The road to Pyinmana
December 9, 2005 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Burma's military overseers, possibly in fear of a US invasion or internal strife, are moving the country's capital. At 6:37 a.m. on November 6th, (a time selected by one of the country’s leading astrologists), Myanmar's government began relocating its ministries to a 100 square-km complex in Pyinmana, a remote forest-bound location about 390 km north of Rangoon. Some analysts said the move is being driven by fears of a US invasion, while many in Myanmar believe it is due to worries about a possible internal uprising. (This despite a commitment to a "discipline-flourishing democracy".) The country's neighbors were put-off because they hadn't been informed of the move. Fortunately, the government is sure the relocation won't affect the country's tourism industry.
posted by soiled cowboy (30 comments total)

 
The Economist speculated that astrologers likely played a large role in the decision to move the capital. The generals are apparently very superstitious.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:30 PM on December 9, 2005


Thanks for that link, mr_roboto. Last week I spoke to the Economist journalist who wrote that article and who first told me about the relocation. He reckons the move was partly motivated because the junta leaders are "nuts".
posted by soiled cowboy at 1:38 PM on December 9, 2005


I haven't noticed you guys wanted to invade yet another country with a pitiful army. But I fail to see why you would do it, Burma does not seem to have any natural resources worth the trouble.
posted by nkyad at 1:41 PM on December 9, 2005


But the astronomer said an asteroid...what, astrologist ? It's the same isn't it ?
posted by elpapacito at 1:41 PM on December 9, 2005


Secretary Rumsfield: If you build it, we will come
posted by Postroad at 2:02 PM on December 9, 2005


Meanwhile, Suu Kyi's house arrest has been extended.
posted by homunculus at 2:09 PM on December 9, 2005


Sounds to me like it was prompted by J. Peterman.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:10 PM on December 9, 2005


Dear Burmese government. We have explained on several occasions that Objective, Burma! does not necessarily reflect our current foreign policy as it concerns your country. Please do not move on our account. Signed, U.S. government.
posted by goatdog at 2:29 PM on December 9, 2005


Some places, we invade because they have oil, others we just invade because we need to move oil through. Either way, I hope the Burmese Government remembered to fill out a change of address form...
posted by stenseng at 2:37 PM on December 9, 2005


> I haven't noticed you guys wanted to invade yet another country with a pitiful army.
> But I fail to see why you would do it, Burma does not seem to have any natural
> resources worth the trouble.

Cats. Burmese cats are a critical resource, though no one in the government will tell you why.
posted by jfuller at 2:45 PM on December 9, 2005


Invade the country that - aside from pro-democracy boycotts - manufactured the Republican Party Bush Campaign Jackets? Never!
posted by zaelic at 2:46 PM on December 9, 2005


Boy, that's dumb. Remove the capital far away, extend the lines of communications - and, more importantly, their own supplies! - over difficult terrain, lose all first-hand observation of what goes on where most of the people live? Based on what astrologers tell them?

Running away and pulling walls up behind them? If they were worried about an insurrection, they can be certain of one now, either from the people or from some military commander who finds himself without direct oversight. Cut the communication lines, close the roads that lead out of the forest, and the coup would be ridiculously easy.

Sun Tzu laughs at them, and so do I. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 2:51 PM on December 9, 2005


So, this Burma, it has oil?
posted by sourwookie at 2:57 PM on December 9, 2005


So, this Burma, it has oil?

Well, as it happens...
posted by Skeptic at 3:05 PM on December 9, 2005


lose all first-hand observation of what goes on where most of the people live

kinda like Canberra, Brasilia, and Sacto, I guess.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:23 PM on December 9, 2005


Maybe we could convince Bush to move the capital to a small floating island off the coast of Maryland and then we could forget to tie it down and let them all drift off into the sunset?
posted by fenriq at 3:48 PM on December 9, 2005


Hmm, well yeah Heywood, but I hadn't heard any of those nations were ruled by military juntas and experiencing dangerous unrest where the government feared violent attack from within and without. :) Then again, I'm not well-informed as to the efficacy of those governments and their contact with the people at large...

Anyway, for the Burmese government militarily, pulling back into the woods like that just makes it easier if the US (or anyone else, really) does indeed want to invade. We're rather good at knocking out communications, roads and bridges via airstrikes; with these nuts out in the boonies, whacking their command/control and logistics networks would be stupidly easy... not to mention having them all in one small area far away from population centers would allow for complete elimination of the government with practically zero civilian casualties ("collateral damage" - how I hate that term, bah).

Weird, really weird.
posted by zoogleplex at 3:52 PM on December 9, 2005


kinda like Canberra, Brasilia, and Sacto, I guess.

Googling tells me "Sacto" is Sacramento; funny, I spent years in California and never heard it called that. But yeah, moving to a new capital to get away from the messiness of a preexisting city isn't unusual (cf also Kazakhstan, Nigeria, etc.); this, however, seems pretty loony.
posted by languagehat at 4:06 PM on December 9, 2005


Maybe we could convince Bush to move the capital to a small floating island off the coast of Maryland and then we could forget to tie it down and let them all drift off into the sunset?
posted by fenriq at 3:48 PM PST on December 9 [!]


Except the sun sets in the west, so they would simply plow their way through the country, dividing it in twain, and um...

Bah, it's no different than keeping them put. We need a new way to get rid of them.

Or else chance your story to 'sunrise'.

