Morning in Mandalay: Challenges Facing a New Myanmar

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 city was dark through the night but why light up when in a few minutes nature would begin doing the job. First, I heard the sweeping. Long, graceful straw brooms wielded by women who marched across the broad sidewalks like an army pushing the dried leaves into the street. Then I heard squeaking sounds that seemed associated with a playground swing whose bearings had rusted. As I ran closer, here was a par course with a dozen apparatuses on which people were lifting, bending and stretching. The lights were on to help people work and exercise.

In a country long isolated from most of the world, I began to wonder why energy and time was spent on tidying things and toning people up. And at a time when we were hearing at each university meeting that, as one of the Rectors put it, “We need just about everything,” it did not seem to make a lot of sense to have invested public resources in even these simple steps to make life better.

But that is what Burmese want. Without anyone telling them, they seem to demand results from government as well as the party of Aung San Suu Kyi. “Both need to tell us what they are going to do,” one of our hosts observed. “Then the people can really decide.”

Much more than one would expect, the people here demand a great deal from life. Meeting their demands and needs has been what is revolutionary for the government as well as the opposition to consider. It is not clear who is winning. But both sides appear hard at work. Just like the people who cleared a path along the sidewalks on this very early morning in Mandalay.

IIE’s President and CEO Dr. Allan Goodman is currently in Myanmar leading a partnership focused delegation through IAPP. While in Myanmar, the IIE-led delegation will hold public workshops at a number of universities in Yangon and Mandalay open to anyone interested in learning from the U.S. representatives as they lecture on topics such as accreditation, quality assurance, faculty development, student learning, partnerships and other critical subjects.