This country is still ruled by a military junta, effectively the same junta that was responsible for the mass slaughter of protestors rallying against the brutal rule of U Ne Win in 1988, when men, women, children and monks were slaughtered indiscriminately. A change of clothes allows Thein Sein, an ex-general, to be President. The leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) is the world-renowned and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Despite winning past elections and more than 80% of the seats in parliament the NLD still has limited influence; next year’s elections will be a defining moment as the future of true democracy in Myanmar hinges on them.
Despite low incomes and often very squalid living conditions (the Myanmar GNP is around the £500 per person, per annum mark) all around the country, smiles and good greetings were universal and genuine. My 15-year-old daughter Alice often commented that the people appeared a lot happier than the people in the UK. With the GDP per head in the UK about 40 times higher that of Myanmar, there is some evidence here that money does not buy you happiness.
Being a London estate agent I, unsurprisingly maybe, found myself keen to do some price comparisons on property. The military still owns and controls the best areas and properties, and prices in down-town areas are distorted. I eventually found my quest to be rather pointless as the Myanmar property market is very much a domestic one whereas London is truly international. However on visiting some homes, I found that all necessities were provided for; even if not up to Western standards the homes were still clean and hygienic. Perhaps I have a rather distorted and myopic view of Myanmar life, but I can’t stop thinking that despite our multi-million pound properties, private schools and expensive material trinkets we are perhaps missing something. Maybe its because of their Buddhism which looks at teachings of love and compassion for each other; it is a country of such horrible transgressions but where the people are able to genuinely forgive and live their lives in the here and now.
If only we could inject some form of true and universal appreciation at what we have here in London then maybe we would live in a more stable environment, where the vicissitudes of the ‘Market’ would just be offset by a less jaundiced view about our wealth and where we find ourselves on this planet.