MU­SE­UMS

Myan­mar's weird­est Attraction­s with a twist

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Oliver Slow

Whether you're an ex­pat try­ing to find a way to spend a Satur­day af­ter­noon or a tourist on the look­out for an at­trac­tion com­bin­ing ed­u­ca­tion and en­ter­tain­ment, Myan­mar has just what you need. There are many such attraction­s, in­clud­ing mu­se­ums, and Mizzima ranked the five weird­est.

1. Mong La Drugs Mu­seum

Ap­par­ently, the orig­i­nal drugs mu­seum in Myan­mar was at Mong La (see be­low for de­scrip­tion of its Yan­gon coun­ter­part), a town in the largely au­ton­o­mous Spe­cial Re­gion No. 4 in east­ern Shan State no­to­ri­ous for its casi­nos, trans­ves­tite cabarets and mar­kets sell­ing il­le­gal an­i­mal parts.

Many of the ex­hibits in the mu­seum are dusty, old pho­tos of stern-faced mem­bers of the pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment torch­ing drug stock­piles or tak­ing mea­sures to tackle the nar­cotics trade. If the pho­tos are meant to con­vey the mes­sage that the junta was se­ri­ous about erad­i­cat­ing nar­cotics they are dif­fi­cult to take se­ri­ously be­cause Myan­mar has re­mained one of the world's big­gest pro­duc­ers of opium and is the world's sec­ond largest pro­ducer of heroin in the world after Afghanista­n.

The high­light (if it can be called that) of the mu­seum is a dio­rama that uses man­nequins in an at­tempt to warn against any temp­ta­tion to dab­ble in heroin. The

first scene shows two filthy young men in­ject­ing them­selves with heroin. Pre­dictably, they are wear­ing Western jeans and match­ing “Bad to the Bone” T-shirts. The next scene shows one of the duo hav­ing suc­cumbed to the drug and the other be­ing led away by po­lice. We then see the sur­vivor re­cov­er­ing in hos­pi­tal, be­fore the fi­nal scene shows a happy, healthy young man who has got his act to­gether, as well as get­ting a hair­cut and wear­ing a longyi.

2. Drugs Elim­i­na­tion Mu­seum

The Drugs Elim­i­na­tion Mu­seum in Yan­gon is much big­ger than its Mong La coun­ter­part and of­fers in­sights into the pro­pa­ganda tech­niques of the for­mer mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment. Vis­i­tors to the three-storey build­ing are greeted by por­traits of the junta's leader, Se­nior Gen­eral Than Shwe, sur­rounded by a cheer­ing crowd of cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the na­tional races. It's an im­age rem­i­nis­cent of those re­leased by North Korea for decades show­ing a leader as an ob­ject of adu­la­tion.

The mu­seum also uses man­nequins to warn against drug abuse. No­tices posted around the mu­seum sug­gest that nar­cotics were a for­eign in­ven­tion and that Myan­mar will “fight the drug men­ace”, if nec­es­sary with­out as­sis­tance.

The over­all high­light, how­ever, is in a dark room where you push a but­ton and a me­chan­i­cal hand pro­trudes sud­denly from the floor, reach­ing for the near­est thing to grasp. “What is this?” I asked the mu­seum guide. “What hap­pens when you take drugs,” he said.

Nar­cotics abuse is no laugh­ing mat­ter in Myan­mar (or any­where else), where ad­dic­tion to heroin, yaba or ice are dam­ag­ing minds and bod­ies at all lev­els of so­ci­ety. But it's hard to take too se­ri­ously the gov­ern­ment's claim to be do­ing all it can to deal with the prob­lem, when opium poppy fields can be found within a day's drive from Nay Pyi Taw. Still, both the mu­se­ums make for a unique day out.

3. Na­tional Races Vil­lage

Spo­ken aloud, the Na­tional Races Vil­lage might sound like an in­ven­tion of the Klu Klux Klan, but this sprawl­ing at­trac­tion on the west bank of the Bago River is a pleas­ant di­ver­sion that showcases the di­ver­sity of the na­tion's in­dige­nous peo­ple.

Es­sen­tially a con­densed ver­sion of what Myan­mar has to of­fer, the vil­lage is ar­ranged ac­cord­ing to the states and re­gions and in­cludes well-known but scaled-down fea­tures, such as moun­tain ranges, pago­das and lakes. Each area fea­tures a tra­di­tional house, and the gar­ments, tools and prod­ucts from the re­spec­tive state or re­gion.

The vil­lage is about a 30-minute drive from down­town Yan­gon, de­pend­ing on the traf­fic, and it makes for a worth­while day out.

4. The Crocodile Farm

Hid­den away in the depths of the Thaketa In­dus­trial Es­tate, this quirky site is not for those with a weak heart. The farm houses a few hun­dred croc­o­diles, rang­ing from ba­bies to adults, and the most un­nerv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence comes when you ne­go­ti­ate a rick­ety bridge, with croc­o­diles wait­ing in the wa­ters be­low, mouths agape.

Vis­i­tors can feed the crocs, buy crocodile teeth, or watch an aged han­dler who teases the croc­o­diles and then puts his head in their mouth, re­mov­ing it just in time to pre­vent him from los­ing it en­tirely. He's easy to find: look for the man with bite marks on his arms.

5. Nay Pyi Taw

Let's face it, the na­tional cap­i­tal is more a mu­seum than any sort of func­tion­ing town. It may be where the coun­try's key de­ci­sions are made, but it shares the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing a pur­pose-built cap­i­tal with only a few other ci­ties in the world, such as Can­berra and Brasilia.

Street-life is prac­ti­cally non-ex­is­tent, nightlife takes place only in ho­tel lob­bies and even the attraction­s built out­side gov­ern­ment ar­eas seem to have a surreal qual­ity to them.

The pen­guins at the zoo have ap­par­ently died from the heat, the Up­patas­anti Pagoda is a copy of the Sh­wedagon and where else in the world can you find roads twenty lanes wide that are empty ex­cept for the few state vis­its that take place each year?

Photo: Hong Sar

Photo: Aye Mon Chan

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