07 May Corona Times in the City: Part V, Yangon – How the Virus is Affecting People and Places
These are strange times for cities worldwide. Public spaces are deserted, businesses are closed, and people have been quarantining for weeks on end. Our workplace — Asia’s historic neighbourhoods — are no longer the vibrant living spaces they used to be, but a muted décor of an injured society. How do we at iDiscover experience the silent city? Are we still able to go outside? How do urban communities in Southeast Asia deal with the ‘new normal’ of social distancing? How does it affect our mood? How do we perceive the change of place? We talk to iDiscover contributors in different countries to find out more about what their personal life, and life in their city, is like these days. Khine Yin Htun, Junior Project Manager at Doh Eain, one of iDiscover’s collaborative partners in Yangon, Myanmar, shares the struggles and drive of people around her.
What does Yangon look like these days?
Yangon is normally a city defined by the hustle and bustle of life: while out on the streets, there are people all around you, and the roads are usually jammed with traffic all day, every day. But now, the roads are empty. My family’s home is near a major junction, so usually, the noise of cars, horns, and other traffic sounds is constant. These days I just hear the birds chirping! When I look out of my window, I see my neighbours’ cars covered in dust, because they have not been used in weeks. As a government-ordered curfew requires us to be home by 10 pm, the city is ghostly silent at night.
Can people still go places?
The lockdown has just been lifted in Yangon, but some townships with active cases of the coronavirus are still in semi-lockdown. Even though we are allowed to go out again, most people still decide to stay home and follow government advice, such as only having two people leave the house for essential errands like grocery shopping. This means that most of us feel isolated since we have not seen our friends in person in weeks. I myself have not been able to visit my sister and the rest of my family for almost a month. Most public spaces and religious buildings in Yangon are empty. It is very sad hearing the street vendors shouting from across the street to let people know what they are selling because they have very few customers.
How are people coping with corona in Yangon?
The coronavirus crisis has hit working-class people and day labourers the hardest. Even before the virus came to Myanmar, many factory workers had already lost their jobs; the factories where they worked were unable to get raw materials from China and had to close down. When the virus hit, people’s fear of going outside and the lockdown had a devastating impact on street vendors’ business. Other day labourers, as well as their families, are having a hard time too. The government has tried to provide basic food aid for low-income people including trishaw and taxi drivers, street vendors, daily wages labours, and factory workers, although the criteria for deciding who qualifies for help are vague. A lot of these people do not have a choice but to still go out every day to try to make a living. They do not receive financial support from the government and do not have personal protection materials such as masks, gloves and hand sanitiser.
Most businesses have allowed their employees to work from home since the last week of March. People are using Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom to have meetings with, and stay connected to, their colleagues. Some of my neighbours are only partially working from home, they are still going to the office on some days. Factories have just been allowed to reopen after being shut down for weeks. Restaurants in Yangon are still only offering delivery services, and shopping malls and other stores have reduced their opening hours.
How are you doing?
I have been busy with my Street Vendor Support project, I Do Nation. This project is providing financial support to struggling vendors who have lost their income due to the pandemic. We are helping them to stay home and stay safe with their families.
As of now, most of my time is devoted to managing the database system we have developed, as well as managing our volunteer network in Yangon’s different townships so we can contact and register more vendors to help. I am also reaching out to my friends and peers to get more funding through the I Do Nation social media campaign these days.
Other than that, I really miss having the ‘real Yangon’ in my life. I am looking forward to things returning to normal… except for the traffic!
Click here to find out more about the I Do Nation project and see how you can help!
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