Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Response to SFGate's Coverage of Secretary of State Clinton's Recent Visit to Myanmar

I love SFGate, but I was incensed when I read the glowing report of hope and resurrection that the Clinton visit would supposedly cause. The issue is the economic sanctions. Time to allow Burma to find its way and engage with the rest of the world. Read more:

I'm an American expat living in India and I have just returned from two trips inside Burma in October and November of last year. True, there have been marked changes over the past TWO years, since the worst natural disaster, Cyclone Nargis hit and devastated the country. Once the rice basket for Southeast Asia, there were rumors of impending famine. The leaders may have not felt the food shortages, but the average citizen had to pay far more for their rice while the government continued to export as usual.

In those two years, yes, some things have changed, but not much has changed for the average Burmese man or women, and particularly hardest hit are their seniors and their children. The only thing that US economic sanctions have done is make the military junta richer, while closing off economic opportunity for its citizens. I worked closely with business people trying to build infrastructure, but there is no manufacturing capability in-country. Automobiles have not been imported into the country since 2001, and only recently have they allowed imports, at a nearly 160% duty. Three years ago, a simple cellphone cost a citizen over $3,000 - the cost now is around $125 for simple Chinese phone and prepaid SIM card, but the average income of the office workers I worked with was close to $100/month. Cellular service is spotty in urban centers, virtually non-existent in rural areas. Without electricity, telephone service, internet access, how can any country develop trade outside its own borders?

No US citizen is allowed to sell and deploy solar panels to enable villagers to have affordable lights in their homes where there is no electricity - it is considered country building - what we are already doing in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, yet this country, which has never incited any violence against our country, is forbidden to be helped. 

I met a 12 year old boy who works as a waiter in a restaurant in Yangon. He has a 4th grade education, both of his parents are dead from AIDS, and he lives in the alley behind the restaurant. What are his prospects? There are many, many more children, more orphans, just trying to survive, with no marketable skills. I fear for their future. There is a lost generation and we are failing them. US sanctions are a major part of this problem.

Han, my waiter. He was there both times I visited 19th Street in Yangon. My companion told me not to expect him to be there the next time I visit. These boys don't last long, succumbing to drugs or human trafficking

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Adventures in Visaland

I was at the FRRO again on Tuesday. We started the visa renewal process in January, providing all the paperwork required for the visa renewal that had to be done by the company. All they had to do was print it out on stationery or stamp paper, sign it, stamp it and give it to me. That took until the third week of April.

Paperwork involved:

  1. Cover letter requesting visa renewal from company
  2. Visa renewal form
  3. Statement of Undertaking
  4. 1% Foreign Employee Certification
  5. Form 16s (Like W2s in the US) - all years in residence
  6. Tax Returns - all years in residence
  7. Rent Agreement
  8. Proof of Residence (Telephone bill)
  9. Employee contract
  10. Pay Slips  - all years in residence
  11. Passport copies with all visas  - all years in residence
  12. Passport photos

My visa expired in May. You are supposed to file for a renewal 60 days prior to expiration. Got reprimanded because HR couldn't get their stuff done. Blamed it on them, and the FRRO officer seemed satisfied. I was given a two month extension. AFter that we went back every week or two to check on the process. When we got to two weeks prior to the new extension, they were telling us to come back, without providing any written proof that we were in process for the full year nor any kind of documentation proving to my company that we were still legal. We kept returning, trudging up four flights of stairs (the elevator has not worked in the four years I've been here), just to wait around for an hour or two and told to come back next week or ten days. Our visas expired and they did not seem to find that unusual. I needed to travel out of the country, but there was no way to leave the country without a valid visa. My company was slamming me, as if it was me stalling the process.

I took a colleague to the Home Ministry who had a sister who used to work there. She gave us the name of an officer still working there. We restarted the process again with this particular officer and within 3 hours we were out of there with another 2 months, which allowed me to leave the country.

On Monday this week, my son went to the FRRO and discovered the visas were finally back from Chandigarh. They refused to give them to him because I had to be present. On Tuesday, I arrived and was told to come back tomorrow because I didn't have my son with me. I started to cry, telling him how this was causing so much trouble for me at  work and that didn't seem to phase them, then I launched into a tirade about how my son was in school and a minor and how as his parent I should be able to pick it up myself. This seemed to work, and they processed his visa along with mine. Thank f*cking god… The entire process took from January to September. Nine months of work to get a one-year visa. Unbelievable.

