It was all business in Mandalay today. This morning I was escorted around the Brokers, Traders and Millers Association facility. Since 1935 the Association, essentially a trading market and trading floor for local grains, beans and seeds, has provided a vehicle for local farmers to find buyers, some for domestic sale, but ever increasingly for export.
In addition to providing the venue and connections for trade and commerce, the mission of this membership fueled association is to follow the tradition of “kahtina” or donation of robes [over 1000 per year for the last 80 years], to the local monasteries for use by the Buddhist monks who reside there.
After witnessing the action on the trading floor, we were invited to meet privately with several senior officials managing the market. Then we were invited to tea at the local tea house across the street. There we shared stories and pictures of our families and home towns.
After our meetings and tea, we were kindly escorted by Mr. Thet, the market manager and himself a local miller of grains, to the office of the Director of Trade and Commerce for the Mandalay region. The Director kindly received us into his office for a private meeting where we discussed opportunities and challenges for the Myanmar economy, including the optimism in economic circles regarding the creation of Myanmar’s first stock exchange. If successful, this may provide a new vehicle for FDI or “foreign direct investment”.
More generally, I am astounded by the similarities between what we are working on in Bozeman, i.e. workforce training, infrastructure improvements and access to capital. The workforce training component was especially interesting to the Director because he is well aware that these skills are critical to adding value to the many raw materials available in the country. We also discussed the need for infrastructure, i.e. consistent and reliable sources of power and the importance of improved telecommunication infrastructure to facilitate commerce, even in rural areas. Sound familiar?
After our meeting, the Director kindly offered the services of his driver to take us around the City to view some of the sights. We headed a little out of town for the U Bein Bridge. The 1.2-kilometre (0.75 mi) bridge was built around 1850 and is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. I can attest that it is quite the span. We walked from one side of the lake to the other at about 1 pm, on a warm day, in a suit, and a tie and uncomfortable shoes. Once we traversed the lake and back, we refreshed ourselves amongst the weathered pylons and took the opportunity to have a fresh fish lunch (I watched the fishermen catch the little rascals) and a cold, um…beverage.
Tomorrow we meet with the President of the Mandalay Chamber of Commerce and other local officials, then it’s back to Yangon via air (the 12 hour bus ride back was not an option) to make ready for a day of meetings at the US Embassy. Cheers and thanks for following the journey,
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