A Token Burmese at London Business School


This video was made more than a year ago.  I have never shared it on social media because I do not want to be (too) self-promotional online.  But I am posting it now to highlight the irony that I am being failed on the very thing the institution is using my face to promote: the “Global Business Experience” requirement at London Business School MBA.

This year, Myanmar is one of the six countries the school is sending students to under the “Global Business Experience” banner.

For my own requirement, I was supposed to head to South Africa about three weeks ago, but I could not board my flight because my visa was and is still being assessed by the South African High Commission in London.  My classmates got their visa back within two days.  Mine has taken more than a month, even after submitting additional documents not listed on the original requirement list.  All of this began because I missed one cover letter signed by my bank branch manager.  I had to reschedule, and I made an overnight trip to Manchester to snatch the first available interview appointment slot.

The more infuriating part is that the school is failing me this “course” supposedly for the fact that my evidence of visa appointment slips and receipts were considered “not strong enough.”


Yes, I should have secured a signed letter from my bank in the first place, but no, I do not believe that the institution should put a student’s track on the chopping block and impose additional financial penalties for this error.  If an academic institution wants to feature students from obscure countries with obscure passports on marketing clips to highlight “diversity”, the institution should have a procedure that accounts for unpredictability associated with visa and paperwork unique to the case.  Visa-related Extenuating Circumstances should be judged by someone who has visa application experience, not a white male who does not know where the VFS Global office is.

This frustration with the school administration is tangible.  LBS is ousted by INSEAD in this year’s Bloomberg ranking.  Compared to other top international MBA schools, LBS is scored most poorly in Alumni and Student surveys, while employers seem most pleased.


That being said, I would not write my entire MBA experience off because of this paperwork crisis.  I learned a few things about myself.

In one of our classes, we discussed what it means to be a token member of something in a community.  In a recent KKR event hosted by KKR’s Diversity Council, one person described himself as a diversity hire back in the day because he had a consulting background and he landed a PE (private equity) job despite a lack of investment banking credentials.  People do not want to be a diversity hire, and get written off by the new, homogeneous set of colleagues.

At London Business School, this is how I feel at times.  Myanmar has been hyped for a few recent years, and schools want Myanmar-based candidates, including expats with Myanmar experience since natives do not make it to some MBA institutions very often.  When I get featured on events and clips, I do hear back about people writing them off as another diversity promo.  When one of the only five black classmates makes a complaint, I hear whispers of other students write her off as a minority student wanting “diversity privileges” despite her Harvard undergrad record.

Beyond institutions’ “affirmative actions,” an individual’s skin color or passport type does cause a real setback.  In 2016, I spent approximately £1,000 on visa fees as part of my MBA.  My South African visa application was almost like a mortgage application, whereby the interviewer asked me to write a letter on the spot, reassuring the Embassy that I had not taken any money out of the bank between the date of the bank letter and the date of the appointment.  I did my research with other Burmese passport holders, who went to South Africa last year.  They were not demanded the same thing.  My financial status is concerning to any country that wants to receive me as a guest partly because (1) I have no income as a full-time student, and (2) Myanmar is having a major humanitarian crisis right now.

Privilege is like a less deliberately assessed grid of personal opportunities and risks.  The promo clip, Poets & Quant features and certain event invites forced me to be aware of my “opportunity,” but I got too comfortable at London Business School, among a diverse pool of peers, and during this process, I downplayed risks associated with my third-grade passport type during this sensitive period of Myanmar’s political turmoil.

To put things in perspective, however, my visa risks amount to nothing compared to the life-threatening situation some of my country fellow men and women are facing.  What is the worst that could happen to me?  I have to fill out more forms with London Business School, and receive penalty assessments and a “C” grade on one requirement.  The karmic “tax” I pay for my Myanmar passport is less than £5,000 during a three-year period, but for others, it’s so, so, so much more.  Among Myanmar citizens, I get things easy.  I should always remember that.  As an ever so slightly more privileged member of a country with a humanitarian crisis, I need to be more acutely aware of this awkward mix of personal risks and opportunities.

As David Olenick humor goes:




Much ado about egg tarts

Pasteis de Belem. So well-loved all over Southeast Asia as the Portuguese egg tarts.  When in Portugal, I have to have ’em every day!


The original egg tarts

The original pasteis tastes incredible!  I have a bit of a history with these egg tarts.  One of my assignments during the KFC launch in Myanmar was to sample all egg tarts across town (about five bakeries in total in Yangon) and study their price points and diameters.  You see, in some parts of Asia Pacific, egg tart sales make up about 22% of the chicken shoppe’s top line during festive times.  I find the butterfly effect simply fascinating: monks used egg whites to starch clothes and make pastries with leftover yolk; then separation of the state and the church forced the “conventional” pastries to the open market; centuries later, there I was, accidentally ended up with the duty to sell them to unsuspecting Myanmar consumers under a U.S. name.  I find all of it wacky and fascinating at the same time.

The week I spent in Portugal also coincided with Facebook’s ban on the derogatory term “Kalar” as a way to crack down on hate speech in Myanmar.  Kalar is a term that has sadly evolved to become contaminated with the assertion of extreme nationalists in their hate against Rohingya.  While I am ashamed to witness the current episode of history unfolding in Western Myanmar, I have to defend the original term and its cosmopolitan beginnings.

In fact, the word Kalar originally used to be referred to Sri Lankan, Portuguese, French, German, Armenian and Persian travelers to old Burma.  Essentially, Kalar used to mean foreign travelers, passing through a much more open nation at the time.  In Burmese language, a chair is called a Kalar-Htaing because common Burmese used to sit on the floors and the exotic chairs became fashionable after foreign travelers brought them to common households.  For those with Burmese skills, I found this interesting article from a 1987 magazine, embedded at the bottom.

