Category Archives: Life

An exchange

A roadside stall in Kalaw, displaying dozens of dust bottles, gleaming in the dwindling sunlight.  The sky is grey-blue in the east, cinnamon in the west; it is a gloomy, but dignified wet-season sunset.  I screech to a halt in the slush, position the front doors of my beige hatchback over dry, rather than wet, mud and hoist my longyi.  Albert follows as I assess the area.

“Pineapple wine? Apple wine? Plum wine?” I ask, pointing to the array of bottles.  A young boy scurries out from the gloom within the stall nodding.  “What’s that one?” I ask, pointing to a bottle with more dust than usual, obscuring the writing and image on the label.  The boy replies with a word I don’t understand.  We go back and forth until realisation dawns: damson.

“Do you know who makes this wine?” I ask.  The boy doesn’t know.

“Where do you buy these from?” I ask.  The boy doesn’t know.

“Is it a company or a family?” I ask.  The boy stares at me.

“Is this all you have?” I ask.  The boy hesitates, then ducks inside.  He is gone twenty seconds.  Yes, that’s all they have.

I ask Albert, my partner in wine business, which he would prefer.  An enthusiastic drinker, he declares that they all sound wonderful.

“We’ll buy one of each.”

The boy calls out and is joined by another, older teenager, who looks around for something.  He pulls out six gleaming white cardboard bottle bags, the kind ubiquitous in Australian and high-end Yangon bottleshops, and carefully puts each of the dusty, dirty, aged bottles into their own crisp, clean gift bag.  As he does so, I go through the basics.

“Do you drink wine?” I ask.  The boy does not.

“Do you drink beer?” I ask.  The boy does not.

“How about cigarettes?” I ask.  The boy thinks for a moment, and then says no.

A motorcycle splutters past.  Then another.  Kalaw’s rhythms are foreign to me, but it is a town of domestic migrants, of opportunity and of tourists.  I can categorise it: and Albert and I at least fit in here, there is a role to play, unlike many other idiosyncratic villages and towns across the country, down potted roads and one-lane “highways”.

The sun descends.  Cinnamon turns to peach.

We load the boot of the Kia up with our mysterious wine, pay and leave.

Alcohol and Drugs History Society Conference 2017

June 22-25 saw the ADHS conference being held in Utrecht, the Netherlands, an absolutely gorgeous town. It is small, criss-crossed with canals and dappled all green in summer. The people are friendly, the beer is cheap and there are dozens of delightful bakeries dotted about to light up the mornings with coffee and appleflaps. I really enjoyed the week I stayed there.

The conference was well-organised by the Utrecht team and very impressive on the whole. Before discussing some of the papers and the events of the conference, here are a bunch of photos of lovely Utrecht and a few of the presentations and talks.

There were a number of keynotes and an emotional roundtable discussion in addition to the standard program. In a fresh approach for a conference, there was also an organised tour of the oldest coffeeshop (read: marijuana shop) in Utrecht, dating back to 1981. This was truly a unique experience. You can imagine how it went. It’s one thing to get drunk with your colleagues, as so often happens at conferences, but this was next-level stuff…

It was a pleasure being able to see Charles Ambler present, having cited a lot of his literature on the regulation of alcohol in the British colonies of Africa. His paper was a bit more ambitious than I was expecting, trying to draw a connection between “decolonisation” and the evolution of international drug regulation. He was also one of the few presenters to mention Burma, surprisingly, in the context of indirect rule in the Shan States and the weakness of the central government.

One of the best panels was on intoxicants in the early modern period of European history. Jenni Lares gave a tight, contained historical analysis of female alcohol sellers in 17th-century Finland, trying to exercise a comparative approach with Bennett’s work on brewsters in England. This was followed by Richard Yntema‘s detailed investigation into the political economy of alcohol in the Netherlands in the same time period, using a lot of quantitative data. Then Alex Taylor focused on tobacco smuggling into England, which was very good fun.

Victoria Afanasyeva went deep into women’s history in the French temperance movement, something which has been little investigated – surprising given the attention it has been given in the US and UK. It was pleasing to be able to sit in on some opium papers, a subject of endless fascination for its contemporary “problem” associations. I particularly enjoyed Thembisa Waetjen and Jamie Banks discussing South Africa and indentured labour in this context.

There were many more great papers which I won’t go into for brevity’s sake. My own paper went down fine. A couple of the panels were a little squished for time – some were 90 minutes for two presentations, others had to fit in four papers in the same time period, leaving little for discussion.

One thing I noticed was a distinct lack of engagement with local-language sources by the colonial historians. This is quite standard in the discipline, but seems very limiting when you come from an anthropological background and consider that it is, indeed, 2017.

