Challenged in Yangon, and loving it


Coming from a country where all rules have been set in place, when a five-minute delay of a train is considered a major disaster, Charlotte Tan regarded her first posting in Yangon six years ago a fortunate stroke of serendipity.

The young executive from the global public relations giant Ogilvy & Mather has come to a realisation that the world will not end even if you are half an hour late for your appointment; that life is not all about following rules, it is also about improvisations based on the unexpected situations with which one is confronted.

“Things are not fixed or established here in Yangon, or in the whole country for that matter. There’s a lot of room and opportunities to experiment,” she said.

Among her (mis)adventures, were delivering a business pitch in the dark when the power suddenly went out after a heavy rain, and fixing their apartment’s water pump so they can take showers.

“I doubt I’ll experience these things in Singapore,” she said. “These (mis)adventures challenge you to be more creative, patient and resilient.”

Returning recently for a new assignment as group account director of TODAY Ogilvy & Mather Myanmar, the winsome executive admitted the attention the world gave to Yangon during the post-sanction days piqued her curiosity.

She remembered the one weekly team meeting they had in which the posting to Myanmar was mentioned very briefly and there were only two people interested in it.

“Singapore is a small country and I wanted to gain more overseas exposure, so I indicated interest in the opportunity and asked for more information,” she said. “But I honestly did not know what I was in for.”

Not one bit does she regret her decision to be posted in Yangon.

“I’m grateful for the trust and opportunity given to me to be part of the founding of TODAY Ogilvy PR team in 2012, and more recently to return and support the team’s next stage of growth,” she added.

Things have changed quite a bit in Myanmar’s economic capital since she first came. For one, the daily conveniences have improved since the development of the telecoms industry.

Among the most noticeable improvements are cheaper SIM cards, which now cost only US$1 compared to between $350 and $500 during earlier times. There’s greater access to internet and net-based services such as taxi booking apps and food delivery services.

She noted there are more consumer brands available in the market than before.

The internet “has resulted in a more informed and internationally exposed generation of Myanmar people,” the young public relations executive said.

“I’ve seen colleagues and friends that I met when I first arrived in 2012 – especially the millennials – evolve in terms of appearance, the way they speak and carry themselves, how they spend their time and money,” she said.

“Instead of hanging out at tea shops and beer stations, people are visiting cafes and bars. While many of them still spend their weekends and religious holidays at the pagoda or meditation centres, they are also starting to dabble in recreational activities and events that did not exist or were not popular back in 2012, such as hiking and rock climbing,” she added.

She also noted that many of her friends are travelling locally and overseas more than before.

According to a 2016 Ogilvy & Mather study, the emerging Myanmar middle class said that now more than ever they feel connected to the world.

The survey showed that Myanmar’s emerging middle class was found to have the strongest preference for international brands.

Myanmar is also the only country where the preference for international products is greater than for local products, according to the study.

But Yangon needs to address some of its key infrastructure problems, such as the road network, in order to sustain the growth momentum.

“I wouldn’t go to the extent of saying that I hate the roads (here in Yangon) but I really miss being able to take leisurely strolls outside my apartment and around the neighbourhood,” she said. “My husband and I like to take long walks, and that’s not quite easily possible in Yangon yet.”

Having adapted to Yangon life by now, the TODAY Ogilvy & Mather executive has gotten used to improvising to keep up with the daily rigours of city living.

“A typical workday would be spent working on projects, client meetings, team management and collaboration, followed by dinner at home – if we have time to cook – or eating out,” she said.

On the weekends, she usually splits her time between housework, resting, checking out interesting events if there’s anything on, catching up with friends and church.

Although she has no favourite hangout, the lady executive likes Savoy Hotel Yangon because of its “nice, chill bar & poolside restaurant.”

She also has a soft spot for Yangon Excelsior Hotel because of its proximity to her office and its heritage newsroom-inspired interior.

Despite the daily inconveniences, she said her stay in Yangon has been worth it, knowing there’s always a lesson to learn in every challenge that comes her way.

She believes Yangon and Myanmar, as a whole, offers a lot of opportunities for everyone, individuals and companies alike.

“Yangon and Myanmar is still a relatively young, developing market. There are many opportunities and room to experiment,” Charlotte said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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