Misadventures in Naypyidaw: Year Two

At the start of year two, the project needed fresh blood. The new staff intake were a mixed bunch. Two couples were recruited to help prevent the fractional personal issues that doomed the Residence experiment.

Bill and Sharon were the classical ‘nice couple’ and more damnigly, dedicated professionals that took it all seriously.  Organisation veterans, they were seemingly inured to the madness of it all. Sharon, American, was hilarious in a perfectly-timed eye-roll way and Bill, whilst totally inoffensive, was the dullest Canadian stereotype imaginable. You could imagine him making faithful reconstructions of model trains out of airfix kits of WW2 bombers and painting them the right shade of grey.

Claire and Paul were an English couple. I didn’t take to them immediately: they travelled with cats, which is always a bad sign. Then there was English Mark. He threatened to quit even before the work had officially started. That was entirely the fault of Claire, Paul and I as we demolished his spiritualism over dinner one night and it shook his faith in whatever kept him going. The couple and I were evidently of the same amplitude. A promising sign.

Finally, there was the new manager: the Slim Weeper.

Ah yes, the Woman that Couldn’t Speak at an Audible Volume. Attitudes to the client are, of course, a mirror to the psychology of the individual. Hers was that they needed wrapping in cotton wool, pink baby blankets and were riddled with deepseated emotional trauma.

Her leadership style was the ‘don’t do’ section of elementary management courses and she simultaneously exhibited all the symptoms of stress and all the symptoms of social dysfunction. She was prone to weeping uncontrollably in meetings, ambushing staff in the client’s car parks and lecturing them about how hard she worked.

Imagine someone who could suck the anima from the room just by entering it; a sort of charisma Dracula. Her presence didn’t kill conversation. She eroded its very possibility – a drawback when her job was to promote it.

As the project progressed, it became obvious she was filled with all sorts of delusional views on how her expertise was going to inspire and utterly transform the professional lives of those she managed. She clearly had the revolutionary’s conceit that the world needed her ideas.

She didn’t like being talked to when working in case she ‘was thinking’. Stimuli weren’t her thing. Furthermore,  she was the posterchild for the safe-space generation. Feelings! Feelings! Feelings! In retrospect, she was so far along on the spectrum, it explains why her voice was permanently Doppler-shifted into the inaudible.

At one point, we took to minuting meetings in exacting detail as her recollection of events clearly took place in a different reality. She was a complete fantasist. She also had a problem with the women she managed and did her best to undermine their professionalism and destroy their self-esteem. She repeatedly tried it on me but I kept calling out her bullshit. Of the legion useless idiots the Organisation employed, this cretin topped the list. She made passive aggression into an art form. Truly, an awful person.

As the Residence was a failed project, we were given a housing allowance and went searching for accommodation in a city never designed with renters in mind. What houses there were all belonged to officials connected to the ousted Junta party. There was a reluctance to rent to anyone associated with the new order. Claire and Paul’s house had a bar and belong to their Ambassador to Nepal.

I dubbed mine Maison Junta. The house was a cavernous bungalow with 5 bedrooms – one of which housed a Buddhist shrine – 2 en-suite bathrooms and a fitted kitchen bigger than the ground floor of my mum’s house. It had clearly stood unoccupied for a goodly while and the weekend I moved in, it was at thermal equilibrium with the 45 degree heat outside. The limited air-con couldn’t cool it down. I set up home in the smallest room. There was no air-con in the kitchen and I only went in there to turn the kettle on.

And it came with a man included in the price. Claire and Paul’s was a bargain – they got a family. Their job was to maintain and keep out squatters. My Man Friday lived in a shack next to the house and kept himself busy doing something. Every night he would bolt the gate closed, sealing us both in. I paid him the specified wage and I think my shear presence kept him amused.

Immediately behind was a house under construction and a family of four maintained it: two adults and two teenage girls. The girls noticed I had a camera and every time I stepped outside, the neighbourhood appeared in their finery. The younger of the two daughters took to raiding my fridge. She had a thing for cold oranges. I made sure she took the whole bag. One lunch time, I was cooking in the kitchen; I had some music playing through tiny speakers attached to my Ipod. Man Friday looked at it like a man possessed. The small size blew his mind.

I drove Claire to work one afternoon, and then, unusually, returned home myself. The entire neighbourhood where using the shower/outhouse and having water fights on a epic scale. They looked guilty as I drove in. Until then, I had never really understood why the monthly water bill varied so much. Busted. It was so gratifying to know they were taking advantage. Good on them.

Then there was Aphrodite (Weeper: ‘ She’s Greek’). She was coming to grace us all with the divine light and save our professional souls. How she was talked up. We hated her before she had even arrived. There was an endless stream of these people, all coming to light the way and remake the wheel. Most would have struggled to draw one. Total no-marks of zero consequence, they all suffered from no self-awareness and a lack of critical thinking.

The Weeper was obviously a problem and her ‘training’ sessions proved Hell is other employees. Yangon decided to hold staff-training in Naypyidaw and flew several people up and back in the same day. The return on the finances was never considered. Weeper’s total inability to read social cues resulted in tedious presentations longer than the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Claire, Paul and I took to playing cliché bingo to get through the day; working in oblique references to Douglas Adams became the method for keeping the brain alive. The ‘training’ was an exercise in impermanence and lasted about as long in the memory as a snowman would on the road to Mandalay. It proved too much even for hardened professionals like Sharon. I remember her turning to face me, the extent of her eye-roll made her look like a melted candle.

The road to Mandalay is a deserted dual carriageway. No flying fish.

Like all such training, the content was merely a thin medium for fostering ‘relationships’ in the bar afterwards. The Organisation has much in common with how cults organise themselves. Among other things, it is very insular and looks upon itself with an absolutist conviction and as project that wants your soul just as much as your labour. The point of asking people’s opinions was to inform them what it should be. There is an orthodoxy.

The three of us never stayed around long enough to network. Over cathartic cocktails and pizza a short distance away, we laughed away the horrors we had witnessed.

In all, it was a much calmer year. We survived the Weeper by calling out her bullshit on sight and ignoring her the rest of the time. Her antics remained a barometer for our collective sanity. If you removed the need for rationality and logic in corporate decision-making, you came to terms with it all much faster.

Published by Lee Russell Wilkes

Been bouncing around the world for a while taking photos. Like most people, I have gone to ground during the pandemic. Decided it was time to put some of them out in the world.

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