A month at the Phaung Daw Oo School
Myanmar is not near Canada by any stretch of the imagination. Be it physically or culturally.
My journey started on Sunday with a quick flight to Vancouver from Calgary. A three hour layover for my final western meal before the long haul to Beijing and leaving North America far behind. I took this time to finish the book “The Element” by educator Ken Robinson (one of the most highly viewed TED talks ever Ken Robinson . Maker Education ties in with his theories, at least that’s what I’m going to try to do with the curriculum. It must be developed to ensure the students are engaged - this type of program will be hard to pull-off if we can’t get the students 110% engaged. The whole principle depends on that.
Beijing to Yangon was uneventful, landed 40 minutes late, that’s it. Desmond the taxi driver took me to the City Star hotel in downtown Yangon. It was hot 28C, Calgary was 4C when I left 26 hours ago. Texted with my family which seems crazy, I’d traveled in this region 25 years ago with my wife. Back then, mail and the occasional telephone call every 3 or 4 months were the only communications we had. Now I was holding a conversation as if the 7500 miles weren’t there!
My day was spent in Yangon, visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda. Its a mass of golden pagoda's with different Buddha specializing in specific wishes. I wished at the hair loss Buddha for more hair, will report back on hair Buddha’s progress in a few weeks. Saw the ruby Buddha on TV, allegedly it’s so powerful that once a man wished to become king, he asked the ruby Buddha for help and succeeded. As the new king he ensured the ruby Buddha was not seen again until the advent of TV!
Tuesday night was the final stage, the bus journey from Yangon to Mandalay, quite the journey. Like many parts of the world, the traffic here is heavy and crazy. The main rules seems to be only look forward. They drive on the right, the same as Canada but import thousands of left hand drive cars from Japan. Drivers can't easily see to overtake, but it doesn't seem to hinder them. How we didn’t crash or kill multiple pedestrians is beyond me. The bus terminus was a small industrial unit, for some reason I’d expected some massive colonial edifice, but instead just a tiny room with lots of people. The atmosphere erupted each time a bus left, they have to reverse out of the lot, everyone and I mean everyone has to get involved. The noise level exploded each and every time, then once the bus was gone and the usual, quieter chaos returned.
The roads are NOT smooth, the buses are modern, luxury buses but the ride is rough. They are toll roads so I assume there new or at least newish. It was dark… I’d love to see them in the day just to see why the journey was so bumpy. It was a long way - 8 hours, with a stop at Shwe Pyi 115 Miles, a Myanmarmise transport cafe for a meal and the toilet. The food was good, hard to order though, lots of pointing, haven’t got the ear for Myanmarmise yet. Then back to the bumpy, unforgiving bus. Hours later and finally we were here, Mandalay, my new home for the next month.
Do you ever get that feeling that you could do something more with your life? Or you perhaps you want do something more but your current situation make change difficult if not impossible?
That's how I feel at the moment, my career has been interesting and varied. I’ve been an engineer, a project manager, a professor, a bit of an artist and now an entrepreneur at Evolution; my “fix projects that have gone a little astray” company. Up until now its been pretty good, we had a great 2016 building and commissioning a large facility but we knew the next project would be harder to get in this economy. And that got me thinking.
When I left college with my degree, I had the belief that I was going too change the world, no plans as too how but a belief none the less. Looking back over what I’ve been doing for the last 28 years it doesn’t exactly fit that plan. I got job, got busy, got busier, got another job, tried this career, tried that, worked some more, but didn't really change the world much…
The perfect storm has been brewing for me. I was 50 last year, completing another decade gave me a feeling of finality, you can't go back. You get one go at life, so make the most of it! This and the slowing Alberta economy (suddenly my business as usual plans got rather messed up) provided me with the time to reflect on my original plan, is this really what I want to do for another 15 years? Sure, I like the work, thrive on the challenges, the chaos these projects provide but is it totally satisfying? Perhaps it’s finally time to start doing something a little different, at least for a while? Why not try to change the world, even if it's only a small amount?
I was definitely not thinking of going to Myanmar when I googled "volunteer work in Calgary", but that's what came up. Sometimes opportunity knocks and you have to grab it I guess? I have sort of done this type of work before, in 2009 after the financial crash I’d toyed with the idea of doing team building using Maker education principles. I believe in fate and that this has come for a reason, I have absolutely no idea why now but I'm sure it will eventually become apparent.
I'm going to write about my experience over the month here in Mandalay, Myanmar. Please feel free to follow along, this is a new experience for me diving in Social Media. If anything resonates with you please comment. Thanks for your time.