Hackneyed reflections from an Australian journalist who spent about a year-and-a-half in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma).
Although he was there in 2003–04 to train reporters for the rigidly censored English-language newspaper, The Myanmar Times, Olszewski, former editor of Australian Playboy and leader of the Australian Marijuana Party, has chosen to write about Myanmar from a nonpolitical perspective. His memoir concentrates on “ ‘ordinary’ people” and “the ‘Chestertonian’ trivialities of life” (the author’s arch use of quotation marks is just one of his irritating traits). In a country ruled by a brutally repressive military regime, Olszewski led a privileged expatriate existence: attending parties and opening nights of cultural events, gossiping in cafes and bars, bemoaning the lack of electricity and hot water, learning to chew betel nut, drinking hash beer and snake wine, eyeing the passing women. His worst experience was undergoing surgery for gallstones in a Yangon hospital that had no painkillers containing opiates. The author describes local festivals and Buddhist ceremonies; extols the beauty and demeanor of Asian women, whom he clearly admires; and rants against other expats, whom he sees as arrogant and ignorant. As Olszewski tells it, Myanmar is colorful and romantic, and its people—who just happen to be mostly very poor and singularly repressed—are delightful, charming and filled with a joyous zest for life.
Shallow and woefully clichéd.