A week ago, I was asked to go to Myanmar to conduct a training to our freight forwarding team. I wasn’t there for a holiday, though I wish I were! Eventhough it was a business trip, I still had this unusual excitement that I’d normally get when I go backpacking. I was so eager to know what Myanmar has become two years after my stint there.
Here are a few things I’ve learned during the trip:
- The garment industry is booming. Chinese, Korean and American companies among others have started outsourcing the manufacturing of their garments to Myanmar. I heard Nepa, Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic are a few of those who have established businesses here. The textile is still imported in Myanmar but the cutting, sewing, pressing, finishing and packing are all done here.
- It’s not surprising that Myanmar is attracting the labour-intensive industries. The minimum daily wage here is 3600 Kyats (around $3 USD per day!).
- By looking at the streets of Yangon, it’s noticeable that this country has a relatively large young population. According to The Economist, the median age is 27 and about 55% are under the age of 30. If you compare this to Japan, which is considered as an ageing country, the median age is 47 yrs. old and 33% are older than 60 years old.
- Despite the slow internet connection, Facebook has an ubiquitous presence in the country. Almost everyone I’ve met is using Facebook. I won’t be surprised if Facebook decides to beam their free internet (via satellite) service to this country. They’re currently doing it in Africa.
- The bars and restaurants are not allowed to sell beers other than the local ones, e.g. Myanmar and Mandalay beer. So when I joined my new Burmese friends for a drink and they started ordering Corona beer, I learned from them that these imported beers are sold in a black market.
- Sim cards are way cheaper than before! A top-up of 500Mb costs around $4. There are three telcos present: MPT (Myanmar & Japan partnership and also the biggest), Telenor (Norwegian) and Ooredoo (Qatar).
- Constructions and tall buildings are sprouting everywhere. I heard that the real estate is still expensive though.
- Cars are everywhere and Toyota rules the road. I saw a lot of Alphard cars too. My friend said that the social and economic inequalities are getting worse. I do wish that I’d still see monks walking at the city streets 10 years from now.
- People normally starts having family at the age of 30.
- Local people are still nice, kind and very friendly–I’m speaking for myself and my experience. There’s just one thing that I still don’t understand. When I talk to them they can laugh and smile a lot, but when taking a photo, the smile instantaneously vanishes. 😉
When I was in the elevator of a new office building, there’s a guy talking to a group of foreign businessmen. What struck me was the way he dressed up. He was wearing a white long-sleeved collar shirt, a blue longyi and a pair of slippers. It was a contrast to the western clothing of the foreigners. Still, it looked elegant and classic, which made me think: though economic development is inevitable in Myanmar, I hope that the Burmese people still retain and embrace their identity and find a way to interweave their traditions with the progress that comes along.
I’m looking forward to visit this country again 10 years from now.