When we first traveled to Myanmar two years ago, there was little to no Wi-Fi, few mobile phones (SIM cards could only be obtained by lottery and cost around $1,500 each, making it unaffordable for most), no ATM machines or credit card usage, and frequent electricity outages. Fast forward just two years: consistent access to Wi-Fi, excellent 3G, and little need to bring stacks of cash anymore (credit cards are now accepted at most hotels). The arrival of telecom providers TeleNor and Oredoo has reduced the price of SIM cards to $1.50 resulting in a reported 30%+ market penetration of cell phones. Electricity outages are still common, and traffic in Yangon is worse than ever, but major change is palpable everywhere, and ATMs and 3G are just the more visible manifestations of this extraordinary transition.
Our delegation concluded with the drafting of a work-in-progress framework agreement to help codify what we and the various education, health, and science ministry officials encouraged us to do and share. It appears below and we will focus now on next steps to follow through. We all recognized the importance of keeping the momentum of reform accelerating.
A week ago, my taxicab was approaching the U.S. Capitol. Two congested lanes of traffic and a great deal of police. Routine security inspection from a couple of scowling Capitol Hill police. No one looked suspicious that day.
It is 5:30 am in Mandalay, Myanmar. Our hotel is directly across from the former royal palace and it is a good time for a run. The city has been awake for a while and streetlights are about to go on for an hour or so before dawn. That gave me some pause.
The International Academic Partnerships delegation to Myanmar had an unusual start. A faculty member from Northern Illinois University, Dr. Catherine Raymond, who curates the Burmese art collection there, was bringing back a Buddha sculpture (pictured below) created more than a thousand years ago. At a ceremony marking the return with the Minister of Culture she noted that the event was a "testimony to the efforts many are making to end trafficking in art." Ironically, the sculpture is rare because it depicts the Buddha in the pose emoting rule of law, something that has gone missing in so many places today.