Most locals (80-90%?) describe themselves as Bamar (the reason the British called the country Burma) but other minority groups (Kachin, Kayar, Karin, Chin, Mon, Rakhine Shan etc) are all represented.
Myanmar festivals are largely based on the phase of the moon, so their dates vary each year. The main festival is Thingyan, the New Year which occurs in April. Most foreigners choose to leave the city during this period, as the main... More
Most locals (80-90%?) describe themselves as Bamar (the reason the British called the country Burma) but other minority groups (Kachin, Kayar, Karin, Chin, Mon, Rakhine Shan etc) are all represented.
Myanmar festivals are largely based on the phase of the moon, so their dates vary each year. The main festival is Thingyan, the New Year which occurs in April. Most foreigners choose to leave the city during this period, as the main celebration consists of people drenching each other with water - the more water, and the more times, the better.
Other important festivals include the Novitiation Ceremony in April/May (when boys join a temple as a novice); Full Moon of Tabaung in March (when monks recite the Holy Scriptures continuously), the Full Moon of Waso in July which marks the start of Buddhist Lent, The Full Moon of Thadingyut or Festival of Light to mark the end of Buddhist Lent and the Full Moon of Tazaungmone in November.
It is common for extended local families to live together in the same apartment or house. Many families have lived in the same location for decades, and also work in the same area. Preferred locations are those with access to utilities (power, water), markets, schools, public transport and temples / mosques.
Yangon is seeing rapid urban migration as the rural population seeks better prospects for their children, access to basic amenities, or to escape drought and regional conflicts. They earn a living however they can - day-labourers, street vendors, garbage collectors etc. The poorest townships are Kyauktan, Thanlyin, Hlegu, Hmwabi, Htanbin, Twantay, Dala and Seikgyikanaungto, but it is common to see flimsy shelters on any available land, along railway tracks etc. Despite this, begging is less widely seen in downtown areas than in many other Asian cities.
Traditionally, the Myanmar community has been male dominated – the Myanmar word “Phon” means power and glory of men. Polygamy is permitted under Myanmar Customary Law and abortion is punishable by up to three years imprisonment and/or fine. Sexual harassment is not addressed in any law, but a volunteer run “Whistle for Help” campaign distributes whistles to ladies travelling by bus to raise awareness of a problem that many are too afraid of, or too shy, to report.
For many Buddhists, people with disabilities are suffering a punishment for bad deeds in previous lives. As a result, there is minimal provision for disabled access or availability of support services.
Power and Energy Supply
Yangon Region has four gas-fired power stations (Hlawagar, Yawma, Ahlone and Thaketa) but despite Myanmar being rich in natural gas they operate at low utilization rates as most of the country’s gas is exported to Thailand and (thanks to a newly constructed pipeline) China.
One of Myanmar’s four oil refineries is in Thanlyin township which also operates at low levels due to a shortage of crude oil supply – c. 50% of all petroleum products are imported.
More than 70% of Myanmar’s power is generated from Hydropower stations. As a result, during the March to June dry period, electricity shortages are common during the dry season (March – May) and problems can still occur in other months due to old infrastructure (some hydropower stations are more than 40 years old), the inefficient transmission and distribution system, overloading of lines and illegal connections. High voltage spikes are frequent, so a backup generator is essential.
During the rainy season, it is common for parts of the city to suffer floods due to any combination of clogged drains, high tide or heavy rain.
There are 58 public parks in Yangon totaling 470 acres, but relative to the size of its population the city has a chronic shortage of park and recreation area (Tokyo has 12x as much park land per person; London and New York 70-80x). 9 townships (Latha, Lanmadaw, Botahtaung, Tarmwe, Seikkan, Dawbon, Shwe Pyi Thar and Dagon Seikkan) have no parks at all and as a result, larger parks at Inya Lake and Kandawgyi Lake are often crowded at weekends.
There is only very limited recycling of scrap metal and plastic bags handled by private companies.
There are currently two telecommunications carriers – Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) and Yadanarpon Teleport (a subsidiary of MPT). The Ministry of Defense has its own system. Fixed telephone lines are normally installed within 1 week and there are many telephone stalls across the city which can be used for a fee (there are no coins in Myanmar so payment is made to the stall holder). The international calling rate to most countries is US$0.9 per minute, with some exceptions (e.g. New Zealand is US$1.9 per minute)
Mobile phone penetration is growing rapidly, with smartphone handsets especially popular. The recent (July 2013) award of cellular operating licenses to two foreign companies (Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo) is expected to provide further rapid improvements in both mobile network coverage and call quality. Both CDMA and GSM systems are used in Myanmar.
