Yangon is a city of over 5 million people, but the number of westerners living in Yangon is estimated at being not many more than a thousand. A long standing Thursday night tradition for a large chunk of those thousand is drinks at the Traders Hotel Bar. The Traders is as luxurious as one can imagine a hotel to be, with the swishest lobby in town, scarily attentive staff, and a refined air that usually scares away backpackers. All this in the centre of one of the dirtiest, most chaotic and poverty-stricken cities in the world. On the second floor of the Traders Hotel stands the Bar.
Ever the curious traveller I was keen to meet some of the expats and find out what brought them to Yangon. Even in the confines of a very western venue like that, discretion was still required when discussing politics (or "the P" as my friend from earlier that day referred to it).
First I met a couple who had moved out from Calgary in Canada. The lady (no, the lady in the couple, not The Lady - see earlier most) was working as a nurse at the Yangon hospital, and moved there as a change of pace close to the end of her career. Life in Yangon was good, they mentioned, if you had the money to afford some of the little luxuries from back home.
Others in the crowd included the usual bunch of Kiwis and Australians. Some were there living the good life as yachtsmen, travelling from port to port, and spending a prolonged time in Myanmar. One of the more interesting expat stories was of a designer of golf courses, whose humble beginnings as a groundskeeper at a course in Sydney has led to him spending more than a decade designing courses through Asia. Apparently golf is the next best thing in Myanmar, as the locals and some expats take up the game. Reading between the lines, it seems that many of the Myanmar ruling elite in both military and government circles are keen to try their hand at a bit of western decadence, and golf fits in perfectly with this mentality.
The search for oil was also bringing some people to live in Myanmar, particularly so with the difficulty in finding oil in other parts of the world. The usual process is for companies to set up their operations in Bangkok, but there is always a need for some people on the ground where the black gold is being found. The recurring theme seemed to be that many of the expats were quite keen on the government running the show at the moment, and that they were quite amenable to the needs of international business. Concerns about politics and human rights are secondary when there is money to be made, and despite its poverty there certainly is plenty.
And one final interesting detail revealed at the Traders Bar: Yangon has a thriving amatuer cricket scene, with expat poms, kiwis, Australians and Indians taking on some emerging talent from the host country. So the Brits in Burma live on still.