Say What

Published: Thursday December 19, 2013 MYT 7:30:00 AM
Updated: Thursday December 19, 2013 MYT 3:42:47 PM

Quirky yet humble Myanmar will be remembered

The roads are wide and empty in Naypyitaw. While the absence of traffic is welcome, it also means public transport problems for visitors. – AFP Photo

The roads are wide and empty in Naypyitaw. While the absence of traffic is welcome, it also means public transport problems for visitors. – AFP Photo

THE SEA Games is winding down to a close and to be honest, everyone, I think, is just waiting for everything to end so that they can fly back home.

My initial thoughts when I was assigned together with my colleagues to cover the SEA Games was that I would get to see pagodas and temples in Naypitaw.

This was the message given by Lonely Planet of Myanmar.

Well, I was wrong as Naypitaw is actually quite an isolated city. The government carved out land from the jungle and shifted all the government departments here.

There are plenty of big and spacious hotels. In fact, the people working here are actually migrant workers from Yangon.

The roads are really wide and nothing like what you see back home. Even a plane can land on the 10-lane highway and I think that may look to be the purpose.

I heard that Yangon is a more lively and bustling city. If this is the case, Naypyitaw’s absence of traffic jams must be welcomed by city folks like us.

But it’s the SEA Games period and that is also the time for the service providers to make some money from the guests.

There are no taxis here but rather private cars for hire and they don’t come cheap.

Prices are quoted in US dollar as that is the preferred currency of choice from the hotel down to the person selling the Games T-shirt.

A taxi ride from the hotel to a Games venue goes for nothing less than 10,000-50,000 kyat (US$10-US$50 or RM32-RM163) - and that’s just one way.

And when you do not have your own transport, there is not much choice for meals except for the restaurant back in your hotel once your work for the day is over.

The prices are steep but I guess this is what you have to make do with as a guest in a foreign country.

And visitors to the country take note that only new and untainted US notes are accepted in Myanmar.

Even the money changers at the Naypyitaw airport will reject money that has even one marking or has been folded, as my colleagues and I found out upon our arrival.

But one thing that has won me over is the humble, honest and friendly virtues of the Myanmar people.

The ordinary folks may not be able to understand English words other than simple ones like okay, hello, yes and how much.

But the majority are pleasant and go out of their way to help you around. The other day, my colleague’s laptop charger was missing and the volunteers went around asking to try and see if it had been misplaced and if anyone had seen it.

Money was also mistakenly left in the pocket of a shirt sent for laundry.

But the money was returned and left on top of the freshly cleaned laundry. It’s simple things like this that people will remember in their hearts about their brief stay in Myanmar for the SEA Games even when they go back to their own countries.

Note: The writer is most impressed by the sportsmanship shown by Filipino Jasmine Alkhaldi, who had to return the gold medal she won in swimming due to a technical error by the official. Jasmine did not sulk or scream in protest but instead returned to re-swim the event the next day and ended up with a bronze. For me, the bronze she won is worth all its weight in gold.

Tags / Keywords: Myanmar, SEA Games, Naypyitaw, Nyapidaw

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