In any case, one Portuguese explorer from Lisboa made it all the way to the tropical palace gates and became what the old Burmese would call a Kalar-Wun (Foreigner Minister), a governor of today’s Thanlyin back in 1500s.  He went by his Burmese name, Nga-Zin-Ga, or at least that was the case according to official history text books.  One descendant of this 16th century Portuguese community in Myanmar, James Myint Swe, published a book a few years ago – you can find it here.

Today in Myanmar, we are often blind to history and Myanmar’s former self.  Being open and warm to foreign visitors and explorers used to be the tradition in the 16th century, and it was acceptable to even assign guests coveted courtly positions.  The recent trend of xenophobia – specifically among the educated – is new and quite embarrassing.

Because Myanmar has been closed off, we missed out on an opportunity to lay our hands on the official secret recipe of original Pasteis de Belem, and Thais got hold of it!  The Thai diplomats built an open air pavilion (or a zayat) for the Portuguese, still on display near the Belem monastery, and in return, received the official state secret, THE recipe.  Original recipe in exchange for a ZAYAT?!  I blame my government for many things, but this nearly tops my list.

From 1987 October “Doh Kyaung Tha Sar Saung“:


Shelf Life.

MBA term 2 opens with a question to myself: What am I doing with my life?

As anyone familiar with MBAs would know, term 2 is all about recruiting.  Most MBA summer internships transform into a job offer after the graduation.  Those pursuing banking and consulting careers are going through an extremely, structured summer internship interview process right now.  Suits adorned with a sleek London Business School name tag are seen walking around the campus every day for various recruiting events.

In the middle of all this, I do not know what to do with my life.  Yet here is a thing: uncertainty = potential.  In my uncertainty lies a world of opportunities I can choose to pursue.  But potential has its shelf life.  Potential is a brief, volatile, metaphorically radioactive state where you change into some other form (hopefully something productive) or you decay away the potential each passing moment you aren’t utilizing it and shaping it to your goal.

The only way I know how to manage this process is to give time and actively seek out those who are currently where I might want to end up at one day.  I am going to reach out to people, hear their stories, learn about the world out there, and see what suits me.  Just because my classmates are cracking case practices, and visiting offices in nice suits does not mean that is the best course of action for me.

My friend sent me this essay written by David Brooks of New York Times.  Brooks talks about resume virtues and eulogy virtues in his essay.  When I read this, I actually gave a little chuckle because my first assignment at MBA was to write my own eulogy.  Not to promote London Business School here, but the school wants us to think about our lives and careers in a more holistic way.  Take a look at this book below, for instance.

Titled “The 100-Year Life,” the book argues that our three life stages of education, work and retirement will blur and converge into a multi-stage longer life.  We are seeking further training and learning.  We want to volunteer and dedicate ourselves to causes while being fully employed.  Companies are starting to offer such arrangements: At Bain, 10% of your time is dedicated to pro bono consulting.  Career paths that our parents took will not work for us today.

There is no conclusion to this blog post, since there is also no conclusion to my January internship explorations right now.  Later this year, I can be anywhere.  I can be doing an exchange program in any part of the world or trying out a role I have never done before.  The world is my oyster.  I feel grateful I have this freedom.  Stay warm, readers.


Highest and Hardest Glass Ceiling

The gendered nature of HRC’s campaign loss at this time around is a painful one.

Here I acknowledge that people have complex reasons for going with different candidates, but there exists a gender dimension to the 2016 election results in America.  Many of my friends cried yesterday at work, and between classes.  The mood this week could be a lot better.

HRC was not a “cool” choice among young people, like Obama was in 2008, when the Hope sticker was a cool accessory on college students’ laptop covers.  But with HRC, even when compared side by side with the scandalous disposition of the current president-elect, people still faulted HRC for her personality, not the policy she has been campaigning for or the public issues she brings up with facts and figures.

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This election is a slap in the face.  We mourn, but now we have to move on because there is so much work to do!

To young people in particular, I have as Tim said spent my entire adult life fighting what I believe in. I’ve had successes and setbacks and sometimes painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional, public, and political careers — you will have successes and setbacks too.

This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.

It is, it is worth it.

And so we need — we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives. And to all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me: I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.

Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday someone will — and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.

And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

The Well Curve

Now that I have a London zip code, a UK bank account, a Giff Gaff number, and a national health insurance code, I am about 90% set on becoming a London resident.  I believe that this relocation process will be officially complete once my Apple App Store is switched to a UK account.


As a born and raised Yangonite, I will always carry a part of Yangon wherever I shall live in the next couple of years.  As much as I enjoy my new life in London, with its very British way of calm and collected energy, the chaotic Yangon is always in the back of my mind.

And I started dreaming about being back at my family home since the very first week, which is NOT how homesickness normally works.  When you are homesick usually, you get really excited and high on the new place for the first few weeks or even months, and a sense of longing kicks in later.  In my case, I am having this parallel experience of thoughts about home, an excitement about London, and a hectic beginning of the orientation modules at school, all at the same time.  This has not given me much time to decompress.

What will become of this blog?  No idea so far.

Listening to Karen’s Mixtapes floods my flat with Yangon nostalgia.  And I also found a playlist I gave her last year, titled The Well Curve.  Here is the same playlist on YouTube.

“It’s called The Well Curve because it’s low on the middle and high at the extremes, which is how you feel when you go through a negative experience. These 5 songs are supposed to accompany your journey through The Well Curve.”

Enjoy your Well Curve journeys!