You might have thought that when deciding on where to locate your new capital city you would consult someone with some kind of geographical background but not General Than Shwe, dictator in chief of Myanmar. Back around 2005 the first person he went to was his astrologer, as he had for many important decisions, except for when to torture people as every day was an auspicious occasion for inflicting suffering on the people. As luck would have it, the astrologer managed not to pick a swamp in the middle of nowhere but a patch of ground near the centre of the country, fulfilling the general’s paranoid requirements concerning possible invasions or revolutions. All that remained was to ship out the peasants, whose distant ancestors had inconsiderately decided to move there. Naturally, not having to deal with the western headaches like planning permission and compensation the task was swiftly completed with the persuasive power of automatic weaponry. Next, billions of dollars were handed over to the regime’s chums in the Chinese construction industry and voila! A few years later you had a brand new capital, fashioned with all the finesse and durability that Chinese builders are renowned for.
All that was lacking was people, so the nation’s civil servants and functionaries were delighted to find themselves separated from family and social networks and sent half way up the country. They soon discovered that their new home was an utterly depressing shit heap, although it was blessed with a number of golf courses, despite the fact that most of the population had never heard of the game.
Other dictator’s pet capital projects, such as Astana in Kazakhstan and Ashgabat in Turkmenistan may have lacked soul but at least had an audacity of vision and moments of architectural interest but much of Nay pyi daw resembles a half-finished 1970’s industrial estate, lacking only any of the charm which that implies.
The city is divided into zones: governmental and army, off-limits to us mortals; retail; housing and hotels. All are linked by vast motorways barely troubled by traffic and I could have been the first pedestrian to actually use some of its pavements. Numerous hotels await the very occasional convention to summon up enough guests to give the staff something to do, other than standing around and looking at Facebook. I stayed with two other guests in a four storey hotel, with dozens of rooms on each floor, while the whole compliment of workers waited on our every need. I dined alone in a banqueting hall that would have catered for a hundred with room to spare. Other hotels were even bigger and equally undisturbed but at least, unlike the rest of the country, the wi-fi actually functioned at a useable pace. After all how could the leaders of any self-respecting nation survive without decent access to online betting and downloading porn? The only signs of life were in the shopping mall, which featured all the same crap that others around the world provide but with the addition of large jade frogs for some reason.
The General, in an effort to earn merit in the eyes of Buddha had a golden pagoda built at an unnecessary few kilometres from the city and managed to restrain his arrogance for long enough to make it fractionally shorter than the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Now in his retirement, so with enough time on his hands to do some idle googling of his glorious reign, Than Shwe may have stumbled on this article, so General, let me explain. Buying merit is not some kind of glorified distortion of Catholic confession of sins, whereby you do what the fuck you want then throw some cash around at the end to make everything alright. This is particularly true as you bled every corrupt penny of it from the decent people of Myanmar whom you oppressed mercilessly. You also have to do good in word and deed in your life, so killing, torturing and imprisoning innocent people has never been on Buddha’s list of nice stuff to do, which leaves you as a loathsome scumbag who is going to burn in hell and have unspeakable acts perpetrated on your genitals by hideous demons for an eternity. Please note that I may have paraphrased some of the finer points of Buddhist theology here. Consequently, I refused to expend any effort to visit his poxy pagoda and advise anyone to do likewise.
Apart from the wi-fi the only redeeming feature of the city is of course the ordinary citizens, who are as charming and welcoming as anywhere in the country, which is especially laudable when they are enveloped by such an oppressive, wrist slashing environment. On my obligatory stroll around some back streets in the pizza cooking temperatures, a family insisted I stop for a chat in spite of our communicative limits and provided a big iced drink and a cold bottle of water, refusing to take any money. A typical example amongst many of Myanmar hospitality.
To call Nay pyi daw shit is an insult to excrement everywhere, it is difficult to conceive of a more souless waste of concrete. Whatever you do, don’t go there, unless you are leading a squadron of carpet bombing B52s, when, with the help of the zoning plan you can conveniently limit your destruction to those who deserve it.