Aside from the Ministry of Defense, there are two Internet Service Providers:
- MPT offers dial up, ADSL, Fiber, E1 and satellite connections.
- Yadanarpon Teleport offers ADSL. Separate E-Lite and Fortune Companies offer Fiber lines via Yadanaporn. RED LINK, a subsidiary of Yadanarpon, offers WiMAX.
Bandwidth speed is often slow, especially during the day, with faster speeds typically available in the very early morning or very late night hours.
Most goods are sold at traditional markets, street stores or small family run shops.
There are c. 170 traditional markets in Yangon, including 21 large markets of which Bayintnaung Wholesale market is the largest handling rice, oil, oil seeds, pulses, beans, food items, plastic and jute bags, mats and tarpaulins.
Yangon’s first shopping mall (Super One) opened in 1982, but even today most shopping malls are poorly designed and offer a limited range of shops. There are 23 shopping complexes and 22 supermarkets - the largest shopping mall is also the newest (Junction Square) which opened in 2012. Other shopping malls include Ocean Super Center, Super One Shopping Center, Dagon Center 1 & 2, Capital Shopping Mall, Sein Gar Har, Orange, Brazon, Ga Mone Pwint, City Mart and Ocean.
In the main, chain convenience stores have yet to appear in Yangon – the largest chain is 108 with c. 12 stores.
Commuting to Work
Transport options for commuters are limited. Motorcycles and scooters are prohibited from 31 of Yangon’s 33 townships; trishaws and bicyles are not allowed in certain central business locations between 5am and 10 pm (Theinphyu Street, Merchant Street, Lanmadaw Street and Bogyoke Aung San Street); until September 2011 car import licenses were tightly controlled (there has since been a rapid increase in the number of cars on the road); and the railway is old, uncomfortable, slow and unreliable. As a result, 80% of workers use buses to commute to work.
Since September 2012, de-regulation has dramatically reduced the price of cars, but as result road congestion, especially during rush hours and school opening / closing times is becoming a major problem. Route congestion is exacerbated by the constraints of Yangon’s geography, as new towns have been built in to the north along Numbers 1, 3 and 4 Main Roads, and later Numbers 2 and 5 Main Roads. As a result, everyone commutes in the same direction, at the same time, on roads designed for far fewer, smaller vehicles. The situation is not helped by some “unusual” local driving styles and many vehicles having the driving wheel on the wrong side. One saving grace is that a “no horn” policy applies in parts of the city, especially near the Shwedagon.
In an effort to address these issues, police control traffic flow at key junctions (some more successfully than others) and flyovers have been/are being constructed at Hledan, Shwegondine and Bayintnaung junctions. Commonly congested areas include Strand Road, Kyee Myin Dine Road, Bayint Naung Road (the main centre for large trucks loading at the Port) and Upper / Lower Pazundaung Roads, in addition to roads near schools and shopping centres. Other bottlenecks include Shwe Dagon Pagoda Road, Pyay Road and Kaba Aye Pagoda Road – to avoid construction work on the latter, traffic is choosing to divert through a crowded market area. A lack of public car parks and bus bays at bus stops completes the picture.
Pavements are in poor repair, so walking during the hot or monsoon seasons, or after dark, is not a preferred option.
Industrial and Service Sectors
Yangon Region contains c. 40% of Myanmar’s total processing and manufacturing sector and c. 30% of its services sector (including c. 60% of its financial sector).
The industrial sector in Yangon is predominantly processing and manufacturing. There are more than 15,000 factories or workshops in Yangon Region, mostly small privately owned entities that employ less than 50 people. Many are in the city’s new suburbs (Shwe Pyi Thar, Hlaing Thryar, North, South East Dagon and Sagon Seikkan), but even the central business district (Latha, Lanmadaw, Pabedan, Kyauktada, Botahtaung and Pazundaung townships) has 1,000+ factories and workshops involved in the food, metal fabrication, machinery repair and garment sectors. Many of the larger factories provide dormitories for their workforce.
The service sector covers a wide mix of financial, communication, transportation and social sectors.
