It’s hard to gauge how much Yangon and the people of Myanmar have changed in the past four years since our first trip there in the Spring of 2011. The speed at which things are changing is incredible and to a degree quite worrisome.
As the country opens up there’s a wellspring of optimism that with new freedoms will come opportunities to break free of more than a half-century of rust and decay that pervades all aspects of the society. What that means for all the various ethnic groups (more than 130 of them) and their claims for independence and access to to the flowing of ideas and capital remains to be seen.
Many changes are for the better with more information comes change and enhancements to ease the suffering of people and an evolution of ideas means outdated ones gradually fall away. You can see people actively searching out new avenues of improving their life’s circumstances. We interacted with a great number of people learning new skill sets from access to the Internet that had previously been outside of their reach.
One gentleman was leveraging the internet to learn English which he practiced with potential customers for his boat taxi service on Inle Lake. He had done well enough in the past couple of years to have not just one new but two new boats available to haul visitors around the lake. That influx of capital allowed him to invest more into his family and hire others in his village for his new business.
Many others haven’t been as fortunate to partake in the emerging changes and their future remains cloudy. The list of persecuted groups is long and ranges from the predominately Christian Kachin people of the Kachin state, the Muslim Rohingya and their current predicament of being stateless and abandoned at sea or the opium growers in the far east Shan state along the Chinese border and many, many more differing ethnic groups.
Whether the central government has a firm grasp of the unfolding influences on the society or not remains to be seen. As more and more people understand how far behind their society has become over the years they will start demanding more things. What that means for every member of the society will be precarious for whatever government is in power. We can only help that clearer minds will find themselves tasked with growing a fast changing society.