Is there anybody out there?! – Myanmar

On November 6th, 2005, only two years after the new capital city construction began, Senior-General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Council for Peace and Development (Myanmar), announced the formal transfer of the capital from the old Yangon to Naypyidaw.

On 11th November, 11 am, 11 military teams transported by 1100 trucks, led the first 11 members of the government in the new capital. In the history of what today is known as Republic of the Union of Myanmar, many sovereigns have moved the capitals of their kingdoms according to the observation of the stars. As for every sovereign in the past, Than Shew personal astrologer support had its own weight.

The reasons for moving the capital city are different, even if they remain mainly hypotheses.
The government supports the Yangon decongestation thesis and Naypyidaw best position in the center of the Myanmar territory. The Burmese and international conspirators belief is the central government fear of potential attacks by armies of some states of the Union, de facto militarily powerful and potentially dangerous. Furthermore, some newspapers talk about the desire to create urban spaces able to avoid protests and riots in the city . For us “Westerners”, less for Asians, it is absurd to build a capital city ad hoc not having decades of social, cultural and economic history behind it.

Naypyidaw Union Territory, envisaged by the 2008 constitution, is a first level administrative subdivision of Burma, as well as the States and Regions of the country. The new capital has been modeled on the already existing Pyinmana, Lewe and Tatkon townships. Other townships (Ottarathiri, Dekkhinathiri, Pobbathiri, Zabuthiri and Zeyathiri) were created after the decision to move the capital, in each of them was built a new town having the function of urban center, in order to create a metropolis composed by the union of the 8 township. Naypyidaw “center” is divided in well-defined areas, far from each other (military zone, administrative zone, hotels area), with an immense and deserted 21 lanes avenue that runs in front of an impassable gate complete with bridges to protect the parliament. This surely represents the aim to order and organize as well as the demonstration that the military junta intends to hold its power firmly, and eventually run away in the fastest and safest way possible.

After 15 years, having also hosted the 2013 Southeast Asian Games, Naypyidaw still seems very far from becoming a real capital city. Rather, it remains an administrative conglomeration with around townships inhabited by more than a million people. This is why cannot be considered a ghost city [1]. The different areas seem to be places belonging to a different time and space.

Only public employee, wich that the inhabitants simply call “employee”, live in the “city center” out of necessity. When observing their life, they seem to live in an Orwellian world where they are
“taken” by crumblig buses from the council houses where they live to reach the building where they work, then come back in the afternoon. At the beggining of the “employees” exodus, someone tried to oppose the transfer or quit his job to remain in Yangon, which still is the economic center, not only for the country.
Buildings with green, blue or pastel colored roofs, have always led to the idea that the houses were divided according to the ministry the people work for. In reality it’s not like that. The only division is between the housing of those who have families and those who are single and, since in Myanmar one can’t live togheter without being married, the single rooms are divided by gender. There is no public transport system and those who visit the city can take a taxi from the hotel areas, which in any case is miles away from any possible event or interesting spot. The project of building a subway was abandoned because is considered uneconomical.
The roundabouts, scattered around the city, seem to be built to allow the amount of traffic to flow with comfort in a city like New York , and also the mall “Junction Center” (the only one in the city and of modest dimensions), it’s half empty, even on weekends.
To taste what could vaguely be compared to the life of any city in Myanmar, you have to move to Myoma market area, a bazaar teeming with people and colors surrounded by immense advertising signs without advertising, which seem to hide that swarm of people.
This is precisely the point. The Capital city, as it was conceived, is empty. Indeed, the attempt to build buildings and make them become the most important companies headquarters in Myanmar, or homes for retired military and politicians, it did not bear fruit. After the first stage, all companies returned to Yangon and the pensioners’ homes are uninhabited.
The inhabitants are scattered in the old pre-existing centers. You meet them in villages 40 minutes away from the center, in typical houses made of wood and bamboo. Some of them
had moved to other countries and on their return they found themselves “living in the capital”, others simply lead the life of all time: farming or doing manual labour.

[1] The population of Naypyidaw amounted to 1 160 242 in the 2014 census, compared to the 40,000 that Pynmana had. The impetuous development of the city makes it difficult to estimate today’s number; was included in October 2011 among the 10 fastest growing cities in the world.