Monday, 6 May 2013

Nay Pyi Daw

Nay Pyi Daw

The Reincarnation of the Past Genre: Narrative, Travel Essay, Geography & Politics

Nay Pyi Taw, when it finally came into view, appeared instantly in a glittering fashion.  City of Lights.  That was my first impression, which I believe, coincides with those of most Burmese people, living in a country where access to electricity is valued, only second to money or gold. 

I took my preferred window seat on a comfortable express so I was fully aware of this sudden change in nature of my surroundings.  For four hours, the view from the window revealed a blurry, uninteresting view - ghostly silhouettes of wild trees swooshing past along the national highway.  At times, I could figure out bare plateaus of the Paegu Mountains against the moonlight, realizing how badly resources were managed in this resource-glutted country which for decades is preyed on by more affluent neighboring countries, especially China.

I was to volunteer as a steward along with a few of my friends in Pre-SEA games Equestrian tournament to be held in Nay Pyi Taw for three days.  The bus dropped us near Hotel Amara where we would be staying during the trip around 3 am, a few hours before the tournament.

A glance to the grande Parliament
A black, Toyota Alphard minivan picked us up around 7 am and soon we were speeding up a highway towards the equestrian ground.  With the driver's brief introduction, I slowly understood how the city was structured.  The city of Nay Pyi Taw is organized in a number of zones namely Residential Zones, Military Zones, Ministry Zone, the Hluttaw, Hotel Zone, Shopping, Recreation and International Zone.  The construction of the city started in 2002 during the previous government and it was built restlessly for four years, a huge chunk of the country's income pouring in to construct the city's infrastructures.

From my window seat, truly every infrastructure appeared as if each of them was built yesterday.  Once again, I felt that Nay Pyi Taw lacked the essence of the city - traffic jams, traffic lights, pedestrians pushing their way to work, shopkeepers preparing for the day.  Like the nightlife of the city a few hours ago, the city was pretty much dull.  For a moment it resembled cities like Abu Dhabi of UAE or Putrajaya of Malaysia - was planned in advance, built overnight, decorated with lavish infrastructure but still lack the essence of a major city.

We arrived at the equestrian ground just in time for the opening ceremony of the tournament.  Two heavy convoys of black, luxurious sedans arrived at the scene, police officers saluting before the convoys.  I was told that the Vice-President of Myanmar, U Nyan Win and the Minister of Sports, U Tint San had arrived.  A couple of speeches were delivered by both as the ASEAN equestrian players lined up accordingly with their respective national teams.  Here's another difference I noticed between Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon - a sense of authority and power.  Ever since huge masses of government offices moved into Nay Pyi Taw from Yangon in 2005, such huge convoys of government vehicles and signs of respect from fully-uniformed police officers saluting at the vehicles were hardly seen on Yangon's streets.

Over 75% of country's electricity!
Another significance I found out in Nay Pyi Taw was its close relationship with the Beijing government.  To my great surprise, I found quite a number of government officials conversing in mandarin Chinese with seemingly important people, implying from the tone of their conversations.  Nay Pyi Taw, strategically at the strategic crossroads linking China, India and Thailand, has clearly become a hub of the country's trading and politics, just like Mandalay had been for many years.

City Glittering at Night
Afternoon in Nay Pyi Taw was uninviting.  The sweltering beyond-hundred degree heat made life uneasy, even for a person who deals with the monsoon heat of Yangon.  Temperatures fluctuated greatly in Nay Pyi Taw - early mornings and late evenings could be as cool as Yangon's winter and afternoons could be warmer than Yangon's mid-summer days.  Such fluctuations suggest the Nay Pyi Taw area is slowly turning into a more proper semi-arid region.

The next day, I had a chance to visit some areas outside the city's specific zones.  These visits cemented the fact that Pyinmana region was transformed into Nay Pyi Taw in a matter of few years.  For a moment, I could hardly believe how such a place could be transformed into a major city.  The natives would also have found it hard to believe the change in fate of their small town within a few years.  One day they were living in thatched huts and walking on horse-cart paths and the next day, they were forced to move into more isolated areas and witness their homes quickly replaced by huge city infrastructures.

People in these 'old' areas of Pyinmana or the 'real natives' are generally kind and friendly, and they do not seem to have the slightest idea of what important political decisions were been made in the Hluttaw just a few kilometers away from them.  I was offered to take a rest and have a cup of tea by a native while I was looking for a nearby restroom.  For half-an-hour, I had a friendly conversation with the host family and just as my speculation; I learnt how these locals had seen a significant change in their way of life in a few years.  I offered them some money as a gratitude for their accommodation but they refused my offer politely, telling me that they appreciate 'visitors coming from other regions.'

Beautiful Locals
The next day, I boarded the bus leaving for Yangon. As the bus sped past Nay Pyi Taw's different zones, I speculated about what kind of future lays ahead for the city.  It is true that the city is now home to the country's greatest infrastructures.  It is true that the city will be home to the South East Asian athletes and hundreds of their supporters coming December.  But, what lay ahead after December?  I personally believe Nay Pyi Taw will take a number more years to possess the essence of a city like that of Yangon.  Yet, one thing is certain - the city will continue to be the country's morse code as Myanmar try to its international relations.

The window view was instantly replaced into a blurry image of wild trees and slowly, I drifted into sleep. 

1 comment:

  1. Two thumbs up. It makes me think like I'm actually there in the city. :)