Imagine Washington DC crashing somewhere in France.
Heh..
posted by Balisong at 4:10 PM on December 9, 2005


I would like to point out that one of the most fun names to say in the entire history of place names is "Myanmar." It surely ranks up with "Kuala Lumpur," "Liechtenstein" and, of course, 'Toad Suck" as being just really awesome to say - or yell in a high pitched voice around a crowd of people.

MYANMAR!

Yeah, this may be the most useless comment I have ever made on Metafilter.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:23 PM on December 9, 2005


It surely ranks up with "Kuala Lumpur," "Liechtenstein" and, of course, 'Toad Suck" as being just really awesome to say - or yell in a high pitched voice around a crowd of people.

But what about Dildo, Newfoundland?
posted by clevershark at 5:10 PM on December 9, 2005


And how, Joey. ;^)

I was in Burma this summer. Good folks, bad govt. I met three brothers who run a comedy troupe in Mandalay called The Mustache Brothers. Dated material, but you gotta give them their props on account of the fact that two of them were imprisoned and were forced to work hard labor for seven years(!) on account of their junta-mocking routines.

This news doesn't come as a surprise: absolute power corrupts absolutely... and makes people loony.
posted by squirrel at 5:11 PM on December 9, 2005


A strange thing about Myanmar: most of the junta is completely insane. Ne Win was a loony, and every time some general starts making sense, they lose out in a power struggle to the next lunatic.

Sometimes it seems like everything they do is because of some odd numerology or astrology. Where buildings get put, what they look like, what days are used for starting projects and which for ending....it's all like some mutant Hollywood Kabbalah run amok.

I mean, I love the place, but geez they need to get a grip. I used to think all the numerology was a play to the populace (sorta like how politicians in the US play to "old-fashioned values" and the like), but I eventually came to the disturbing conclusion that they're serious. It's not a joke or ploy. They actually do believe it.
posted by aramaic at 9:19 PM on December 9, 2005


I heard that a general once forced everyone to change their banknotes to ones with multiples of 9 on them, because his astrologist told him that 9 was his lucky number. Since everyone had so much trouble doing the math, the project was cancelled.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 12:07 AM on December 10, 2005


The mafia that runs the Burmese theater state tries to legitimize, and make potent, their rule by doing things that look very illogical to us, but are supposed to resonate with the Theraveda Buddhist cultures in that country. They present themselves as modern heirs to a pre-colonial Burman classical royalty that once ruled in the region.

It wouldn't seem strange to the traditional Burmese to consult with monks, spirit-mediums, astrologers, or geomancers when making important decisions. Traditionally Burmese consult the Sada (a sort of horoscope) when they sense a major change/disruption brewing (kind of like "a glitch in the matrix"). The orthodox Theravada Buddhist theories of causation are fundamentally different than (most of) ours. They have a complex view of events, that includes all sorts of personally knowable cosmic and geographic influences, bounded ultimately by Karma.

[I'm studying for my ANTH315 SE ASIA final exam this weekend.]
posted by laptop_lizard at 12:21 AM on December 10, 2005


Thanks, laptop_lizard, it's nice to hear from somebody who actually knows stuff. Tell me, do they call it Burma or Myanmar in your class? (It amazes me how many people unthinkingly bow to the wishes of the thugs who run the place and call it Myanmar, even "correcting" people who use the "old" name, which is not only the normal English name of the country but is favored by dissidents like Aung San Suu Kyi.)
posted by languagehat at 6:06 AM on December 10, 2005


I think we're also missing important functional aspects of power and control that the junta may be putting into use. For example, locating a repressive military government in a large city exposes them to the possibility of collective civil action. If they occupy a semi-urban compound at the geographic core of the country, they can in theory move towards a panoptic model without risking effective civilian uprising. Though the terrain be difficult, they control the roads, and that's all you really, really need. Haven't a fair number of less crazy leadership cadres sought to move administration to a more central geographical location in their country, sometimes even building a new city to do so? Brasilia comes to mind immediately. Heck, isn't Washington DC technically such an iteration? The difference here is that they're making it a military compound because they're a military junta.

An aside: If anyone wants to get at a regional look at how geography shifted and "modernized" in a particularly Southeast Asian mould, Thongchai Winichakul's Siam Mapped is a very good and interesting read. Sure, it's Thailand, so it has its own political and social issues, but the cultural and geographical issues are not alien to Burma.
posted by trigonometry at 12:31 PM on December 10, 2005


laptop, language: what makes Burma so weird--or one of the things--is that there's a very strong blend of Islam, Buddhism, and a few stripes of Chinese ancestor worship, etc. So it's hard to say exactly where this particular set of superstitions come from. The captial city has a really hodge-podge collection of cultural intersections. Like speakeasy karaoke girl bars right next door to orthodox restaurants that don't serve beer or allow uncovered women. Also, people seem really hopped up.

It amazes me how many people unthinkingly bow to the wishes of the thugs who run the place and call it Myanma...


Yeah, the same unthinking people who refer to the American army as a guardian of the US people, rather than a subsidized corporate task force. Something about uniforms and office throws people off, languagehat. It blinds them.
posted by squirrel at 8:57 PM on December 10, 2005


Grace Under Pressure
posted by homunculus at 9:49 PM on December 10, 2005


Something about uniforms and office throws people off

Ain't it the truth?
posted by languagehat at 6:16 AM on December 11, 2005


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