Myanmar (still known to Americans and a few others as Burma) seems largely unheard of at home but is one of the largest countries in South East Asia with a single land mass (Indonesia & Malaysia are collections of islands). It’s population is equal to California and Florida combined, with a physical size just smaller than Texas and with a coastline slightly less than Florida (all contiguous). The recent move to become more “democratic” and the relaxation of the decades long military rule has opened things up and it has become the darling of the development community who have rushed in to help them catch up with the modern world.
The economic capital is Yangon (formerly Rangoon) but they have created a new city (starting in 2002) in the center of the country some 200 miles North of Yangon. This build a new city concept (think Brasilia, Abuja, etc) allows for a planned city with wide roads all new buildings and infrastructure. The minor inconvenience is that nobody already lives there so almost everyone here in Nay Pyi Taw is a transplant or commuter. There are now two hotel zones on either side of the Capital zone and hotels as far as the eye can see (many still unopened or under construction) but few guests. I think that in the first week here I have met as many foreign consultants as Myanma.
However… Twice a year Naypyitaw is beseiged with visitors for the semiannual gem buying convention. Turns out that Myanmar has Jade, Rubies, Sapphires, Gold, Silver and more gems up north and buyers flood in here to buy their stocks. Hotels fill up (prices quadruple) and millions of dollars change hands. I was told to brace myself for the influx next week.
Because of our Iraq caper I was quite interested in the Parliament here. Talk about a shock. It is a massive complex of buildings (OK so they need a lot of space for 664 legislators) built in an ornate style. I expect that they expect that some day Naypyitaw will be a bustling center of activity in southeast asia but we are not quite there yet. In the spirit of planning ahead there is a 20 lane highway outside the Parliament complex. Yes 20.. 10 in each direction. It is closed to the public during the week but we drove on it during the weekend. 20 lanes and we were the only car for a good 5 minutes.
In spite of working 6 days per week (not a lot else to do) we did venture out to see the Gold Pagoda and the white elephants (ok so they are more pinkish, but more white than grey). This is a replica of the real pagoda in Yangon but is 1 foot shorter and only the top section is “real” gold
I found the Myanma people we are working with to be warm and delightful to be with. They work 6 days per week and put in long hours, and were very careful to do things well. The typical dress for men here is the Longyi (pronounced lon’gee) which I have learned to wear to the office. Basicly a man’s skirt. We do it as a sign of respect for their culture.