By Danny Lee
Director for Community Affairs Development at the ASEAN Secretariat
I am having my club sandwich in my hotel room, as I banged away on my little laptop. About 10 minutes car ride from me, a very happening party must be going on at the Chatrium Hotel now. I should be there, but want to be where I am. It has been a fabulous evening at the People’s Square, and someone has record the proceedings.
For the past few hours, more than 50,000 lovely people from Yangon had joined ambassadors, senior officials, volunteers, the hottest local and regional bands and artists, to have a rolling good time. As the Shwedagon Pagoda glows majestically and serenely in the background, the exuberant crowd had stomped, screamed, sang and danced their hearts out as Chan Chan, Sai Sai, Chut Htu Wai, Lynn Lynn, R Zarni, show why they are among the hottest acts in the country and region. If you are not familiar with the names, just Youtube them. You won’t be disappointed. Or ask your friends in Myanmar or Thailand to help you. If you do not know anyone from these countries, quickly go out and make some friends!
By the time Jason Mraz took the stage, the huge crowd just wanted the night to go on non-stop. How could you not, when you see the huge crowd waving, singing, as music pulsates through the huge People’ Square and beyond. And for the records, many more from across the country and beyond were catching the concert live on their TV – Thank You, Channel 7! – plus live streaming on their PCs, laptops, tablets, smart phones and whatever new gadget out there.
While the action was fun and entertaining, the message was a serious one. MTV Exit stands for MTV “End Exploitation and Trafficking”. Backed by the United States government, the Australian government, WALKFREE.org, ASEAN, and many partners, the players have joined hands to warn young people around the world and in ASEAN, of the menace of exploitation and human trafficking – which, to put in real terms, is simply slavery in various forms.
But for the Yangon concert to happen, credit goes to the Myanmar government, which is making a spectator sport out of proving its critics and cynics wrong. For the past year, Myanmar has pulled off so many surprises that of you were to pull a news report from just two years ago, you would think that you are reading about another totally different country.
The fact that the concert did take place with such short frantic preparations, shows the new spirit of cooperation that is going through Myanmar, and with it, the region.
If you had the good Karma to be able to catch the MTV Exit concert at the People’s Square, you would have seen the good nature, the fun and exuberance of its people. You also could not have missed the promise of this amazing country.
As I enjoyed the show, I am also grateful for the changes that is happening, which allowed once-upon-a-time adversaries to pull this absolutely happening event off. Sure, there were hundreds of Police and uniformed personnel to help the crowds find their places, but no one feels intimidated or threatened. Just ask JFK. Not THAT “J.F.K”, but John F Krotzer, the Public Affairs Liaison man from the US Mission to ASEAN. As he was briefing his charming translator “Emerald”, the policeman had kindly helped with his huge torchlight in the darkness. During the show, I also noticed some tapping of the feet, a bit of swaying, quite a bit of nodding from some uniformed guys. Hey, you got to be inhuman if you are able to remain unaffected throughout the night!
When I flew into Yangon from Singapore, my fellow passenger sitting next to me is a young lady from Myanmar. She had been away from her country for 24 years, and this is her first return. I told her about the exciting changes that are going on in the country, and for a moment, you would have thought that we had swopped nationalities. I am excited with, and proud of my ASEAN Member States, and I am particularly so with Myanmar. The country do that to you once you see it for yourselves first hand.
My good friend Dr Mely Anthony from the Rajaratnam School of International Studies is another one who is smitten with Myanmar. Mely was Director for External Relations at the ASEAN Secretariat till middle of this year, before she returned to her academic job. Both of us were privileged to visit Myanmar in two landmark missions early this year. The first was with Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN. We met the President and several of his Ministers. We also travelled to the Irrawaddy Delta, where we visited some villages that were devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008. We were happy, and humbled, to see how the villagers had recovered. Just about a month later, Mely and I, together with some of our colleagues, were sent to Myanmar to observe the landmark by-elections on April 1.
Both missions had showed us the goodwill and promise that Myanmar brings not just to its people, but to its neighbours and partners. We cannot afford to let this down. Myanmar is family to ASEAN, and we are eagerly looking forward to its chair in 2014.
Back to the show. To be honest, I was a little nervous before I went on stage with John, Emerald, Khine Myat Chit, and U Aung Htoo, Director ASEAN/ARF Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When you have more than 50,000 people chanting for Jason Mraz just before you go on stage, it is NOT funny at all. But when we looked at the grinning faces in front of us, we knew we would be OK.
As I yelled to the lovely people, from Jakarta to Hanoi, from Bangkok to Bandar Seri Begawan, ASEAN says “Mingalaba, Yangon! We love you!”. And we love you too, all the lovely people who worked so tirelessly from MTV Exit, USAID, AUSAID, WalkFree, and all the partners. You have given all of us an evening which we will not forget for a long long time. “Cheizu Tin Ba De!”