There was also a strong European focus, with the US and colonial history bringing up the rear. Little attention was given to Asia and Africa and almost nothing before the early modern period, when drugs history apparently “starts”.

The society is mulling over the location for the next conference and I hope to be able to get there. Shanghai is being considered, which would be simply sensational.

Beeronomics 2017

I have just finished participating in the Economics of Beer conference hosted by the Copenhagen Business School and the Carlsberg Foundation. It was a really great conference, combining academic rigour with collegiality and many opportunities for socialising and learning about Danish culture and Danish beer. I think I speak for all participants when I say it was a very successful event, and I look forward to the next conference in 2019, which should be hosted in Pilsen, Czech Republic.

Before going into the research proper, here are some photographs of lovely Copenhagen, one of the bars we visited (as part of the conference program there were two brewery tours and two bar tours) and some of the presenters speaking in the plush Carlsberg Academy.

I drank a large quantity of free beers over the course of this conference, some of which were quite good. Two special beers were made available: the Carlsberg Rebrew (read about this on Cornell’s and Pattison’s blogs), which I very much enjoyed, though struggled to discover the “old” in it, and the Copenhagen Business School’s Centenary IPA. This was a 6.5% ABV Westcoast IPA brewed to celebrate CBS reaching 100 years of business education. It was delicious and set the mood for the conference very well. Other beer highlights were Warpigs’ Kaffestout and Last Rites IPA and the full range of Mikkeller beers we were supplied with.

In addition to academic papers, the conference was fortunate enough to hear from Danish beer heavyweights Flemming Besenbacher, Carlsberg Chairman, and Jacob Gram Alsing, Mikkeller Operations Manager. These were great talks and I was fortunate enough to have a ripping yarn with Jacob afterwards. Mikkeller are truly a unique operation in the beer world. We discussed Mikkeller’s Asia operations and its investigations into the Myanmar market.

But without further ado, here are just a few of the highlights from the conference proper:

Carlos Eduardo Hernandez presented a compelling case for why the US brewing industry moved west in the latter nineteenth-century. Essentially, the answer was bottling. He also discussed comparative advantages between brewing locations in the midwest.

Kitayama, Williams and Takeshita examined the relationship between corporate governance and internationalisation strategies of major Japanese breweries. I found their discussion of corporate governance differences between Suntory and Kirin particularly fruitful for my own understanding of Myanmar’s industry, and Kirin’s partnership with the Tatmadaw.

Kind and Kaiser had a work-in-progress report on how climate change could affect the value chain of the beer sector in Germany. In doing so it used case studies of hail and drought in Hallertau and drought in the southwestern US. Although very exploratory, this was a great paper that drew attention to the bigger issues.

I also enjoyed Steriu and William‘s presentation on Heineken’s internationalisation strategy, again for its relevance to the Myanmar market. Interestingly they were positive about Heineken’s Myanmar work and applied agency to their ability to keep other entrants out of the market, which I thought was quite peculiar.

There was also a fun panel on regulation of beer in the United States with some good qualitative and historical work thrown in between econometrics papers. Richard White delivered his paper on Alabama’s idiosyncratic history of regulation with particular verve and enthusiasm.

There were some big picture works on the craft beer revolution and the launch of a book from the society with the same name. Stack and Wagner seemed to be doing the most to understand the revolution in the US from a supply/demand, large-scale level. But the other papers on clustering, particular national craft beer sectors and consumer taste preferences were also food for thought.

The plenary session was on new research frontiers in beer economics. Of course, there is no shortage. But even so, Jen Gaamelgaard did a great job distilling and presenting these. For those interested, the main book presentation was for The Craft Beer Revolution: A Global Economic Perspective, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Lastly, a big thanks to the Carlsberg Foundation for funding my participation in the PhD workshop at this conference.

Recording an Experience of Loss

I wasn’t sure where to put this little record, but I haven’t posted recently so thought the blog would be as good a place as anywhere.

I arrived in Yangon, Myanmar on an AirAsia flight to undertake two years of fieldwork for my PhD thesis in Anthropology on January 20, 2017.  Unfortunately, nineteen kilograms of my luggage did not arrive with me.  This post is simply a record of my experiences, which may be useful to the airlines, to other affected travelers, and possibly to other graduate students.

The executive summary of my experience is that my baggage was never found and I was without any compensation for four weeks.  Thanks to local networks and friends I managed to borrow replacement electronic equipment for use in the field until I could afford to buy new items.  On the whole, I was very impressed with the expertise and knowledge at my University’s insurance office, but very disappointed with the staff of AirAsia Myanmar.

