Myanmar, Hillary, God & Muhammad

It must be so…customs and immigration officials upon acceptance of employment are required to sign a mandatory statutory declaration before commencing their professional duties.

In my estimation this is a declaration of unquestionable sullenness, objectionability, lack of common decency and an intolerance to humour. It also involves immediate termination of respect for their…umm “customers”.

Grueling personal experience and multiple passports stacked full of visa stamps, between both Mark and I, validates my thesis.

The West has been leading the world for the last 100 years in many things; currently it leads the world with THE most inhospitable places to enter and exit.

I spoke about the consequences of this rampant stupidity when regaling my own little fun with a mindless drone at New Zealand customs some time ago.

Fly through most any developed country and you’ll find real, hard evidence that God exists. He must…otherwise why the purgatory?

By that score, places such as Myanmar must not have God. No purgatory no God, right?

It’s clear to me that the Burmese haven’t received the “memo” yet. I’m surprised since Hillary Clinton, that bastion of pervasively inarticulate, asinine thought, on her recent visit to Myanmar clearly neglected to impart the wisdom of how to offend and harass visitors to one’s country. I can just hear her internal dialogue, “They’re just silly little backward, brown people in grass hats…maybe they can still be taught, heh?”

Given my past experiences, I feel ill-at-ease with customs and immigration officials who welcome me to their country with wide open smiles, eager to lighten their and my day with humour. I’m almost nostalgic for the belligerent, arrogant morons I’m used to, inspecting my shoes and relieving me of my skin lotion and toothpaste…almost.

As for Hillary, we’ll forgive her this time around. I suspect she has more pressing issues to deal with…like figuring out why on earth the Muslim world is up in arms with America. A real puzzlement it is..?

It cannot possibly be that foreigners, Muslims especially, don’t like American GI’s camped out in their homeland, running door-to-door Search and PTO (piss-them-off) operations, torturing and interrogating the populace, while coordinating drone-strikes on weddings and public gatherings.

Meanwhile the world is told that it’s all in the name of democratization, and keeping the world safe. At least that’s what the elite, PhD-carrying, loafer-wearing think tank set in DC has spent decades and billions of American tax dollars shoving down the Sheeple’s throats. What, you don’t like water-boarding? Really?

Surely its not the decades long support for dictatorial regimes. Nah, surely none of that.

It’s all about an offensive movie depicting Muhammad in a “less than flattering” light. Really? Straws and camels folks, and it isn’t ending well. Whowouldathunkit heh?

Our friend Kevin Virgil told us what the real deal was in our recent interview, Libya – The Real Story.

I digress though, and will leave Hillary and her cohorts to competently exacerbate an already hopeless situation, and maybe even kick-off a regional or world war…

Since, thankfully, we can’t rely on Hillary for any “help” in Myanmar, we are left with smiles, humour and a genuine desire to help pervading the current cluster of immigration officials. No rabid dogs patrolling your luggage with their jack-boot outfitted, robot-like masters tearing apart passengers/customers bags in search of dangerous terrorist items such as toothpicks…yes toothpicks, I kid you not…but that is a story for another day!

Myanmar is moving ahead – of that we’re absolutely sure. It is one of the few remaining Asian countries to embark on this path, and it is incredibly exciting to be living in such times, and being so close to the action.

Noticeable Changes Afoot

Mark and I repeatedly get asked for suggestions on how to think about the current state of affairs in the developed world, and what to do about it on an individual level.

Our answer has been to shut up and grow some balls. We mean this figuratively, and we completely understand that moving oneself lock, stock and barrel to where the growth is, and where economic freedom is growing not receding, is not an option for most. However, moving your capital towards these areas, in our opinion is not only smart, and relatively easy, but also essential in today’s yield-starved world!

Myanmar, for our money, is a country heavily pregnant with opportunity, and one that needs to be on your short-list for placing investment capital.

Asking questions of people on the streets of Yangon and Naypyidaw today will get you an enthusiastic response. As little as 2 years ago you could not get much more than the glimpse of a disappearing head when asking the same questions. People were rightfully afraid…terrified even.

It is astounding to me that in such a short time-frame the psychology of the populace has changed so drastically.

On our most recent visit to the country Mark and I attended an investment seminar in Naypyidaw. This is the freshly-minted capital city, designed as far as I can tell to keep dumb foreigners from rolling through the the rest of the country to witness the still pervasive poverty and absolute lack of…well, everything.

Naypyidaw for those of you who’ve never been, is the bastard child of the Military Junta. Imagine mating a water buffalo with an i-Phone, and having it conceive. Welcome to Naypyidaw. It’s Vegas meets tropical jungle, and certainly bears ZERO resemblance to the rest of Myanmar.

Myanmar International Convention Centre in Naypyidaw

Short memories

What struck me as surprising at the conference Mark and I attended was the ability for the attendees to lap up, like eager, well-trained poodles, the message being spewed out by a gang of (former) murderers and thieves.

Intelligent, thoughtful and mostly engaging professionals and business leaders from the world over giving respect to people who, frankly, deserve nothing more than to be lynched and unceremoniously buried.

The fact that any bureaucrat who has been front-and-centre in one of the most brutal regimes in existence over the last 50-odd years can stand up and address a group of educated people – extolling of how they believe in freedom, justice and capitalism – is amusing in a deeply disappointing way.

Don’t get me wrong, what they are doing now is fantastic, and the steps they’ve taken are nothing short of incredible. I commend them on multiple fronts, however at the same time I’m shocked at how easily people forget, or rather simply choose not to see, and fail to punish. Greed is an overwhelmingly powerful emotion.