Five hotels in Yangon claim 5 star status (Chatrium, Kandawgyi Palace, Sedona, Strand and The Governor’s Residence) with another five claiming 4 stars (Inya Lake, Park Royal, Savoy, Summit Parkview and Traders).
Currently hotel rooms in Yangon are in very short supply meaning room prices are unrealistically high. A combination of factors is driving this supply / demand imbalance:
To fill the gap, a rush of new hotel deals has been announced:
Discussions are also underway to create a new 200 acre hotel zone in Dagon Myothit (East) between the current airport and the new airport being constructed at Hanthawady, 80 km north of Yangon.
Serviced Condominiums / Apartments
Popular serviced apartment developments include Marina Residence, MiCasa, Sakura Residence, Espace Avenir and Golden Hill Towers which all provide a gym, swimming pool, children’s playground, restaurant, cable TV, parking, security and reliable electricity and water supply. Like hotels, demand far exceeds supply which is driving rapid increases in rental costs and waiting lists. Shangri-La Residences, two 21 storey towers containing 120 apartments to the south of Kandawgyi Lake, is scheduled to open in late 2013 – another project which halted in the 1990’s which is now being completed.
Apartments and Condominiums for Rent
In Yangon, the term “apartment” is applied to developments which have no elevator; “condominium” means the development has elevator(s). Until 2008, construction codes required buildings higher than 8 stories to have elevators, so 8 storey apartment buildings are most common (the current code requires buildings higher than 6 stories to have elevators) but many are in a poor state of repair. Unlike apartments, condominiums normally have security and parking, but prospective tenants should check whether generators and water reservoirs are included in the rental agreement.
Condominiums along Pyay and Kaba Aye Pagoda Roads are popular including Shwe Hinthar, Ocean (Pyay Road), Pearl Condominium (Kaba Aye Pagoda Road) and Blazon Condominium (U Wisara Road).
As ever, location is a major determinant of rental price, but unlike some cities where access to schools or work are important, in Yangon the key criteria are relative traffic congestion and reliable access to electricity. The crowded downtown area suffers in both respects so rentals are cheaper.
There is an active real estate broker community in the city who charges 1-2 months rental for their services. Rental contracts are typically for 12 months, and it is not uncommon for landlords to demand payment in cash, up front.
Houses / Villas
The lack of city development is reflected in a relatively large number of detached houses still remaining in central areas. Many are homes to the elite of local society, or foreign dignitaries and their embassies while others have been converted to office space due to the lack of dedicated office developments. Those foreigners with more expansive rental budgets can look for these properties in the Golden Valley district.
Since the dawn of the internet x years ago, millions of websites have been created and thousands more are launched each day. But very few achieve that elusive “iconic” status – the sites we all know, bookmark and return to like a favourite pair of jeans. Google. Facebook. Amazon. YouTube. And then there’s sites like Arts & Letters Daily (to give it its full name) at www.aldaily.com.
Never heard of it? Well you may want to explore it and see what you uncover. Its massive, highly respected, and the undisputed leader in its field. It’s also quirky, hard to read and not for the faint of heart or video gamer with a 10 second attention span. “Arts & Letters Daily” (to give it its full name) is the main portal (or aggregator) for a specific type of news, story and article published in newspapers, journals and media around the world. What kind of articles? Articles on “what is new in the world of arts or ideas” or “the great debates of our time”.
The quirkiness starts from the moment you launch the site. This is the 21st Century isn’t it? Surely a website will present content in an easily accessible and visually attractive way? Not Arts Letters Daily! The landing page looks like a Victorian newspaper – which funnily enough is exactly how the founder wanted it to look! Professor Denis Dutton, who founded the site in 1998 but passed away three years ago, chose to replicate the format of a New Zealand broadsheet newspaper (“The Lyttelton Times” published in 1912). Fortunately its Latin motto, a line from Seneca’s Oedipus (“Veritas odit moras” or “Truth hates delay”) keeps it firmly rooted in today’s fast paced world (the site is now edited by Prof. Tran Huu Dung, a long-time colleague Prof Dutton).
So where to start? The website has three main columns of text. The left side column comprises links to “Articles of Note”, the centre column links to reviews of “New Books” and the right column links to “Essays”. To the furthest left is a table of links to other sites (another quirky list and possibly the only place on the planet where the “Beirut Daily Star” sits alongside the “Washington Post”) and a final section (“Nota Bene” Latin for “Note Well”) which acts as a “catch-all” for anything that doesn’t fit anywhere else.
