Most locals (80-90%?) describe themselves as Bamar (the reason the British called the country Burma) but other minority groups (Kachin, Kayar, Karin, Chin, Mon, Rakhine Shan etc) are all represented.
Myanmar festivals are largely based on the phase of the moon, so their dates vary each year. The main festival is Thingyan, the New Year which occurs in April. Most foreigners choose to leave the city during this period, as the main celebration consists of people drenching each other with water - the more water, and the more times, the better.
Other important festivals include the Novitiation Ceremony in April/May (when boys join a temple as a novice); Full Moon of Tabaung in March (when monks recite the Holy Scriptures continuously), the Full Moon of Waso in July which marks the start of Buddhist Lent, The Full Moon of Thadingyut or Festival of Light to mark the end of Buddhist Lent and the Full Moon of Tazaungmone in November.
It is common for extended local families to live together in the same apartment or house. Many families have lived in the same location for decades, and also work in the same area. Preferred locations are those with access to utilities (power, water), markets, schools, public transport and temples / mosques.
Yangon is seeing rapid urban migration as the rural population seeks better prospects for their children, access to basic amenities, or to escape drought and regional conflicts. They earn a living however they can - day-labourers, street vendors, garbage collectors etc. The poorest townships are Kyauktan, Thanlyin, Hlegu, Hmwabi, Htanbin, Twantay, Dala and Seikgyikanaungto, but it is common to see flimsy shelters on any available land, along railway tracks etc. Despite this, begging is less widely seen in downtown areas than in many other Asian cities.
Traditionally, the Myanmar community has been male dominated – the Myanmar word “Phon” means power and glory of men. Polygamy is permitted under Myanmar Customary Law and abortion is punishable by up to three years imprisonment and/or fine. Sexual harassment is not addressed in any law, but a volunteer run “Whistle for Help” campaign distributes whistles to ladies travelling by bus to raise awareness of a problem that many are too afraid of, or too shy, to report.
For many Buddhists, people with disabilities are suffering a punishment for bad deeds in previous lives. As a result, there is minimal provision for disabled access or availability of support services.
Power and Energy Supply
Yangon Region has four gas-fired power stations (Hlawagar, Yawma, Ahlone and Thaketa) but despite Myanmar being rich in natural gas they operate at low utilization rates as most of the country’s gas is exported to Thailand and (thanks to a newly constructed pipeline) China.
One of Myanmar’s four oil refineries is in Thanlyin township which also operates at low levels due to a shortage of crude oil supply – c. 50% of all petroleum products are imported.
More than 70% of Myanmar’s power is generated from Hydropower stations. As a result, during the March to June dry period, electricity shortages are common during the dry season (March – May) and problems can still occur in other months due to old infrastructure (some hydropower stations are more than 40 years old), the inefficient transmission and distribution system, overloading of lines and illegal connections. High voltage spikes are frequent, so a backup generator is essential.
During the rainy season, it is common for parts of the city to suffer floods due to any combination of clogged drains, high tide or heavy rain.
There are 58 public parks in Yangon totaling 470 acres, but relative to the size of its population the city has a chronic shortage of park and recreation area (Tokyo has 12x as much park land per person; London and New York 70-80x). 9 townships (Latha, Lanmadaw, Botahtaung, Tarmwe, Seikkan, Dawbon, Shwe Pyi Thar and Dagon Seikkan) have no parks at all and as a result, larger parks at Inya Lake and Kandawgyi Lake are often crowded at weekends.
There is only very limited recycling of scrap metal and plastic bags handled by private companies.
There are currently two telecommunications carriers – Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) and Yadanarpon Teleport (a subsidiary of MPT). The Ministry of Defense has its own system. Fixed telephone lines are normally installed within 1 week and there are many telephone stalls across the city which can be used for a fee (there are no coins in Myanmar so payment is made to the stall holder). The international calling rate to most countries is US$0.9 per minute, with some exceptions (e.g. New Zealand is US$1.9 per minute)
Mobile phone penetration is growing rapidly, with smartphone handsets especially popular. The recent (July 2013) award of cellular operating licenses to two foreign companies (Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo) is expected to provide further rapid improvements in both mobile network coverage and call quality. Both CDMA and GSM systems are used in Myanmar.
