I have just returned to Hong Kong after a short pre-fieldwork trip to Myanmar. The reason for this trip is twofold: to gain some understanding of the garment-manufacturing factory that I would be conducting fieldwork in, and to visit in person a university near the factory (called University of Pakokku) for seeking collaboration opportunities. It was a pretty useful trip and I would like to share some of my insights.
The garment-manufacturing factory is located in Pakokku, a town near the touristy and famous Bagan. It is quite a big factory: there are about 900 Burmese workers and 15 Chinese managers. The factory owner and all the Chinese managers had been very friendly to me, and for my coming fieldwork I have secured accommodation in the factory. After observing the factory for a while, one thing I noticed was that the Chinese managers didn’t really know much Burmese, and they communicated with the Burmese workers mainly through an interpreter (Burmese Chinese who are fluent in both Burmese and Mandarin), or through very simple words and body languages. I think I must not underestimate the importance of interpreters in shaping intercultural interactions.
I also visited the University of Pakokku (http://pakokkuuni.moe.edu.mm/), with the intention of hiring an interpreter from the university who is fluent in Burmese and English. After meeting the rector and department heads of the English and law department, they have agreed enthusiastically to assist me in my research. As I have only materialised my visit through personal connections since phone calls and emails didn’t work out, my impression was that Myanmar is still not very open to foreigners. How this may affect intercultural interactions is something that I’ll take into account.
Overall, I’m quite confident after the trip that the process of my fieldwork will be smooth. This factory will serve as a starting point and foundation of my data source, and I will try as hard as possible to seek other opportunities as well.