Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yangon Experience

The news of the release of  the Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Nov 13,2010 urged me to write something about my experience in conducting a study in Yangon  a few years back.  I  still can recall my memory on my experiences  encountered  with the people of Yangon and the military ruled government. 
Pagoda- landmark of Yangoon City

Informal economic activities were common on Yangoon streets

At the fringe of Yangon
Sometime in 2004,  I was appointed as one of the consultants to prepare Yangon Region Strategic Development Plan under the auspice of Malaysian Government, related to the service  as agreed under  Technical Corporation. My task was to look into demography and human resource and I visited twice to Yangon city to collect information and make presentation of the study.
 My first visit to Yangon was in October 2004.  I visited a few government departments including Yangon Municipality, Statistics Department,   Ministry of Labor, and Economic Planning Division. In the Statistics Department I met a few staffs who graduated from ANU the same school where I obtained my MA in Demography. Information was difficult to obtain not only because of the strict bureaucratic procedures but also there were no much information available.  Under the junta rule, the country economic progress was slow and sanctions imposed by the western governments limit international trades and foreign investments.  Due to the financial limitation faced by the government, no population census was carried out since the last one in 1980. After this period only limited surveys were carried out under UNDP and the basic statistics on population were based on estimate.

Yangon is the capital city of Myanmar with population about 4.35 million in 2005. We were told that there were a million more people who commuted into Yangon during daytime earning their living in the city. What surprised me when first arrived in the city was that too many informal traders on the streets, selling varieties of goods from second hand books to painting, foods, fruits, vegetable, apparel to telephone services and etcetera.   We can see many people walking on the streets. Busses ,vans and train were main modes of travel, with few private cars. Since utilization of public transport was high (model split about 85 percent ratio public to private vehicle), the problem of traffic congestion was less severe, but at particular junctions on main roads in the city. Many people male and female wore sarong. People were generally looking thin and fit reflecting the difficulty of earning a living in the city. Another thing that surprised me was that I could see many Buddhist monks wearing the orange-garment in the streets. In my mind it seemed  that Yangon  could be the centre for Buddhism,  similar to Mecca for the Islam. In fact there were many big temples  in the city which  attract tourists. 

Large statue  in the temple
During my second visit in September 2005, after presentation on the progress report (interim), I took a taxi to the fringe of Yangon to look into the rural area. I visited a temple in the outskirt of the city and a school. The temple was well maintain and taking care of.  It seemed that people put a lot of efforts and sacrifice to religion and the teaching  activities as could be seen from the gathering of people there  and reflected in the physical development as well . But the government school was  poor and lack of facilities.  Houses in the villages at the fringe of Yangon were small and in poor condition, village roads were paved but lack of maintenance. 
But Myanmar was endowed with many kinds of minerals. They are rich in gold, copper, tin, iron, jade and stones used for jewelry.  But need to be careful when buying  jewelry in the market, particularly gold jewelry- a lot of fake! 
Primary School at the fringe of Yangoon City

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