While recently sitting with a friend discussing this very topic, the subject of the killing fields of Cambodia came up. What we, and other foreign investors have to remember, and keep reminding themselves is that we WILL NEVER understand fully what the people of these countries must feel, and must have gone through.

You must never lose site of that, even as you look for opportunities to profit. We are, after all, all human beings sharing this ball of dirt, and (almost) everyone deserves to be free, happy and to have opportunities. In the post Impact Investing – An Opportunity to do “Good”, Chip Feiss talked about why deploying capital in a socially responsible way is gaining in popularity.

I’ve been to plenty of crazy, broken countries. One thing I know for certain – if I am to profit and bring any sort of good to a place I must be humble and open to understanding it’s peoples perspective.

Case in point… Cambodia, which I just mentioned, is a country we are bullish on. Unbelievably it still has a large percentage of the Khmer Rouge in positions of power! This after one of THE most horrendous genocides the world has ever witnessed.

Everyone knows of this, is saddened by it…horrified in many instances, but the perpetrators continue to sit at the top of the food chain. Justice (mostly) does not exist in the world. Hollywood yes…the real world, not so much.

So What?

You may ask why I chose to discuss Myanmar and Cambodia together with the shit storm in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere where Muslims are venting their anger?

It’s a good question. I hope my answer satisfies…

People can, will and do live harmoniously side-by-side despite myriad differences. Cats and dogs occasionally live in harmony, but only when there are the correct conditions – namely a strong leader and enough food to satisfy both. In much the same way, people of very different cultural and religious backgrounds will live together harmoniously in times of economic prosperity. This has been the case in the United States and most of Western Europe for quite some time.

In times of economic collapse however, your neighbours may (most likely will) turn on you like a pack of angry, ravenous dogs.

I’ve read a ton of history, OK maybe not a ton, but a lot. From what I have gleaned there are essentially two options when countries are experiencing an economic collapse:

  1. Strongman leadership enforcing some level of compliance. Saddam Hussein’s of the world stand up please!
  2. Bring about economic prosperity. If we are to look at history we are forced to accept the reality that nations collapse first, and only after a long time, potentially hundreds of years do they manage to drag themselves back towards prosperity and a harmonious society.

China is a decent example. It managed to transition from a command economy to a capitalist economy, but retained a one-party state. South Korea transitioned economically and then politically. Both are shining examples of the stunning changes in fortunes that can be had for entire populaces.

What will be interesting to see is if Myanmar can pull of a massive change in fortunes while keeping tensions, which will undoubtedly arise, under control.

What they are attempting is to change BOTH economically as well as politically…and at the same time. This is a bold move, but I think anyone expecting smooth sailing is living in a fantasy land.

As I mentioned earlier, the changes that have been taking place in Myanmar are nothing short of unbelievable. Opportunities are everywhere. We are looking at half a dozen or so which I will discuss in the next post.

– Chris

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”  – Helen Keller


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Steve

    Excellent article!

    If I could make a couple of comments…

    I am not sure yet that Myanmar is changing or trying to change politically. Up to this point there is zero change in the power structure. Military/ex military dominates. NLD has a tiny fraction of seats in the “parliament”…inconsequential. The next election will tell the tale. Will the election be clean? Will the NLD sweep? Will existing gov’t/army accept a big NLD vote? They did not last time.

    It MAY be different this time around, but we will have to wait and see. Is Thein Sein for real in changing things? An interesting question, and for me not enough time has passed to judge definitively. The beginning of economic change is real, I believe, and that is more important.

    I’ve met a few Germans while I’ve been in Myanmar who have said that when they told a local they were from Germany, the local replied along the lines of “Germany = Hitler. He was a good man because he was strong”.

    My own conclusion is that the Burmese(and I think Asians in general) have a weird respect/hate relationship with brutal leaders. They respect the brutality as showing strength, but hate being on the receiving end of that brutality. Add in strong Buddhist beliefs like, “Life is suffering” and fatalistic karma (my current shitty life is because of my karma and I can’t change that) and then I sort of understand why the Burmese didn’t rise up against the junta, why the Cambodians still have Khmer Rouge in leadership positions, why the Laotians, Cambodians and Vietnamese don’t hate America after 60’s/70’s war, why Mao is still cool in China, etc.

    And the flip side is that they endure the brutality with a grace that I don’t see in the West. Just my thoughts.

    Keep on!!!


  2. Pete

    Late to this post but want to reply to Steve.

    I also have traveled for 25 years and now live and work with Asians. Also married to one. We both know there are radical differences between the countries and cultures over here that most Westerners do not even begin to understand – but there do seem to be matching traits and you touched on a couple of them.

    Most Asian folks do have a willingness to suffer abuse, injustice and corruption that any of us from the West would howl about. It probably is related to their brutal, subsistence histories as well as the deep Buddhist mentality you describe.

    However, I sense the young generation are quickly becoming freedom loving consumers and pop culture oriented. Even here in China, slowly but surely. Whether he leaders will ever be able to put down this new “intelligence” again (if they make that fatal mistake), as they have for centuries in the past is becoming debatable, in my opinion. Time will tell, meanwhile the growth and wealth continues and the internet/foreign presence spreads a view from outside. I think economic prosperity and freedom go hand in hand. Sure wish the West was still on that track……

    Hope you keep posting here, you have some great insight.


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