Tide will ebb


This is the late night view of Shwedagon Pagoda from Thanlyin bridge.

Now you can see it, but there’s no guarantee buildings will not be blocking it in ten years’ time. Five?

I’ve been back in Myanmar for 20 months now. Every conference I go to, and over a lot of “I’d like to pick your brain operating in Myanmar” meetings, I keep hearing one message over and over: Things are happening here!

That’s true, it’s very exciting to be here. That said, the excitement is only in the corridors of power, inside conference halls, on media coverage, newly published books and reports, and numerous incubator programs and pitch sessions. The excitement hasn’t trickled down yet. The telecom tenders have so far been the only thing people at a wider audience get hyped about – a truth Ooredoo has aptly captured in the newly launched ads. The Ooredoo billboard from the picture below literally says: Exciting things are happening in Myanmar.

Photo credit: Hanthwell Phyo
Photo credit: Hanthwell Phyo

Other than that, where’s the excitement?

Talk to any underage waiter at your neighborhood tea shop. Farmers are still losing money and there’s still the homeless living under Bo Aung Kyaw business tower. I then see medium-sized business owners (read: my relatives) and worry about their relative torpor. The rest of us don’t know what to do or how to navigate the changes. What will happen if we buy the condo built on BOT land? What should mom and pop stores do with incoming new competitors? No clue.

There is only one type of people who sit in those aforementioned conferences and exclusive meetings and remain decidedly detached from the hype: academics. Professors. Gotta love them for their check-in every once in a while. They advise my expat friends at a juncture to not choose Myanmar. In fact they will be the first to say “Told you!” if anything goes south.

And it will. *Tide will ebb* even though this is not something people talk about much in the business world. There’s simply so much uncertainty in Myanmar’s future. No one – not even the wisest business tycoon, hippest writer or most sought-after analysts – can say anything about what’s going to happen in the next 18 months, not to mention how horrible we generally are at predicting the future. Just the night before, I was reading Chip and Dan Heath and they say a lot more eloquently than this that experts are better off telling us base rates, not projections. Expert predictions are less accurate than a teen rolling a dice. Word.

Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath
From Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath

The past 20 months have been just the extraordinary, special moment in Myanmar’s modern history. Glad I got to be a part of it. But we will “revert to the mean,” as my colleague put it on our car ride. How soon before we return to the ‘normal’? That’s where all the game is at, isn’t it?

It’s almost April. Happy new Burmese / fiscal year, everyone!

2 thoughts on “Tide will ebb

  1. Love your blog and love you more(well secretly) And I hate to be the one to point out that changes take time. Years and sometimes decades. No amount of magic can turn 80% of dead poor people into middle class overnight. And hype can do good as well though it may have its downsides. Optimism and can-do attitude can actually speed things up.


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