An “expat” weekend in Yangon, Myanmar

buddha at the shwedagon pagoda
Brightly illuminated Buddha at the Shwedagon pagoda
Street food in Yangon
Street food in Yangon

Yangon was Burma’s capital during the British occupation, and remains one of its main business centres. The city is booming so fast that it feels a bit like a teenager that’s quickly outgrowing its clothes. We had a little taste of the “expat life” for a weekend, guided by Mr & Mrs J. He’s actually becoming so local he’s now rocking the longyi style! Next thing you know, he’ll be chewing on betel… https://instagram.com/p/xMUPV0SnTo/ I’m not sure why but the French must love Myanmar, as the authorities count as many as 600 foreign nationals living in the Country (growing up to 90% per year). The same goes for tourists apparently, as French tourists are the most numerous to visit. Generally speaking the growing number of European and other western expats living in Yangon reflects the fact that the Country is at a turning point: the “big question mark” as Professor Robert H. Lieberman describes it. Indeed, daily conversation topics range from “what will the 2015 election mean for the Country and its legal framework” to “when is the next visa run to Bangkok?”, and of course to “where can I find some baking chocolate?”.

The Chaukhtatgyi Temple, hosting the giant reclining Buddha

IMG_8789 Many expats, all with different stories but common complaints: difficulties to find a suitable accommodation in a growing city where housing is actually not that cheap; impossibility to get a long-term visa (for now at least); lack of places to find fresh salads and western healthy food…so many obstacles that could turn into great business ideas? Yes, but not always. Foreigners are officially allowed to own no more than 49% of properties & companies, making Myanmar investors open to partnership a hot commodity! I’m glad I saw Mr & Mrs J (loving that new nickname) well settled in a cosy apartment and with a few business ideas up their sleeves!! As for us, for a weekend only, we marvelled at British car models with their steering wheels on the left driving on the right side of the road while stuck in traffic; bought Myanmar-baked croissants; crossed streets featuring a Buddhist temple, a Christian church and a mosque; had cocktails the colonial way; marvelled at the giant reclining Buddha. In term of tourism we very much enjoyed the free walking tour run by Gino. Thanks again, we had a great time listening your tales of Yangon, but also exchanging views with the group and …playing chilone!!

Chinlone Yangon
Playing Chilone in the streets of Yangon, note how the police officer (on the very left) rolled up his longiy to male some sort of shorts!

Playing Chinlone in the streets o yangonAnd obviously, we had to go and see the Shwedagon Pagoda, featuring one of the biggest stupa in the world and containing relics of the four Buddhas. It’s a puzzling sight at first, very crowded with tourists, prayers and monks; or sometimes all in one really, as we were welcomed by monks taking selfies on their ipads (really!?)…the temple is overlooking the city and stretches over a large area, with dozens of shrines and stupas. Legends and stories are, in my opinion, the most exciting part of such a site. I found the legend of the Pagoda on this page, I found it very interesting but poorly translated, so if anyone has a better version of it please let me know!

Rangoon Hail, Mother! Do they call me rich in trade? Little care I, but hear the shorn priest drone, And watch my silk-clad lovers, man by maid, Laugh ‘neath my Shwe Dagon.

The Song of the Cities – Rudyard Kipling

Shwedagon Pagoda  woman lighting incense at the shwedadon pagoda A few articles and points of views on the topic: Expats in Myanmar The expat burden in Myanmar – on the The Myanmar Times A make or break year for Myanmar – on The Diplomat In Orwell’s footsteps – a photo album published on the NYT 36 hours in Yangon – by the NYT, with restaurants and good eats lists The Economist Intelligence Unit country report, always a good go-to page

Yangon city Hall, from the Maha Bandoola Gardens
Yangon city Hall, from the Maha Bandoola Gardens
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