It’s time to take a deep breath and dive in. I choose randomly from “Articles of Note” and open a great piece on Douglas Hofstadter who, as a first time author at the age of 35, wrote a 1.3 kg, 777 page book (“Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” – no I didn’t understand the title either) which caused a sensation, winning the 1980 Pulitzer Prize and being described as “a wonderment” and “a major literary event” for its “depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty and originality”. The subject? Artificial intelligence; how we think; and how is it that thoughts can be created by a brain made of physical matter? Oh my, I have enough trouble thinking, now I have to think about thinking!
Time to move onto a second course. This time it’s a “Nota Bene” (Smile! A History of Emoticons). Ever wondered about the origins of :-) and its many cousins including :-( and ;-) ? They were born 31 years ago apparently, the result of a University joke which went wrong about a fake mercury spill – when the joke was taken seriously the perpetrators decided they had better find a way to distinguish a written joke from a serious comment.
Hopefully by now you’re beginning to get the idea. For those of us who are juggling the laundry; keeping in touch with so called Facebook “friends”; and hitting work deadlines, Arts Letter Daily will be the last priority. But for those of us who are determined there must be more to life than managing “stuff”, its Forest Gump’s chocolate box on steroids. Open any wrapper and it will exercise muscles in your brain that have been asleep along time!
Which brings us back to Douglas Hofstadter. Now 68, he spends his time noting down unintended speech errors (remember George W. Bush’s “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we”). Why? Because Hofstadter believes we can’t understand how the brain works when it functions correctly, but if we analyze enough unintended mistakes they might reveal processes our brains use but slip up on. He’s collected 10,000 such slips so far and is still collecting and analyzing.
And that’s why I commend Arts & Letters Daily to you. It’s a wonderful site to take you into another world, if only for a short while. You also learn amazing things. But most importantly, you discover that some of the greatest minds in the world need fools like me to continue making mistakes – because they’re not really mistakes but an opportunity to solve some of the “great debates of our time”.
And that makes me feel very proud… I think?!
LOKANAT GALLERIES 43rd ANNIVERSARY ART EXHIBITION (Member Artists) at Lokanat Gallery.
Member Artist: U LUN GYWE,U BA WIN, BOGIE, CHAN AYE, KAUNG SAN, KHIN MYINT MYINT, KYAW PHYU SAN,KYAW SEIN WIN, KYI WINN(YANKIN), MA THANEGI, MAUNG MAUNG THEIN, MAUNG PE THAN, MAUNG THIHA, MKM, MOAT THONE,MYA THAUNG, NAY MYO SAY, NAY TUN, PE NYUNT WAY, SAW HLAING,SUN MYINTT, THAN WIN, THAN WIN TUN, TIN WIN, WIN PE MYINT,WIN TINT and YE AUNG MYAT.
From 16 Dec 2013 to 28th Feb2014.
One of the things you will notice when landing in Yangon, is the proliferation of business cards. Not only the domain of businessmen and women, these cards can be found in every shop, restaurant, bar and office. Because of the previous lack of internet connectivity, or laptops, handsets and other mobile devices, coupled with a lack of either online or hard copy directories, these cards are the only way to find and keep the address and contact details of businesses. Many feature English on one side and Myanmar on the other, and the really good ones include a small map. These cards are absolutely invaluable when getting around town because you can show them to taxi drivers to help you get around.
Because of the very cheap cost of printing here, business cards are also carried by individuals, which is another way of quickly exchanging contact information without resorting to the old pen and paper method. It also helps enormously with any language barriers; it’s not always easy to jot down numbers and names correctly, so having a card with the details clearly printed out is a godsend. Certainly many people will be surprised if you do not carry business cards of your own, even if you only have your name and telephone number printed on it (and email address nowadays of course). Swapping business cards is a feature of most meetings, however casual and you will often see individuals handing out their cards to a whole group of people around a bar. So quick, so cheap, so simple!
Therefore a really good business card holder is a good investment. In varying price ranges and finishes you should be able to find one to suit you and most will hold at least 100 cards. We add another one each year and a stack of these folders rests by the phone. Because we had to travel a lot in our first year here, we got so used to picking up business cards wherever we went and now have folders for Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and of course the UK too. It’s one way of remembering favourite restaurants and shops, though perhaps a bit quaint and old-fashioned these days!
By Vicky Blades