Indian Visa Extension

As I was leaving, heading down the stairs, a young asian woman was walking up, and shrieked, "Oh! I know you! You write a blog, right?" Then she looked a little hesitant, probably because of my perturbed look on my face. She said that she read my blog and recognized me from the photos there… it was the first time anyone recognized me in person, but it was really gratifying. She said she read it all the time, which made me feel great about the effort I'd made in posting my experiences. :-)

After completing my Indian visa, I had to head over to the Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, which is located right behind the US Embassy in Delhi. Yu Yu, being a Burmese national and the daughter of the ex-counsel of Myanmar in Kolkata, had connections. Americans have great difficulty entering Myanmar, unless under a recognized tour group. I was looking for a multiple entry business visa. A rare gift to an American. She helped me coordinate my application. I was told to bring a copy of my passport, letters of invitation from the show organizers, and a couple of photos. That's it. I was told during my conversation at the Embassy that I couldn't get a multiple entry this time, but my next visit would not be an issue (I'm scheduled to visit Myanmar in October and again in November).
Myanmar Business Visa

We returned at 4:30 for a completed visa. Took less than 5 hours. Now that's efficiency. :-) Two visas in one day.

I'm lucky to be American. There are few countries that actively bar Americans, most don't require visas. Indians have a lot more difficulty acquiring visas for business and I am sure most of it is racial profiling. Brazil is one place where we are required visas, myself included, but we were not received the same way. I was traveling with two Indian colleagues and we all had lots of extra bags since we were hand carrying all the products to be displayed at the show, probably 50 kgs a piece. I was warmly greeted, welcomed into the country and told to enjoy my stay. The same immigrations officer said absolutely nothing to my colleagues. We picked up all our baggage and headed out towards the exit. Two heavily armed guards approached the three of us, pointed at both men, and told them to come in for questioning. Me, standing in the middle, was told I was free to leave. We had exactly the same mountain of bags, but I'm a white American.  I waited an hour and a half for them to finally be released.

A CEO I work with was refused an American business visa because he's only 26 and couldn't possibly be the head of a 200-person development company. The mountain of paperwork he had to produce is worse than what I need for my visa renewals here, including bank statements going back years. I find this an invasion of privacy.

Most people don't travel internationally, but having experienced this over time and region, it is getting harder and harder to secure visas in a timely manner from any country (except Myanmar - thank you!). Visa reform needs to be looked at across the globe. In this time, where information can be found at your fingertips, why can't most of these processes be automated and online? Travisa in New York City does a good job in the US processing Indian visas (it only takes a day there, but 9 months here). You go online, set up an appointment, all required paperwork is listed in detail, head there, submit your papers, and by 5:30, 6:00 PM, you are notified online whether or not it has been approved. Simple.

I'm looking forward to Myanmar. Next week, I'm heading to Dubai. When I travel, I usually tweet (@jeanneleez) and foursquare my experiences. Feel free to join me via the "interwebs". See ya. :-)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Posted via MySocialBlend

An expat said, frustrated by the inability to get things done, that she "would end up being the first incident of violence in the workplace involving a foreigner". LOL. Yeah, we've all felt like we were going to "go postal" at some point. :-)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Posted via MySocialBlend

Social Media Mashup Lets You Post Simultaneously to LI, FB, Twitter & Blogger. Nice. Needs more properties, though...

Posted via MySocialBlend

Heading to Singapore in a few weeks. Any suggestions on places to go? Been to Clarke Quay, Low Pa Sat... Where to shop for cool stuff?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Below the Fold - E23 - Ecommerce and Sales Cycles in India

Today we talked about the boom of ecommerce in India and what the challenges still are. If you want to know about the reasons, check out this business insider article. Then, as usual we drifted about sales and how it's still handled in India. The practice is changing though.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Below the Fold - E22 - Much To Do About Osama's Photos

We had a special guest today on the show, Will, Jeanne's son.

