Stunt bik­ers daz­zle on Yan­gon’s streets

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

Skid­ding and screech­ing across the con­crete the young bik­ers per­form a care­fully chore­ographed dance of grav­ity-de­fy­ing stunts, a daz­zling dis­play of Myan­mar’s thriv­ing youth culture on the streets of its big­gest city.Every week dozens of them gather near Yan­gon’s golden Sh­wedagon pagoda to prac­tise tricks un­der the night sky, one of many sports gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity as the coun­try opens up af­ter decades of junta rule.

Kab­yar Oo, who set up the group two years ago, said there are more than 100 rid­ers around the coun­try, around half of them in Yan­gon and the rest in the cen­tral city of Man­dalay. Some are in their 20s, but most are school stu­dents who dream of go­ing pro.

“There are no (for­mal) com­pe­ti­tions here,” Kab­yar Oo told AFP on a re­cent steamy night as other rid­ers took turns to jump over up­side down bikes -- and each other.“If we had the chance, we would all want to com­pete. That’s the dream of all the rid­ers.”

Many save for months to af­ford a BMX bike, which can cost be­tween $250 and $2,500 -- an as­tro­nom­i­cal sum in a coun­try where the daily min­i­mum wage is 3,600 kyat ($2.65).Oth­ers spend all their cash keep­ing their ride in good con­di­tion or adding ex­tra fea­tures.

“When I get my salary at the end of the month, all my money goes into it,” said Htet Aung, 24, who works in a cur­rency ex­change of­fice. “I feel like that is my sav­ings.”

The group, known as Myan­mar BMX Rid­ers, are now in talks with Yan­gon au­thor­i­ties to get their own space to prac­tise with proper ramps and props.But de­spite their ded­i­ca­tion, many face pres­sure from rel­a­tives to stop.

“They for­bid me af­ter I had an ac­ci­dent which left a bad wound on my face, but I went to prac­tise with­out telling them,” said 14-yearold stu­dent Sai Aung Zaw Myint, grin­ning. Htet Wai Yan Oo, 23, who came from Man­dalay to ride with the group, added: “My par­ents are not sup­port­ive. I had to save my school al­lowance for six months to buy my first (bike).”

But oth­ers say the sport helps keep bored young peo­ple away from crime and drugs at a time when youth unem­ploy­ment is triple the broader pop­u­la­tion.

Drug ad­dic­tion rates have soared in re­cent years as more and more of the caf­feine-laced meth tablets known as “yaba” churned out in Myan­mar’s law­less border­lands are be­ing sold in­side the coun­try.

“I help the young peo­ple as much as I can to keep them in­ter­ested in sport and to stop them from go­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion in life,” said Phone Myat Tun, who sells the rid­ers gear at cost from his shop.

“The challenge for them is so­cial pres­sure.”

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