Myanmar: whereto next for Asia’s latest emerging market?

It is Tuesday evening, and I’m on my way back to Saigon, however am currently stuck on the runway at Bangkok airport, grounded, thanks to a horrendous monsoon downpour.

Looking out from my cabin window it is as if the plane is underwater.  In fact, given night time is fast setting in, it is more like being underwater in the dark, save for a few flashing neon lights going off from the terminal opposite.

Not being a great flyer myself, and having read the Thai Airways in-flight magazine only yesterday, it is at times like this when I resort to writing about something, to take my mind off both the delay of getting home, and the inevitable panic of turbulence that is awaiting me once we head off.

Last post, you were subject to a freak moment of poetry which I succumbed to at Kuala Lumpur airport, right now I am going to fill you in on Myanmar, a country in which I have just had the pleasure of spending a swift 24 hours… Continue reading

A better Olympic legacy

In years gone by, the end of July might have marked the beginning of the “silly season” for the UK press.

Predictable trending at this time of year typically includes debates about hosepipe bans, commentaries on celebrity bikini preferences and on sport that is not football (although pictures of Wayne Rooney on the beach still feature) and then standard, tedious long-range snaps of the Prime Minister on holiday.

All of which mundane fodder is there for public consumption in 2012 however, connected increasingly as we are as global citizens, with social media tools in a constant whirl of change and upgrade, there is now much better access to actual “news” items from all corners of the planet.

News in which we can immerse ourselves, constantly, as readers, commentators, critics, campaigners.  Whilst we are now a community of 7 billion people, earth’s human “eco-system,” like never before, has the capabilty to include all voices, and all perspectives… Continue reading

#ImpactForum: Singapore

One of the other perks – aside from the sunshine, addictive food, friendly people and out of this world caffeine experiences – of living in Saigon, is the close proximity to some of the region’s enticing, and inspiring, neighbouring countries.

Take Singapore, for example.  I have been here for 24 hours, attending a conference, and despite so far spending the majority of my time here cooped up in windowless rooms on an (albeit uber plush) university campus, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the brief transition from the bustle of Saigon life to the serene and functional order that is Singapore.

I know, despite this, that I’ll be just as eager to board my plane home on Wednesday, however the intervening hours experiencing this very different aspect of South East Asian life has been novel.

From the moment you board the skytrain at Singapore airport and head into town, you are aware of having been momentarily transported into a different world to that of Saigon.  In fact, although Bangkok boasts an impressive skytrain facility itself, there is no comparison even there in terms of the images you take in as passenger as you skirt round the suburbs of the respective cities. Continue reading

Shared agendas: the Rio+20 Conference

I enjoy the street banter in Saigon.  Cyclo drivers can be particularly fun.  They’ll spot you on the pavement, with family entourage in tow, and beckon you over to their rickety mobile contraption.

Jump on board, there’s room for all the family

Seemingly oblivious to your own counter gestures – where you shake your head and point incredulously to your two children, their buggies and the assortment of other luggage that you seem to have accumulated walking down the street – they will be undeterred, remaining all smiles and nods and encouraging hand gestures.

What I love is that you know, one way or another, that the guy would get you all on his cyclo if you gave him half the chance.  He’d make it work, despite the ludicrous sight that would unfold, and aside from the rather precarious health and safety minefield you’d be stepping into in the proceedings. Continue reading

On top of the world

And so to Kathmandu, where I have been for the past four days…

The capital of Nepal, and a city worthy of the much used phrase “a melting pot,” Kathmandu is breathtaking.  Breathtaking in every sense of the word.

The city has a population of 5 million, and is situated at the foot of the Himalayas, in a valley so enclosed by mountains that all flights coming in and going out are forced to perform spiralling ascents and descents, so as to successfully avoid giving their passengers too close a view of the snowy topped peaks.

There is no grass in Kathmandu.  That is, there are no parks and lawns.  In terms of other grass that one might smoke, there is plenty.  In fact on Monday when I arrived, it was the god Shiva’s most holy day of the year.  The temples were inundated, as were the local pot dealers, because Monday marked the one day of the year when smoking dope in Nepal is fully legal (I heard this from a colleague you understand, rather than from experience….ahem…) Continue reading

Women’s empowerment: the responsibility of business?

Yesterday, I spoke at a United Nations Global Compact event in Delhi, convened by CARE India, and debating the role and responsibilities of business, in terms of how they address women’s empowerment.

As catchy opening lines go, it’s very possible that half the readership of this blog (yes, both of you) may not instantly be gripped by the idea of 1,500 words on anything just described.  You’d be forgiven for this, of course – it is Friday, a week from Christmas, and there are better things to be doing.

Believe me, there was a moment stepping up to join the panel yesterday when being an Englishman and talking about women’s empowerment and business in the Indian context (during New Delhi’s own centenary week since it was first established under colonial rule) made me wonder what I’d in fact let myself in for. Continue reading

A message to all humans: a blog from CARE Pakistan staff

In Bangkok today a 5 day public holiday begins as the city takes down some of its flood defences in an attempt to ease the mounting pressure on the capital from the trillions of tonnes of water surrounding it, mainly from the north of the country.

Many residents cannot simply leave, and are hunkering down for a weekend of major flooding as a result.

This news has made UK media front pages (online at least) today, and may well keep its prominence in the next 48 hours. 

We have friends in Bangkok, who recently left Saigon to have a baby in one of the hospitals there, and who seemed to be in good spirits this afternoon when they texted us, but who are of course keeping their hopes up that the situation is not as dire as forecast over the coming days. Continue reading

Cup of tea anyone?

I’m at the Galleface hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, and halfway through my latest work trip.  Various meetings and seminars brought me out here, but I was lucky enough yesterday to be taken “up country” to visit some of CARE Sri Lanka’s project work in the country’s tea plantations. 

I have stayed at the Galleface before, and find myself again fascinated by its heritage.  Built in the 1860’s there are many original features, including one of the doormen, called Kuttan, who is one of the longest serving employees – possibly in the world.  The first car Prince Philip bought sits in the hotel’s museum.  The Prince was a young midshipman serving in the Royal Navy in what was known then as Ceylon, in 1940, at the time he bought the car, a 1935 model Standard Nine.  The car cost £12, which is about the price you’ll pay in new money for a meal for 2 in the hotel’s restaurant, 71 years later.  

The signage here is particularly good.  Inside the bathrooms: “Guests are asked not to bathe outside the bathroom”, and at the top of the stairs: “Galleface respects your decision not to smoke in the hotel.  Why not take the healthy option of the stairs, it’s only two floors down.” Continue reading