Saturday, June 11, 2016

2 years in Myanmar. One word: CHANGE

Two years ago today we landed in Myanmar. I mark this anniversary with an article about the change one can see taking place all over the country. The change is not recent. It started already several years ago but it intensified recently. It affects places to the same extent as people. Nobody doubted it and the majority was welcoming it. Many fought for it.

Now, more than ever change is everywhere.

Firstly, after the elections which took place in November last year, we witnessed a change in Government, from a military backed regime to a democratically elected one. The peaceful transition to democracy was in the news all over the world. The people here were cheering the new beginning even if the word democracy is literally absent from the Myanmar lexicon.  “All these things — democracy, institutions, even freedom — I don’t think Myanmar people know what true freedom is or what to do with it,” said U Thaung Su Nyein, the editor in chief of 7Day Daily, a Burmese-language newspaper. “For them being free might mean, "As long as no one is knocking on my door in the middle of the night, I’m free." (Thomas Fuller, 19.07.2015, for New York Times: ThoseWho Would Remake Myanmar Find That Words Fail Them). Now people get slowly used to the new freedoms. This does not mean that all human and social rights are today respected. Far from this. But, as we know, for some things change takes time. Nevertheless new ways of acting and thinking are slowly taking shape. 

And then, the country opened its borders for international businesses to arrive. Some US and EU sanctions were lifted, crediting the reforms of the previous and new Government, some are still in place. In Yangon there is this febrile buzz everywhere you go. Buildings are being restored, spaces are quickly renovated to make place for new stores, restaurants pop-up on a monthly basis, the number of cars doubled. But what tops everything is the number of constructions sites and the fast pace in which these buildings are completed. One notices modern high-rise buildings which will host office spaces and shopping malls, flyovers and sky-walks, and a new international airport in Yangon. 

Change is everywhere and will affect everybody. Like, for example, the betel leaf chewing people which is still a very popular custom in Myanmar. A few days ago in June 2016 the press announced that the Government is planning to remove betel stands from tourist spots. There will be additional measures taken which, hopefully, will convince more locals to discontinue this rather tasteless habit which also poses a health threat to its consumers.       

We also changed while living here. I must admit that the first year was a difficult one in terms of the cultural shock and less in what regards the adjustment to the life in a developing country. The second year which just came to an end today was one during which I started to better understand the country as a whole. It was the year I started to become attached to the locals. To recognise and anticipate their reactions. To understand their needs. They also change. Some faster than others, the young ones are usually more curious and open than the older ones. As is the case everywhere. Our surprise was big one week ago when upon  boarding the AirAsia flight from Bangkok to Yangon we realised that it was full with Myanmar nationals, most of them youth, who had spent a weekend in Bangkok. Thailand and Singapore more recently opened their borders to and simplified their visa procedures for Myanmar citizens. 

The only picture which will enrich this article is that of a fashionable young lady I photographed in Yangon, in the summer of 2014, showing the peace sign to a friend. Recently this and other photographs were exhibited by the British Club for a charity event called Women of a Changing Myanmar. All the photographs were sold as postcards and the funds went to the "Girl Determined" NGO. 

Change is welcomed in this country both by locals and expats. Change will do good to Myanmar if pursued with the best intentions and is respectful of people's rights. Let us raise a glass of champagne to this and to celebrate our two amazing years in Myanmar! 


  1. Nice article. The culture is vibrant, people are nice, what more you need?

    1. Indeed. Maybe a shorter rainy season? :) thank you!