Sunday, October 6, 2013

Quiet time in the Capital

For the last month, September , I have been working solo up in Myanmar on a Financial Procedures & Capability review project in one of the government ministries. I didn't want to post anything while in the country in case it affected my work. I have also deliberately not named anyone or identified anything specifically and this is part of the reason why there is not an overload of photographs.

I was a tad apprehensive heading off to Myanmar by myself and presenting myself to the GM Finance and then heading into an intensive review program. And I was leaving Andrew back in Vientiane to fend for himself – always a bit of a risky strategy. However I was treated with such kindness and generosity, that it rates as one of the best and most interesting work assignments I have ever done.

So first off a bit about the city, then later the infinitely more interesting description of the offices and people I met.

A lot of people don’t know the capital of Myanmar isn't Yangon but is in fact, Nay Pyi Taw – NPT. It is a purpose built city started in 2005 located half way between Yangon and Mandalay. One Friday the government announced that all the government departments would move from Yangon to NPT – that weekend. And so it was, and that next day a convoy of thousands of trucks started the transfer process. Initially families of government workers were not permitted to make the move and had to remain in Yangon as there were no schools, or other necessary infrastructure. But this changed and families started arriving – and I would think the atmosphere of the city began to change.

It is a 4 hour drive along a large 200 mile purpose built road that connects Yangon – NPT– Mandalay. It takes a while to get out of Yangon city limits and there is lots of congested traffic. There are few villages etc. along this road, so everyone stops at the 115 mile mark where there are food stalls and restaurants.

road to mandalay

As you get to the city, suddenly the barren land disappears and buildings suddenly rise out of nowhere. It isn't a bustling city, the roads are so wide it appears as though there are no other cars on the road. Apparently the population is 900,000, but the distances are also so large it sometimes feels like a ghost-town.

My hotel was in the Hotel zone, which was a 25 minute walk to the big shopping Mall. The Mall sits in front of the Diplomatic zone, but pretty much no one has moved there yet as most countries are resisting moving their missions from Yangon to NPT. And the office is on the other side of town in the Ministry zone – 15 km away from the hotel. The hotel was typical of the city – over-sized and empty. My detached villa was bigger than our Vientiane apartment.


It took 4 minutes to walk to the hotel restaurant, or you could ring a golf buggy to come & get you (never did that)

Every day I was driven past the enormous Parliament buildings. They sit in grounds of 100s of acres and the scale is hard to envisage. In keeping with the oversize, the road in front of Parliament is 3 or 4 km long and has 20 lanes – 10 each way. A few days I took note of the number of cars on the road. Generally there was one car and one motorbike going in the same direction as us, and a maximum of 4 cars/trucks and 2 motorbikes going in the other direction. (The parliament picture below is from National Geographic)

npt roads

I did not take many photos of government buildings, or the roads around them. Firstly, I was usually in a moving vehicle with tinted windows so quality was likely to be average. And secondly, while there was no obvious prohibition, it just did not feel like the place to take photos. Police stand on corners with their guns and, unlike in Laos, they DO whistle at traffic etc. There are plenty of Police Stations. I saw one with the big sign “May I help you?” in English but no sign saying it was a police station – only my colleague telling me it was a police station, gave me that clue.

Every single day I was there something new surprised me. One evening I was talking to Andrew and I could hear something unusual. So i had a look out the door of the villa and saw smoke. At first I thought a villa was on fire, but then I saw the man mosquito spraying. I’m sure the insecticide was entirely harmless given that he wasn't wearing any protective equipment - yeah, right

A interesting article about the capital and the history can be found here - it is well worth reading. Amongst other things it makes the interesting observation that Washington DC, too, was a purpose built city that no one wanted to live in initially.

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