January 4 2018 is the 70th anniversary of Burma's independence from Britain and, like every Jan 4, a public holiday.
I thought it might be a rather splendid occasion. Seventy years since the much-hated British invaders finally made good their promise to grant independence, in exchange for help fighting the Japanese in WWII. Surely cause for celebration.
But it seems Independence Day 2018 is not to be an Exciting Occasion*. An admittedly-not-very-extensive Google search brings up surprisingly few matches for Independence Day – in English at least. The Vietnamese government sends congratulations. There's a link to a tweet from the Tourism Ministry about “our auspicious day”; the post has been retweeted a grand total of once. There are also general details about Independence Day on an international site about public holidays, with promises of “many celebratory events and activities that the Burmese people participate in”. However these activities are listed as: presidential and vice presidential addresses, military parades, speeches, military demonstrations and flag raising – none of which sound either particularly enjoyable or remotely encouraging of audience participation.
I did come across one new thing. This year, the government has splashed out with a healthy baby competition organised by the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association. Eighty lucky mums got to flaunt their bonny babies and their knowledge of vaccinations and physical and mental development. There's no mention of prizes. However, with almost two million under-twos in Myanmar, this also doesn't seem especially inclusive. Anyway the whole thing was over before January 4.
(As an aside, awarding prizes on the basis of health is one thing that seriously riles me. Western Springs College in Auckland (my children's school) has an annual award for the student with the best attendance record. Maybe it discourages shirkers, but it mostly appears to reward healthy students. Which doesn't seem a fair way to judge worth. Oh, you've got cancer – bad luck, that rules you out of the attendance award. Depression? Pull your socks up and get back to school, otherwise you'll never get the attendance prize.)
But I digress. Back to the excitements of Independence Day. Another available option was watching sports – street football and greasy pole climbing were the two mentioned. The latter would definitely be something different, though perhaps not for the whole day.
But my favourite bit of information about the 2018 celebrations came from a Myanmar government press release from November 11 2017. The release details decisions made at the Second Coordination Meeting of the 70th Independence Day Committee, no less.
According to the document, the day will be celebrated in “a politically meaningful way” with five objectives including “eternal peace” and “cooperation among all nation races”. Given ethnic cleansing almost certainly being carried out by the military against the Rohingya people, this may be an ambitious goal for a single day.
But if the report of the meeting is anything to go by, the government is definitely giving it their best shot. Having laid out these worthy objectives, the press release goes on to list the nitty gritty of the discussions at the meeting, mostly the Chairmen and officials of various sub-committees reporting back on their work. To whit: “the sub-committee for holding the State flag hoisting and saluting ceremony, the sub-committee for holding and preparing invitations to the State flag saluting ceremony, the sub-committee for holding the reception and dinner, the sub-committee for the President's message on Independence Day...” You probably get the idea. World peace can't be far off.
And as for my plans for the day? I might just climb a greasy pole and then head to the poshest hotel in town - the Strand - for a celebratory colonial-style cocktail.
* This blog was written on January 4, but I haven't had the time or the internet since to load it. So apologies if you need to suspend your disbelief - and your time schedule.