This is the story of a 26-year-old, originally from Mandalay Region, who formed the “foundation” of his life in Myanmar’s new capital. In the following, he recounts his experiences to Olivia Cable.
“Pre-2005, I had heard stories about Naypyitaw from labourer friends. People were talking about this “new city”. People travelled to this new city area by train. They would tell me about all the mountains and trees.
“When Naypyitaw was being built, construction sites would have a head labourer, who would make personal profits out of his workers. The head labourer would pay his workers, and provide them with accommodation. But he would also manage his own economy; he would sell food and cigarettes and alcohol. His wife might make betel for the workers.
“For the workers, there was a catch when working on the construction sites. Sure, they paid well. But the living expenses were high. Also, labourers couldn’t travel far from their construction sites, because there was nothing around them. Naypyitaw was empty. It was hard living for labourers. They would have to walk really far to get water. To make more money, labourers would play cards. Some would lose all their wages, they would have nothing. It ruined their lives, even their simple lives on construction sites.
“You know, I formed the foundation of my life in Naypyitaw. I was 21 or 22. I found out about a job in Naypyitaw from my sister’s friend. Before I came to Naypyitaw, I studied accounting, English and presentation skills. My first job in Naypyitaw was at a major hotel. That was in February 2010. I started working as a waiter. I was embarrassed by that job, because I didn’t want to be seen by girls every night. There were beautiful young girls who would come in.
“One night I was in the restaurant, and the phone rang. No one was around, so I picked it up. It was the general manager. He was impressed how well I spoke English, so he called me to his office. I thought I was going to get fired. He moved me to work in the hotel’s front office.
“I began to work as a bell-boy. It was amazing. You know, I would search on Google ‘how to greet guests’. And that’s what I did. I’d open the door, and say ‘Welcome ’. I can’t tell you how much I loved that. Plus, I’d moved up from being a waiter to a bell-boy.
“There was a horrible girl working in the front-of-house area at the hotel. She used to tell me to smile. She was so rude to me. I would do everything wrong. Even just standing still waiting for guests to arrive, she would pick a fault in the way I stood.
“After four months of being a bell-boy, I moved up into an even more exciting role. The accountant in the general manager’s office moved to another job in Mandalay. My dreams were coming to life. I could now practice everything I had studied. I was doing all the trade balances, profit and loss statements, managing cash flow, and writing in the daily cashbook. I even got to sit next to the general manager in his office while I did my job! Can you believe it? You know, that girl in the front-of-house area I told you about, she stopped shouting at me when she saw I was working with the general manager.
“I only stayed in that role as an accountant for one month. The former accountant at who moved to another hotel called me up, and offered me a job there. It seemed like an exciting job – I would be the cashier for a telephone shop.
“It didn’t turn out as well as I had expected. First, I didn’t’ work as a cashier. I ended up working as a porter, delivering phone sets to people over the city. Second, I didn’t get paid well. I ended up losing money. Each month, I was paid 80,000 kyat. I couldn’t afford to eat. My food cost 3,700 per day. That’s 114,700 kyat per month. I left that job after two months.
“I wanted to come back to Naypyitaw. You know, I did a front-office training course a couple of years ago. Everyone called me ‘the Master’, even the teacher. I made friends with all the hotel staff from all the hotels in the hotel zone. I ended up helping the teacher. The course was delivered in Burmese. But since my English was pretty good, I would explain everything to the other hotel staff in English. It was great being a leader.
“So, I returned to Naypyitaw in 2012. That’s when I started working here, at this hotel. It was here that I became a receptionist. That job gave me enough experience to get a job at the five-star hotel in Yangon. There, I started as the concierge. But since I wanted to learn everything about hotels, I managed to spend time in each section. I worked in the business centre, reservations, operator and fitness centre. (The running machine was my favourite piece of equipment.) I stayed at in Yangon for two years. I was earning 500,000 kyat per month.
“But I’ve always wanted to be a manager in a hotel. I also wanted to come back to Naypyitaw. I’ve been the front-of-house manager at this hotel since the start of 2015.”
Olivia Cable is a Research Assistant based at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University.