Aside from the Ministry of Defense, there are two Internet Service Providers:
- MPT offers dial up, ADSL, Fiber, E1 and satellite connections.
- Yadanarpon Teleport offers ADSL. Separate E-Lite and Fortune Companies offer Fiber lines via Yadanaporn. RED LINK, a subsidiary of Yadanarpon, offers WiMAX.
Bandwidth speed is often slow, especially during the day, with faster speeds typically available in the very early morning or very late night hours.
Most goods are sold at traditional markets, street stores or small family run shops.
There are c. 170 traditional markets in Yangon, including 21 large markets of which Bayintnaung Wholesale market is the largest handling rice, oil, oil seeds, pulses, beans, food items, plastic and jute bags, mats and tarpaulins.
Yangon’s first shopping mall (Super One) opened in 1982, but even today most shopping malls are poorly designed and offer a limited range of shops. There are 23 shopping complexes and 22 supermarkets - the largest shopping mall is also the newest (Junction Square) which opened in 2012. Other shopping malls include Ocean Super Center, Super One Shopping Center, Dagon Center 1 & 2, Capital Shopping Mall, Sein Gar Har, Orange, Brazon, Ga Mone Pwint, City Mart and Ocean.
In the main, chain convenience stores have yet to appear in Yangon – the largest chain is 108 with c. 12 stores.
Commuting to Work
Transport options for commuters are limited. Motorcycles and scooters are prohibited from 31 of Yangon’s 33 townships; trishaws and bicyles are not allowed in certain central business locations between 5am and 10 pm (Theinphyu Street, Merchant Street, Lanmadaw Street and Bogyoke Aung San Street); until September 2011 car import licenses were tightly controlled (there has since been a rapid increase in the number of cars on the road); and the railway is old, uncomfortable, slow and unreliable. As a result, 80% of workers use buses to commute to work.
Since September 2012, de-regulation has dramatically reduced the price of cars, but as result road congestion, especially during rush hours and school opening / closing times is becoming a major problem. Route congestion is exacerbated by the constraints of Yangon’s geography, as new towns have been built in to the north along Numbers 1, 3 and 4 Main Roads, and later Numbers 2 and 5 Main Roads. As a result, everyone commutes in the same direction, at the same time, on roads designed for far fewer, smaller vehicles. The situation is not helped by some “unusual” local driving styles and many vehicles having the driving wheel on the wrong side. One saving grace is that a “no horn” policy applies in parts of the city, especially near the Shwedagon.
In an effort to address these issues, police control traffic flow at key junctions (some more successfully than others) and flyovers have been/are being constructed at Hledan, Shwegondine and Bayintnaung junctions. Commonly congested areas include Strand Road, Kyee Myin Dine Road, Bayint Naung Road (the main centre for large trucks loading at the Port) and Upper / Lower Pazundaung Roads, in addition to roads near schools and shopping centres. Other bottlenecks include Shwe Dagon Pagoda Road, Pyay Road and Kaba Aye Pagoda Road – to avoid construction work on the latter, traffic is choosing to divert through a crowded market area. A lack of public car parks and bus bays at bus stops completes the picture.
Pavements are in poor repair, so walking during the hot or monsoon seasons, or after dark, is not a preferred option.
Industrial and Service Sectors
Yangon Region contains c. 40% of Myanmar’s total processing and manufacturing sector and c. 30% of its services sector (including c. 60% of its financial sector).
The industrial sector in Yangon is predominantly processing and manufacturing. There are more than 15,000 factories or workshops in Yangon Region, mostly small privately owned entities that employ less than 50 people. Many are in the city’s new suburbs (Shwe Pyi Thar, Hlaing Thryar, North, South East Dagon and Sagon Seikkan), but even the central business district (Latha, Lanmadaw, Pabedan, Kyauktada, Botahtaung and Pazundaung townships) has 1,000+ factories and workshops involved in the food, metal fabrication, machinery repair and garment sectors. Many of the larger factories provide dormitories for their workforce.
The service sector covers a wide mix of financial, communication, transportation and social sectors.