19.1.08

sim city


the new city hall all decked out

Nay Pyi Taw
Myanmar's new capital is built on the flattened hills north of Mandalay. The land is stripped bare, a highway cuts across the city, and the semblance of a city is systematically planted - a mega parliamentary complex echoing the ambition of pharoahs, a gaudily lit city hall, a hotel zone of resorts, a city golf course and various housing types for government officials pegged to rank (walk up apartments for the rank and file, semi-detached houses for senior managers, bungalows for directors and palaces for the ministers). These developments sit in isolation. Immediately around them is usually an expanse of naked earth or stretches of scanty vegetation, while beyond, small dusty huts with woven walls sometimes dot the fields. Against this background, Nay Pyi Taw the capital was an unreal flaunting of concrete and ambition.



small talk
On my way to Myanmar, I was seated beside a Singaporean businessman. After asking what business it was that brought me to Myanmar, he added that he could speak endlessly about that country - a mystery and an administration that defied reason. I shan't attempt to repeat his explanation of the foreign currency exchange and import-export systems. Even though I had "ah-ed and hmm-ed" at his description, I must confess my tidy Singaporean mind cannot quite grasp how there could concurrently exist some 3-4 exchange rates offering values 20 times apart for 1USD. Internet and mobile networks in Yangon, he said to add to my sense of amazement, could be shut down for days or weeks under the instructions of 1 man. Petrol prices (and hence bus fares) have gone up 5 fold, so some folks in the city opt to walk to work instead. The average income is 30USD even though this is a country with an abundance of natural gas, precious stones and fertile land.

At Nay Pyi Taw, I had a brief conversation with some ladies from Thailand. Non-controversial remarks about the difficulty of government - democratic or otherwise - in a region where the third, second and first worlds often co-exist in each country. But one word I remember had stood out in the conversation: injustice. Not a word that would appear in most day to day breakfast-table small talk! How archaic the word seem now , as if lifted from some ancient pledge. But that morning, it did not allow itself to be taken for granted. The governmentspeak on our island is often dictated by management-book language and other forms of technocrat-ese that it is easy to forget how important is justice, fairness and a perennial watch against corruption to the liberties of a city.

horizons and such

Dust, concrete and goverments aside, my only other recollection of Nay Pyi Taw is the abundance of nature - its stars, skies and fields. The urbanite that I am, I have never comprehended why folks paint trees, mountains and lakes. Is it not too trite, to represent nature, its beauty too contrived? But there is something undeniably beautiful and enduring, and it is the smallness of our city visions if we should deny this.

2 comments:

avalon said...

Fabulous post. I love Myanmar and have yet to go to Mandalay. Thanks for writing about it.

ampulets said...

tks. it's my first time in myanmar, but would like to go back there someday.

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