This year’s ASEAN Summit isn’t just for convention junkies. Naypyitaw, not yet officially a decade old, has expanded this week with states-people and their respective entourages flying in from the APEC Summit in Beijing. Watching Naypyitaw prepare for the Summit earlier in the week could prove to be more exciting than the waiting we’re now doing for consensus around the ASEAN table.
This week, the Myanmar Police Force are in full swing. Blowing whistles, whirling sirens and flashing blinkers, they’re securing Naypyitaw and its peripheries every hour of the day. While the police force has previously been overshadowed by the armed forces in Myanmar’s turbulent history, the police has evolved as a key instrument of control by the current civilian-military hybrid government. In their blue combat helmets, ankle-high black polished boots, waist belts fastened with state-of-the-art wooden sling-shots and distinctive insignia on their uniforms, the police look the part and are working to prevent criminal activity and terrorist attacks.
Stationed throughout Naypyitaw–they are blocking traffic from entering the twelve-lane highway that runs past Myanmar’s National Assembly until Saturday. At intersections, hotels, makeshift gates and even the entrance of the Gem Museum, in all their glory, the police dominate Naypyitaw’s streetscapes this week.
Caption: Myanmar’s national parliament
Caption: Police at the national parliament roadblock
Caption: Policeman at checkpoint
Caption: Policeman at checkpoint
Caption: Myanmar Gems Museum
Caption: ASEAN Summit media bus
Naypyitaw’s hotels are accommodating some 3,000 visitors this week. Over breakfast tables, guests are busy shuffling papers while sipping on cups of jasmine tea. Staff at one hotel tell me enthusiastically: “We’re full!” As hotel staff frantically fill an ATM machine with the local currency, receptionists make demanding calls for waiters to bring cold orange juice for exhausted guests desperate to check into their rooms. After a busy day, one group of Japanese delegates relax around their dining table, enjoying a few bottles of Myanmar Beer.
Meanwhile, as the sun goes down, sirens whirl through the night air. Motorcades guide some ninety-nine imported BMW limousines between Naypyitaw’s international airport and hotels. In stark contrast to the limousine BMWs, colourful trucks chug down highways, ferrying workers from one side of Naypyitaw to another. As Naypyitaw’s blue bus shelters stand empty, local travelers stand on curbsides waiting for a truck to pick them up. Green trucks–laden with water–hydrate nature strips. Whipper-snippers file back thick blades of grass and small piles of rubbish from curbsides are swept up neatly.
Caption: Motorcade through Napyitaw
Caption: Water truck
Caption: Water for the summit
Caption: Truck transporting people
Beyond the activity for the summit, most of Naypyitaw is business as usual. At Junction Centre Shopping Mall, the hustle and bustle of ASEAN preparations seems a world away. Teenagers ride the shopping malls elevator up to the cinema, to watch the single movie on show (which is played twice daily). Office workers stock their baskets with sweet snacks and families stroll the isles at Ocean Supercentre’s electronics section. In Capital Hypermart, Christmas decorations adorn one display, drawing shoppers attention to European wine for just US$2 per bottle. Over in Zabu Thiri township, the open marketplace is filled with colourful goods: from local longyi, to European football tops, to board games, jewelry, cosmetics, bedding, shoes and toys.
Caption: Marketplace in Zabu Thiri township
Olivia Cable is a graduate student in from the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. She is currently in Naypyitaw for the ASEAN Summit. Contact: [email protected] and Twitter @ojcable