I could go into much detail about exactly how my luggage was lost; my own inductions and deductions.  But they are not useful for the purposes of this piece.  Briefly, on the evening of Saturday, January 20, my nineteen-kilogram box of luggage was not on the carousel at Yangon Airport.  My other six-kilogram box was.  The Yangon airport staff were businesslike in dealing with the issue, giving me an official document from the Yangon Airport Group (YAG) to take away, and stating that my bag would be “on a plane here tomorrow”.

This initial document was very important.  Anyone in this situation should not leave the airport without it.  In my case, there was a further complication.  It turned out that the Melbourne Airport staff member who checked in my boxes put the six-kilogram baggage tag on the nineteen-kilogram box, and vice-versa.  I made this clear at the time, making sure the YAG staff wrote 19kg on the document, and not 6kg – which was crucial for full compensation later.

There was no phone call the following day.  In general, both the YAG and AirAsia staff are callous care about these passenger predicaments.  They have procedures they must follow, and they will follow them, but only if you take the initiative and call them every single day, which is the pattern I followed.

On the Sunday when I contacted the YAG they admitted to having no idea where my box was.  After 48 hours I was transferred to dealing with the AirAsia property department, based in Yangon.  They required the document from YAG to initiate proceedings, then informed me that if they could not find my luggage after two weeks the box would be declared missing and the compensation process would begin.  It did not sound likely that they would find my box, even at this stage.

Given this, I contacted the Australian National University Insurance office and sent them the YAG document I received from the airport.  They informed me that there was no harm in getting a claim ready, but that I could not lodge it formally until I received a confirmation of loss and compensation by the airline.  The ANU Insurance office diligently pointed me to the relevant documents, including guidelines for making the claim, which would go under the University’s travel insurance policy.

I have always purchased travel insurance but have never needed to make a claim.  The only time I ever considered it was back in 2008 when a pickpocket nabbed $150 from me in Ho Chi Minh City.  But the complicated process at the police station and the fact that the excess was not likely to cover the loss made me hesitate from proceeding with a claim at that time.  I was somewhat daunted to be finally making a travel insurance claim after so many years of travel, but the University Insurance office was very helpful.

AirAsia requested that I send them a photograph of the box to assist them in their search.  Luckily, I had one by coincidence.  I now recommend whenever checking in baggage of any consequence that all passengers should take a photograph of it.

AirAsia also could not handle the issue of the swapped baggage tags.  I had to really push this – in the end they contacted Melbourne Airport to receive confirmation that this occurred.  I also had to send them a photograph of the six-kilogram box with the nineteen-kilogram baggage tag – again, luckily I had kept this, but could just as easily have thrown it in the recycling by the time they asked for it.

After two weeks (and a few more days of pestering) I finally received confirmation from AirAsia that they had lost my box and that it had officially weighed nineteen kilograms.  I passed this on to the ANU Insurance office along with my travel insurance claim.  I then received confirmation from AirAsia that they would be compensating me $20USD per kilogram, for a total of $380USD, deposited into my Australian bank account.  A few days later, I then received the outcome of my ANU travel insurance claim.

The most important thing to note about my University’s, and many other, travel insurance policies as it regards to lost baggage is that they do not cover any checked-in electronic items.  I had a considerable amount of electronics in my lost box which the policy did not cover, including my second or “backup” laptop and camera equipment.  Thankfully the policy covered all of the other non-electronic items I claimed, such as books, clothes and specialist coffee-making equipment (some pleasures we cannot easily do without in the field).

In the end, the ANU travel insurance reimbursement came to $571 AUD.  So in total, I received nearly a thousand dollars, if the AirAsia and travel insurance reimbursements are taken together.  This covered most of the lost items in my baggage, enough to take the harsh edge off the loss.

Here’s a timeline of the process:

Date Event
January 20, 2017 · Arrival in Yangon
· Yangon Airport Group issues Baggage Loss document
January 24, 2017 · University Admin contacted
· ANU Insurance Office contacted
January 26, 2017 · AirAsia issues Property Irregularity Report
January 30, 2017 · Travel Insurance claim initially lodged
February 9, 2017 · Photograph of 6kg box with 19kg tag provided to AirAsia
February 12, 2017 · AirAsia confirms reimbursement of $380USD
· Bank details provided to AirAsia
February 13, 2017 · AirAsia provides final Confirmation of Loss document
· Confirmation of Loss provided to ANU Insurance Office
February 17, 2017 · Chubb Insurance provides Settlement Letter
· ANU Insurance Office confirms reimbursement of $571.46AUD
February 21, 2017 · Chubb Insurance reimbursement received
April 6, 2017 · AirAsia reimbursement received.

Passengers beware!  It’s a jungle out there.