Impressions of Myanmar – October 2014

It has been two years since I first stepped foot in Myanmar. I saw Yangon International Airport extension is underway. More investments had gone into constructing new buildings in downtown Yangon. There were more vehicles on the road and road congestion was more obvious than before. At some sections of the roads, vehicles fought for space and converged in a haphazard manner. The bravest drivers got their ways. I would not be able to cross these roads without fearing for my life. I appreciate the clear rules of driving on Singapore roads.

Public buses are still very packed. That had not improved. Singapore’s Yakun and Popular have their presence in a shopping mall. Foreign investors see potential in the rising economy of Myanmar. There were more WiFi hotspots in places where we went. But its download speed was slow and sometimes it took forever for a page to load. During our stay in a hotel, there were occasional power cuts and that could cause inconvenience to those who depended on electricity for work.

In some remote areas outside the city, electricity is non-existence. In short, there are investment opportunities, however the infrastructure will take some time to catch up.

Kids could not study after dark. That is a set-back for the population who is trying to catch up with the world in education. Myanmar (Burma) achieved independence from British rule in 1948 and with that the English Language lost its allure. Only the older generation can speak the language. Our tour guide, in her late 60’s, spoke impeccable English, but the rest of the Myanmese people we meet could not. This is a pity and hinders economic progress for the nation.

Myanmar is so rich in history, archeology and natural resources. The beauty of this land is breath-taking. The Myanmese people were so hospitable and humble of their status. They appeared to be contented to be where they are.

Hygienic behaviour is left to be desired. Some people spit on the roads, pavements and open rubbish bins. We were told that we couldn’t use tap water to brush our teeth. One hotel provided mineral waters in the bathroom for that purpose.

Their tea houses are places for the locals to take their meals or snacks. Their specialty is milk tea (evaporated milk + condensed milk with tea). They provide snacks such as yu tiao (or yu cha kway), samosa, nan-like dough, etc. It takes a strong gut to take these foods because of the amount of oil used to make them. I came down with stomach flu and fever on Day 5 of the eight-day trip. People like me with weak stomach and used to clean food will have to be more careful in Myanmar.

Myanmar is a country still proud of their heritage of making things by hands. They have the fabric weaving industry, lacquer ware, gold leaf making, stone carving, wood carving, basket weaving, bronze sculpting. Labour is still plentiful not like Singapore.

Whenever we reached a tourist site, peddlers of wares descended onto us. They tried to sell us anything from post-cards, paintings, bronze items, jade pieces, longyi (sarong). Some young kids did drawings using colour pencils and make them into post-cards. They tried to sell us for US$1. This is of course better than out-right begging.

Myanmar is still a developing nation. Some toilets are just holes in a ground without electricity and running water. Some people cleaned steps you walked on in the hope that you can give them money, so called “donations” in their language.

Our trip this time was to also visit 4 schools/orphanages to donate stationery consisting of exercise books, pens and pencils. The group raised $10,000 for this purpose. Some of us brought along pre-loved clothings, soft toys, story books in the hope that these items helped them grow up like our fortunate kids in Singapore.

This eight-day trip was hectic, packed with many places to visit. On three days, we woke up at around 3.00 am/4.00 am to catch the first domestic flight out early in the morning. This can really disrupt our internal clocks. We visited Mandalay, rich in history with cultural and artistic heritage. It is home to Kuthodaw Pagoda that housed 729 white stupas, each one holding a marble slab inscribed with Tripitaka texts. This is a UNESCO heritage site. We visited Bagan, an archaeological site, which has about 2,500 pagodas and temples, the most in the whole of Myanmar. Our journey started from Yangon and ended in Yangon for the trip back home. It was a trip with a difference and humbling to see the people and places in Myanmar.IMG_2200

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