Back in the 90’s I had the privilege to work in Yangon as a consultant to their fledgling mobile telephony network, albeit my work lasted only for a short period of time, a matter of a few months. For one fleeting moment, about 12 to 15 years ago it looked as though they were about to rejoin the democratic world order, as they tried to embrace democracy. Global hotel chains rushed to Yangon to build and operate spectacular hotels of incredible quality, sadly as they did keep to the democratic discipline, these hotels have stood largely empty.
As for my reason to be there it was to advise them on the requirements required to implement a mobile telephony network across Myanmar. As they were attempting to embrace mobile telephony, as it looked as though they wanted to put in a network, then they were beginning to open up the country again.
During the period that I traveled to and from Myanmar, a journey that I found to be fraught with difficulty due to all of the procedural requirements to obtain visa’s etc., I saw an infra-structure that was reminiscent of the war years across Europe. There were old Bedford lorries and buses which were easily 50 years old and were still operating as originally intended, it was as though the world had not moved on. For me this brought a kind of charm to my trips that was enjoyable to see and experience, but I left the country for better facilities so never really had to experience the practical impact for any period of time.
However, what was a surprise to me; was the presence of French nationals plying their trade. The French were involved in areas such as; Telephone exchange systems through to restaurants. I was advised by colleagues that I worked with to keep my own council should I be in any bars during my evenings, they were indicating the existence of French intelligence, a service who were there in Myanmar to protect French businesses from foreign competitors. I have no idea as to whether I brushed along side these guys so had no experience to say if this was true or not. But, I had certainly been advised to keep my own council and particularly around the bar of the Strand Hotel, a bar where the few expats that were in Myanmar frequented, I count embassy personal amongst the expats.
During one of my evening trips I had the good fortune to travel outside of Yangon, traveling on a main route for approx 10 miles, at which point we turned off the road and followed a dirt track for at least another 2 miles. Eventually we came across a beautiful newly painted white colonial house, this house was in the middle of a plantation, it had an arch stretching out from the front door/entrance whereby cars could drive through and stop underneath, this arch was reminiscent of a by gone era. You can imagine that in the days when colonial carriages were in use, that these carriages would draw under the arch and come to a complete halt, the colonial elite would then alight from such carriages. The front porch would then pass into a grand hall complete with sweeping staircase. This rather splendid building was an exclusive French restaurant, it came together with a French chef/owner, the food was of unbelievable quality. The restaurant was not over populated with tables but the tables that were there positioned in the various rooms, were all full with diners.
I have digressed, it is interesting that the exploiters were indeed the exploited at the end of the day, as the Chinese were using Myanmar’s resources to generate power and then send that power back to China netting little benefit to the Burmese. I would suspect that the military regime of Myanmar had long enjoyed the support of China. But this aside and for whatever reason they, the junta, have now come to the table and the people of Myanmar can take a breath and heave a sigh of relief. As for the west we should now embrace them and help them join the civilized community of nations. In so doing we should not dismiss the sacrifice that Aung San Suu Ky gave to support her people throughout this difficult period, for we should acknowledge her fortitude, her resilience her grace and poise as she endured those years confined to her home. Aung San Suu Ky deserves a role on the world stage as I am sure we have a new world states person in the guise of Aung San Suu Ky, she has displayed great humility, great dignity seen only when Nelson Mandela was released after years of confinement. Like Nelson Mandela she has not called for her oppressors to be brought to book for their oppression for she has sought to unify this country. I believe she has great courage and dignity a person who has respect for the values of the ordinary people! Indeed the world should look to her for guidance at this difficult time.
I hope we see this country quickly move forward, that they, the people improve their security, bring peace and stability, that their living standards quickly improve. I also believe that this country should open its doors so that many of us can easily see the temples that have formed the very spiritual backbone of the people of Myanmar. I hope that we can all experience the Shwedagon Paya (Pagoda) for this is a world renowned Buddhist Temple, located on a hill as it watches over all of Yangon. For this temple was built and established before the time of Christ. I for one am lucky enough to have visited this wonderful monument.