Reading for the Day: Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s Surreal New Capital

The below is from an article by Grant Peck in today’s New York Times:

Dateline: Naypyidaw, Myanmar

This may be the world’s only national capital without cellphone service or international flight connections. It certainly doesn’t have traffic problems. And you won’t find any food carts clogging the streets.

All of this suits Myanmar’s military leaders just fine.

Welcome to Naypyidaw, the new capital of Myanmar, where the ruling junta can feel safe nestled in a mountain jungle, aloof from the demands for democracy that are popping up elsewhere in the country.

The country’s move from Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, to Naypyidaw (nay-pee-DAW) began in 2005 and was hastily completed last year, as civil servants were taken by trucks 250 miles to the north.

Foreign journalists invited by the government for a rare visit this year found a city struggling to come alive despite a claimed population of almost 1 million.

Military V.I.P.s fly into the city’s bare-bones airport. Other people, however, must endure a jostling 8-to-10-hour drive from Yangon on a pitted two-lane road also used by ox carts. A poorly marked turnoff gives way to an eight-lane concrete highway, the like of which is not seen elsewhere in impoverished Myanmar.

* * * * *

Two years ago, after returning from a conference in Berlin, self was doing her usual Costco run when she had to do a double-take. In front of her was a black Escalade. The license plate said, “Myanmar.” Excitedly, self returned home and e-mailed a Burmese poet she had just met in Berlin.

Kyi, self told her, I saw someone today with a license plate that said “Myanmar.”

I can assure you, Kyi said, that the person was probably a member of the ruling junta. Only they refer to Burma as “Myanmar.”

And it all fit: of course, only someone with the arrogance of power would be driving around California in a black Escalade. While the rest of the population went hungry. Of course.

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