GREETINGS FROM MYANMAR
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Patrick’s voice rose as the night went on but our chosen topic never wavered - the vagaries of doing business in Myanmar. “You sound like you have a nice job. That’s good. But there’s always a way out, a way to do something bigger and better. If you work for me, you’ll be a millionaire within a year.”
“It doesn’t matter! A millionaire. One year. I guarantee it.”
“But I don’t know anything about building roads.”
“Come on, man! I’m not talking about building roads. That shit doesn’t matter.” Patrick’s eyes darted from bartender to bartender. “See this wait staff right here? In ten years they’ll be worth a quarter million dollars. Maybe more.” I wasn’t sure what that meant but his next statement was lucid. “There’s a small window to take advantage of this place. It’ll close soon, so you need to be ready. This is that moment.” He beckoned at one of the bartenders. “Excuse me,” he said. “Can we get some champagne? A bottle of champagne?”
The bartender nodded and brought over a chilled bottle in a wine bucket, filling two flutes and placing them next to our cocktails. Patrick smiled and threw ten dollars on the bar. I circled back to the prior conversation, “Okay, but I’m really not sure I’d know what to do.”
My ignorance was too much for him. “You’re already doing it, man!” he bellowed. “You’re at this bar, aren’t you? You’re in this country, right? Don’t make things harder than they have to be. And you met me. There’s a small network of people that make this world work, they’re the ones that make everything go. If you’re in that network, you’re good. I’m in that network. You can be in that network. Easy.”
THE GUIDEBOOK EXPERIMENT:
Discovering Exploration in a Hyper-Connected World
Day 6 - Georgetown, Guyana: It’s karaoke night at the Sleep-In International, an irritating (and unavoidable) epilogue to the events of the past few hours. After my visit to the police station, I had used one of the hotel’s calling cards to call my wife. I said I had been defeated – I had no money, no credit cards, no idea where to go for help - and was ready to abandon the experiment. But she convinced me to stay, to march on through this methodological hiccup, and so here I am, in my hotel room, penniless, listening to the grating melodies of 1980s American pop ballads.
The purpose of my trip to the Guianas, a journey I had ceremoniously designated the “guidebook experiment,” had been to determine how the recent proliferation of guidebook-related material – how the explosion of travel blogs and restaurant reviews and backpacking message boards and digital mapping applications on top of the already vast library of print-related guides to nearly every city, region, and country on the planet - had changed the way we see the world. That was how I ended up trapped one night in a hotel in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, with a black eye and barely a dollar to my name, listening to middle-aged men serenade their female companions with the unmistakable passion of forlorn American rock n’ roll musicians. My presence in that hotel at that very moment seemed to embody, in all its pathetic glory, the results of my experiment.
But I must back up; no proper experiment begins with its findings. Most, instead, begin with an introduction – an explanation of the experiment’s purpose, a justification of its design, and a description of its participants. And so before I explain how I endured and eventually escaped my karaoke purgatory, I must first explain how I ended up there in the first place.
Scenes from The Guidebook Experiment: