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.

School Bus in Yangon, Myanmar

School Bus in Yangon, Myanmar

Here are a few things I’ve learned during the trip:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. Constructions and tall buildings are sprouting everywhere. I heard that the real estate is still expensive though.
  8. 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.
  9. People normally starts having family at the age of 30.
  10. 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.