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The Padauk flower still blooms in Myanmar, despite restrictions

Phoe Wa The Myanmar Times Wed, Apr 8, 2020

Although water is not sufficient for daily use, villagers in Magwe Region are happy splashing each other during last year’s Thingyan festival. Aung Htay Hlaing/The Myanmar Times

“Residents, I urge you stay in the house from April 10 to 19, except to buy food and essential items. We need to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak.”

After hearing the loudspeaker announcement on the streets of Kyauktada, Ko Naing Win, let out a sigh of dejection and turned to the internet to look for ways of returning home to Mandalay for Thingyan.


Worried that he’d be stuck in Yangon for the new year period, he looked for an early bus back to the northern city – only to find that many of those had been cancelled.

With a sense of sadness in his heart, his thoughts turned to his wife – who was expecting him back later this week, so he could be reunited with their young daughter.

“Dad, when will you be back?” he remembered her saying during their morning phone chat.

Memories of the old city also flashed through his mind, given that it was six months since he’d visited the pagodas and temples with his family.


As a government employee he was too busy during the last Thadingyut holidays and, instead, saved his leave for the longer Thingyan break.

Just a few days ago the government advised staff not to travel during Thingyan, giving workers replacement leave they can take during a later time in the year. Ko Naing Win had to extinguish the fire in his heart.

When he looked at the other room-mates he shared the dorm with, he could sense the similar pain too.

A boy walks during the 2019 Thingyan Festival in downtown Yangon. The Myanmar Times

“We are going to have a tough Thingyan,” he said to them.

Thingyan is the largest and most celebrated festival in Myanmar, which marks the end of the hot season and the coming of the monsoon rains.

It is the time when people return to their families, and bring in the new year by eating and celebrating together. For those who live apart from their families, this is a particularly important time.

For those living in Yangon, Thingyan is an opportunity for many migrants to travel back home – for many different reasons. Most visit their families, while others become ordained as a nun or monk, some go home to meet a new lover or spend time meditating.

Either way, travel is an important part of the new year celebrations.

It’s unfortunate that the Myanmar New Years’ period coincides with the global COVID-19 pandemic. Though some Thingyan pop songs can be heard in shops and in taxis, the atmosphere in the streets is a lot more subdued this year.

As of April 7, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Myanmar has reached 21, with one death. There may be many thousands more. As a precaution, returnees from oversees are being quarantined. The streets are empty, and many shops and restaurants in Yangon and Mandalay will close during the new year period.

The historically famous Road to Mandalay has even closed, except to allow-in supplies.

So, it is almost impossible for Ko Naing Win to go back home.

“We have to stay in Yangon during Thingyan, and it’s not important whether we like this or not,” he said.

As a migrant worker stranded in Yangon, KoNaing Win is not alone.

According to the 2014 census, Yangon has over 7 million of residents and over half of them are migrant workers. Each year these workers leave the city on masse, to disperse back to their home towns for a week of festivities.

Many offices close at the beginning of April, but some workers were able to leave in late March – just before the travel restrictions were announced.

Ko Thant Zin Kyaw, who lives in Mawlamyine Township, was afraid on not returning home on time. But he returned on March 30, after his parents rented a car and picked him up from the city.

“We can do our work anytime, but it’s more important that I return home and see my family,” Ko Thant Zin Kyaw said. Ko Thant Zin Kyaw is an engineer working in Yangon and has not returned home since last Thingyan.

Now most of the highway bus lines have stopped, and people are aware of the 14-day quarantine rules for overseas and domestic travelers. Even for those workers returning to Yangon, they are also required to undergo 14 days of quarantine.

With these kinds of rules, many people decided not to venture home during this year’s holiday period.

KoTharr Gyi from Mawlamyine is one of them.

“I want to go back. However, you must stay for 14 days at the village. If you return to Yangon, you will have to bequarantined for 14 days again. So rather than do that, I chose to stay here,” he explained.

Some have chosen to stay for fear of traveling on public transport, and mixing with people who may be infected with COVID-19.

21 patients who are currently undergoing medical treatment for the virus have already learnt this lesson.

“The buses are unreliable.Though we really want to return home, staying here is the easiest thing to do,” said Ma Thida. She canceled her trip back to Mone Ywar Township for this year’s Thingyan.

“I felt sad for not being able to go home, but if I think of the people who are suffering from the Coronavirus then it’s better to stay,” she added.

Thingyan will come to Myanmar regardless of the virus, and the yellow Padauk flowers will still bloom.

Not everyone will see those beautiful flowers on the streets, in the parades and in peoples’ hair, but they may feel some consolation knowing that more people will be safer without all the travel and celebrations this year.


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