November 2014 – Assignment in Myanmar

Myanmar4Next month (November) one of our media trainers will teach in Myanmar (Burma).

Dieter will be working with almost 50 students at the MMDC (Myanmar Media Development Center). The MMDC ist the first and largest school for journalists in the country. Students are trained for their future in TV and radio.

Our job will be to train sophisticated methods of research as well as the conduction of interviews, standups and VoxPop.

The MMDC is located in the heart of Yangon (Rangoon) the largest city in Myanmar. Yangon is very well known for it’s lively business districts, the port at river Iriyawaddy and the famous pagodas.


Almost three weeks later:

Last days in Myanmar and it was exciting again. Three weeks at the first school for journalists this country ever had.

Travelling to Myanmar is as easy as it was never before. Lots of international airlines have flights to Yangon (ex Rangoon). There are now even direct flights from Germany. I flew in on Singapore Air in a fully booked brand new Airbus 330. As I was on a business trip I did not even have to apply for a visa beforehand. My visa was issued right at the airport – and it took less than five minutes. Tourists can now apply online.

Waiting for my driver took definitely more time – as always. He had no chance to park the vehicle within the airport perimeters. The terminal at Yangon Airport (RGN) was just opened a few years ago. Already it is way too small to handle all the passengers coming to the country. So cars a queuing up, blocking roadways and Hundreds of people are waiting for pick-up. Very soon there will be a new, much larger airport north of Yangon. A construction firm from Singapore just won the bid.

I was teaching at the MMDC (Myanmar Media Development Center – located on the top floor in one of Yangon’s popular shopping malls. Almost 50 students are working (more or less) hard to get a diploma. It takes ten month and the diploma is acknowledged all over Myanmar.

Some of the students were really special. One of the conditions of admission at the MMDC is a certificate that proofs the knowledge of spoken and written English. It looks like there are different ways to receive one of theses certificates… Well, about 50 % of the “kids” did neither understand nor speak any English at all. I decided (again) to work with one of the local interpreters. At the end of my first day with the students I asked all of them for their age. The average age was 26 – but it was only so high because there was one student aged 42. In other words: quite a number of them were not older than 16.
Nevertheless (or maybe even because of their youth) it was fun working with them. I am sure, five or maybe even six of them will become good journalists one day. The performance of these was far above average, they attended each and every minute of our classes, asked a lot of questions and were participating actively.

Well, and away from work? Yangon was impressive, vibrant, strange and crowded as ever. Some things are developing really fast – others seem to remain static. Traffic is horrible meanwhile – public transport even more. Myanmar, the former British colony, changed from left-hand traffic to right-hand traffic more than 40 years ago. Still the majority of the buses in Yangon have their original doors on the “wrong” side. Often extra doors are cut into the right-hand side of the bus. I’m not sure if the buses are older than 40 years (they look so) or are cheaply bought from Japan or India.

There were two highlights during my stay here in the former capital. The big thing was the visit of President Obama. After meeting with government officials he was talking to Aung San Suu Kyi the leader of the opposition (nobel laureate just like Obama) and later holding a speech at the university. The second big thing war the ceremonial opening of the first official BMW branch in the country. Both with live TV reports and politicians holding speeches.

As an European there are two things that confuse me very much. One thing is the danger of umbrellas. Whenever the sun comes out (and that happens almost every day) plenty of people use their umbrellas as parasols. Losing their “natural paleness” is a nightmare for most of the people here. As I’m quite tall the tips of their umbrellas are almost exactly at the level of my eyes. A sunny day on a small and crowded footpath is a nightmare for me.

The other thing I really hate is the fact that lots of people tend to spit out. When I came here first time a couple of years ago I was wondering about lots of reddish brown stains almost everywhere on the pavement. Quickly I found out that chewing betel is very common in Myanmar. Well and these people have to spit out – wherever, whenever. So it happens again and again that someone spits his brownish and slimy spittle right in front of your feet (or a few feet away). I sometimes think that this bad and unhygienic habit on the long run might even scare off tourists.