz crystal but it had not opened for business yet.

Sule Pagoda
Sule Pagoda
Bengalesonni Jameh Mosque
City Hall
Immanuel Baptist Church
High Court
Maha Bandoola Garden
At 10 a.m., I went out to Bogyoke Market again but unfortunately, I was not successful in bargaining down the price of the quartz crystal and did not make any purchase. I was back at the hotel by 11 a.m. and the hotel manager inquired whether I was successful in making my purchase. I answered in the negative. Then, I went up to my room, took my bath, packed up, checked out and waited for chow time at the lobby.

I was still full at lunch time. Going out meant that I would be sweating and needing a bath again. Luckily that morning, I overheard the owner telling another group of backpackers that they could still freely use the bathroom to take showers after checking out.

At about 1:00 p.m., I decided I must have my biryani at Nilar Biryani and Cold Drink at Anawrahta Road, otherwise I would regret it for life. At Anawrahta Road, I met the Canadian pair of backpackers who were staying at White House Hotel also. They were looking for the train station to go on the Circular Train ride. I told them I would be going to Nilar Biryani, a popular restaurant and invited them. It was in the same direction as the Circular Train station (actually, I gave the wrong direction but did not realise it at that time). They joined me. Over lunch, I learnt that the Asian guy was a Taiwanese and could speak Guo Yu (Chinese) and the white guy worked for Facebook and has a Malaysian Manager. The Manager told him that he should visit Penang. They thought Malaysia is expensive like Singapore and I told them it was cheap like Myanmar. He said that he would make it his next destination after Europe, while his Taiwanese friend interjected saying after Bhutan.

After lunch, I went back to White House Hotel, took a shower but started to sweat again even before I came out of the bathroom. The owner helped me hailed a taxi for 7,000 Kyat and by 2 p.m., I was on the way to Yangon International Airport.

Archway to Yangon International Airport
Airasia check-in counters. Unlike LCCT, the Airasia staff actually weighed my backpack. Mine was about 8 kilogram, but was cleared anyway as carry-on.
Over-stayers filing their forms
Security check at International Departure Gate
Inside the departure hall. All the stands were selling Myanmar jade and jewellery
Jewellery and jade products at the departure hall
Gate 1 to Kuala Lumpur