TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'MYANMAR-HISTORY-LITERATURE' by William DAVIES

This picture taken on July 24, 2013 shows Myanmar artist Nyo Ko Naing standing in the house where British writer George Orwell is thought to have lived in the 1920s in Katha, a small trading post on the banks of the Irrawady river, 13 hours north of Mandalay by train.  A group of artists in a remote town in northern Myanmar has launched a campaign to preserve the house. Katha and the house lived in by Orwell, known then as Eric Blair, were immortalised in the author's first novel, Burmese Days.   AFP PHOTO/William DAVIES

 *** Local Caption ***  924113-01-08.jpg
TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'MYANMAR-HISTORY-LITERATURE' by William DAVIES This picture taken on July 24, 2013 shows Myanmar artist Nyo Ko Naing standing in the house where British writer George Orwell is tShow more

Myanmar tries to save the house where Orwell’s fact and fiction meet



KATHA, Myanmar // Cobwebs cover its furniture and the rooms are long deserted but a crumbling house in northern Myanmar is at the centre of a conservation battle by locals who say it was once home to George Orwell.

The remote trading post of Katha on the banks of the Irrawaddy, and the house lived in by Orwell in the 1920s, were immortalised in the acclaimed British author’s first novel, Burmese Days.

Decades later, as the country emerges from nearly half a century of harsh military rule, a group of artists has launched a campaign to protect the legacy of one of literature’s most scathing critics of dictatorship.

“I am trying to do what I can to restore all the buildings in the book and to attract attention to the country and to the town,” said Nyo Ko Naing, an artist and Orwell fan.

The two-storey house stands abandoned in an overgrown tropical garden in the remote town, which lies about 250 kilometres, or a 13-hour train journey, north of Mandalay.

The campaigners want the home and nearby European country club turned into a museum, in a country where many colonial-era buildings have already been demolished as investors flock to what they hope will become the region’s hottest economy.

A young Orwell, then known as Eric Blair, arrived in Burma, now called Myanmar, in 1922 and stayed for five years. He worked as a policeman in the country, which was under British rule at the time.

In the novel, Katha is called Kyauktada, but everything else is the same.

“The tennis court, British club, jail, the police station and the military cemetery are in the book and really exist in the town.” said Nyo Ko Naing.

The wooden and brick house has been empty for 16 years.

Some old pot plants have withered and died and the upstairs balconies are too unstable to stand on. The empty rooms echo with Nyo Ko Naing’s footsteps, which leave prints in the dust that has built up over the years.

“Orwell took many raw materials for his book Burmese Days from here,” Nyo Ko Naing said. “I think this house and all the other places in Orwell’s book should be turned into a museum.”

Burmese Days is a scathing critique of British colonial rule, with the European characters’ constant drinking and poor treatment of the Burmese locals a running theme.

The Burmese characters also come in for harsh criticism, with the magistrate portrayed as scheming, obese and corrupt.

Myanmar is now opening up to commerce and over the past couple of years more and more tourists have come to Katha, on the trail of Orwell.

“The country is open now. It is no longer isolated,” said Oo Khinmaung Lwin, the headmaster of the local school. “I will teach my students so that they know more about George Orwell.”

Although long thought to be Orwell’s home, there is some doubt whether a policeman would have lived in such a grand house.

Across the road from the house lies the tennis court, and beyond that the European club.

In Burmese Days, the club is described as “the real centre of the town ... the spiritual citadel, the real seat of the British power”.

Today it is the offices for a local business cooperative, and the bar where the Europeans would have spent much of their time has closed.

The local Anglican church, the setting for the climax of the book, still stands and remains in use. The local priest points out where the book’s protagonist, John Flory, would have sat.

“People come here from Germany, Sweden, America,” said Reverend Daniel Say Htan. “They come here to see the real places in the novel.”

Orwell’s time in Burma helped shape his career. He became one of the 20th century’s most important writers, with novels such as Animal Farm and 1984 providing some of literature’s most biting criticism of authoritarianism.

But those who met him when he was in Burma would not have guessed at those feelings.

“The few accounts of people who met him whilst he was in Burma suggest he was a perfectly conventional policeman,” said DJ Taylor, who wrote the award-winning biography, Orwell: The Life.

“He actually went out to the East with standard beliefs. Half of him believed in the rights of the Burmese and the other half did not, as he was often so sick of them,” he said.

But his time serving in the British Raj did begin a slow change in perspective.

“Burma provided the raw material for plenty of thoughts later” said Taylor. “It is a crucial early step in his political development.”

The work of Orwell, who died in 1950, still resonates with readers. When the recent National Security Agency scandal broke after revelations by Edward Snowden, the fugitive former US intelligence contractor, sales of Orwell’s novels raced up the bestsellers charts.

Artist Nyo Ko Naing has read Burmese Days five times, in both English and Burmese, and said he would carry on doing all he could to preserve the places that form the basis for Orwell’s long road to greatness.

“We are trying collectively to maintain and restore everything related to George Orwell, Burmese Days and Katha town as we regard it as a precious legacy,” he said.

* Agence France-Presse

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

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KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone