shopping-day14
1
Feb

Burma 2015: The final day, Day 14

Our final day in Burma (Myanmar) includes shopping (what else?) and a final dinner to celebrate our journeys, new experiences and new friends.

By Marilyn Murphy
Thousand Oaks, CA

It’s another travel day and once again, my day to blog. Our magical Burma (Myanmar) journey is drawing to a close, as we’re heading back to Yangon — right where we started.

We enjoyed our fourth and final breakfast of delectable crepes at the Cassiopeia Hotel, where the hospitable General Manager, Ko Soe Lwin, surprised us with big bowls of mountain-grown strawberries. He said he felt guilty because he had offered us the same pancake menu (plain, banana, chocolate or banana-chocolate) for three consecutive mornings! I’ve traveled a lot of places in my 35+ year career, and don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed with a hotel operation than I have been with this little 16-room boutique hotel. In the evenings, many of the staff can be found sitting at the breakfast tables taking English lessons, a critically important skill for anyone in the hospitality industry.

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No traveler goes without souvenirs!

Since the country opened up to tourism several years ago, there have been many new start-up airlines. Consequently, there are lots of brand-new, turbo-prop aircraft flying the more popular domestic routes in Burma (Myanmar), the largest country in southeast Asia. Harkening back to the good old days, these airlines don’t charge for checked luggage, employ wonderfully polite cabin crew and even serve an in-flight meal!

Back in Yangon, after lunch at a popular restaurant called Monsoon, we had a presentation from a lovely German woman named Ulla who manages a non-profit craft shop, Pomelo, located next door. They work with small family businesses, community groups and marginalized individuals, providing a market for handmade products that empowers producers to increase their productivity, expand their creativity and earn a sustainable income.

She cited examples like this:

  • Ten widows with HIV-AIDS produce textile products and plush toys full-time. Their daily incomes have increased from about $1 to as much as $5.
  • A student group makes jewelry fashioned from paper beads, which enables those who have earned scholarships to attend university in Yangon to have necessary funds for transportation, housing, health care and emergency expenses.
  • Children with disabilities design and produce simple beaded jewelry, and their mothers are given home-based business opportunities so they can stay home with their children.
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Left: Theresa Brewer (Moscow, ID) looks on as Helen Belletti (Falls Church, VA) honors Brooke Zobrist, Executive Director of Girl Determined – with our gift to one of her girls, a Summer Camp scholarship. Right: Patricia Andersson, trip leader.

Ulla, a designer, explained how they encourage and guide these artisans to produce well-designed goods of the highest quality, with an emphasis on recycling, that will be popular with the foreign visitors. Notable customers include Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohammad Yunus and President Obama. You won’t be surprised to learn that we left the shop laden with wonderful treasures and gifts to share with friends and family, happily spending thousands and thousands of Kyat (the local currency).

The venue for our final night Completion Dinner was a beautiful garden restaurant illuminated with hundreds of candles and an almost-full moon. Patricia Andersson recapped our itinerary, which started 14 days ago when we first gathered as a group of strangers at our introductory meeting at the hotel. She commented that “we started with Shwedagon (Pagoda) and ended with shopping” . . . what a rich variety of experiences we’ve had!

She asked each of us to speak about our most impactful and unforgettable memories of the journey. There were poignant stories of connection with the girls from the Colorful Circles, especially the day we spent in the rural village visiting the girls’ families in their homes. One woman tearfully recalled her experience of meeting a bright young girl who had lamented about how her mother favored a brother when it came to providing an education. It was hard to choose which was the most beautiful place – Bagan and Inle Lake were contenders. Everyone commented about the warmth and genuine hospitality of the Burmese people, with hope for its future and especially for the bright, beautiful girls we’ve met along the way.