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Here's the New York Times report on the road that he was talking about in Afghanistan. And here's an article about the oil tax subsidies on Huff Post that I talked about.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Below the Fold - E21 - Osama Bin Laden is Dead

As we were walking out the door this morning, we heard the news of Osama's death. Today on Below the Fold, we talk about the reprecussions, and cautions you should be taking if you're an expat living in this region. What were your reactions and what do you think would happen next? Leave us a comment with questions etc. If you'd like to hear more from us on this topic. Have a safe week.

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For the news run down, you should also check out the Signal via John Battelle here

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Literary Licenses - How Far is Too Far? (E19)

Today we talk about the shocking news (well, not that shocking, I had my suspicions) about Three Cups of Tea, the book we recommended to you guys in this episode. On an interesting note, you should read this article on the Forbes blog. That talks about the lessons we should learn from this.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Below the Fold - E18 - HR & Management Practices for Growing Companies

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Hey everyone! We're talking about the Indian IT gaint Infosys and the lawsuit they're facing on visa violations. You can read about the article we discussed on the show here. It's part of India's growing pains really. We debate whether this is due to HR practices here or whether it is there for any other company that is expanding. Hope you enjoy the show, and let us know what you think!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Below the Fold - E16 - Dealing With Cultural Differences in the Workplace

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We're continuing our little rant from the last episode about dealing with cultural differences in the workplace and really different communication styles. How do you deal with it? How do you teach your staff and team to tackle this problem?

Below the Fold - E15: Starting Your Branding Process

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In continuation with our Social Media Branding talk yesterday, we're talking about where to start your branding process. Do you define your target audience first and brand for them or do you make your brand something that you (and your company) aspire to? What are your opinions?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Below the Fold - E13 - B2B Social Media Branding

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Today we talk about social media branding and how newbies tend to use social media differently than the pros. What to look out for and what not to do when you're setting up your social media marketing campaign.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

E13 - Corruption in India

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Hey everyone! We've updated a couple of things over the weekend, now you can listen to the show while you're on the Facebook fan page. Yes, we have a fan page!
Today we rant about the corruption in India and the way people conduct business. You can read more about it on the Economic Times site here:

Hope you enjoy the show. Have a great week!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Below the Fold- E10-Social Media for Social Change

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Today we talked about the events of social change that's going on
around the world. And about life in Myanmar. Also we recommend you to
read the book Three Cups of Tea by/about Greg Mortenson the man who's
building schools in Pakistan. You can visit
for more information.

Below the Fold - E9 - Philanthropy in India

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Today we talked about the visits of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and what The Economic Times said about their "philanthropy" You can read the whole article here: We also rambled off a bit on how Yu Yu's the only Burmese woman working in the Indian corporate sector and living in India. Plus a little opinion on our beloved FRRO. What fun!

Below the Fold - E8 - Social Media in India

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Morning folks! (For those of you in the west anyway.) In this episode we talk about Elizabeth Taylor, social media usage in India -- specifically for business, and the auto industry. Along with some rants and raves for side topics, of course.

Hope you enjoy the show. And if you have any questions, comments, topics you want us to talk about, let us know!

Below the Fold - E7 - Third Culture Kids

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We're talking about Third Culture Kids today. I'm involved with - Home for the TCKs and ATCKs (Adult Third Culture Kids).
You should also check out: FIGT: Families in Global Transition which is a non-profit organization that gives support for expat families.

We also ranted a bit about racism in India, digital natives, and stalkers on the Internet.


Below the Fold - E6 - Following Through

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Morning everyone! Hope you enjoy the show today, sound quality's better than normal. Here are some links to what we talked about:

Chanakya is actually the guy's name:

And Chanakyapuri is the neighborhood:

I thought it was the same name. I stand corrected!

And tomorrow we'll be talking about TCKs and

Episode 5 - Plagiarism In India

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Thank you for all your support and feedback for those who listened to Episode 1.

We've had some production challenges with the other episodes, so we're skipping ahead.
This show was produced this morning. Happy Monday!

Below the Fold - Episode 1

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Below the Fold is a talk show that Jeanne and I have been wanting to do for a while. We talk about a lot of things, marketing, expat life, challenges of living and working in India, management, and raising puppies. Not necessarily in any order. This was the pilot episode. Hope you enjoy it. Write in the comments below to suggest us topics or give us questions!