Investigations in Myanmar
We have had investigations in far more difficult circumstances but certainly not in a more challenging country.
The first challenge we encountered was the language. Years of isolation kept most foreigners other than a handful of Chinese people out of the country. The characters are in Burmese – period. Thankfully, some of the old British remains in Yangoon and a few people speak both English and Burmese. In order to conduct proper research, it’s essential to find someone who speaks both English and Burmese. Also, give yourself ample time when conducting research. Moving between places where research needs to get done can be a real schlep. Three to four hours between locations is common and adding the horrendous traffic problems you’ll find it’s really hard to move around. If you’re of more the adventurous type, try a scooter. We opted for the tuk-tuk– (a 3 wheeled, 2 cycle motor that is accessible to anyone needing to get around in a hurry). Using the tuk-tuk certainly cut down the time – but …. Ah, you just need to ride a tuk-tuk. Describing the thrill, fear, smells, near death experiences – at every intersection – just can not be given justice by the written word. Let’s just say it was a hell of a ride!
The agencies are very wary of any inquiry, even with the subject’s permission. Special conversations took place in a private room and fifteen minutes later we received the records as were requested, as well as an added “record access fee” on the invoice.
At the end of the day it can be done, but it gets more difficult as you leave the Irrawaddy Valley. Suddenly the language changes –a different dialect is spoken – and so does the peril from biting and stinging insects and big, VERY big snakes: pythons and cobras who do not seem to fear us bipeds. But this is all part of the job! Our core mission is to work with our clients by conducting research on their partners. Often the locations are still not mapped out on the internet and not electronically accessible and will not be for many, many years. Do bring your Yellow Card with a complete record of your health, prescriptions and vaccinations.
The Burmese people were – without fault – kind and generous. It took a bit of explaining why we were doing this research “spying”. The best response was from our guide. He said, “We are checking out business partners and their past deeds just as a bride and groom’s family would visit each other to check out their children’s past deeds. It is to be a commercial wedding.” Not spies, just one commercial family checking out another. It was a very good answer to what due diligence is in Myanmar.