Entry #6 -
Dogs, Motorbikes, and Fancy Dress Everyday – Walking across the Yadanabon University Campus
Yadanabon University, where I am spending a semester teaching Geography on a Fulbright, is a large comprehensive, public, regional university with many first-generation students. On the surface, these are features Yadanabon shares in common with Central Washington University. There is even a canal here cutting across campus like the “Ganges” at home.
But, of course, the differences between the two universities are stark and they begin as soon as you step onto campus. Before that actually. For the torrent of vehicles bringing students, faculty, and staff to the gates of the university each morning is remarkably different from the morning commute to CWU.
Here there are almost no private cars. Instead, there are buses, taxis (mainly the cheaper three-wheeled tuk-tuk variety rather than the more expensive four-wheeled kind), pickup trucks with student squashed in the back, bicycles, pedestrians, and so many motorbikes.
In Myanmar, people bought almost ten times as many motorbikes as cars in 2019. Students at Yadanabon mainly drive Chinese-made motorcycles instead of more expensive models from Japan or South Korea (I haven’t seen any American made Harley-Davidsons in Myanmar).
A new 150-cc Chinese bike costs the equivalent of less than $400 new. Even in a country as poor as Myanmar, that’s not a steep hurdle and so bikes are everywhere. For my students, a motorbike is liberating and essential for getting around this region.
But it can take nerves of steel (or so it seems to this foreigner) to navigate congested streets where there are almost few stoplights or stop signs. Instead, drivers engage in a kind of mano-a-mano struggle for dominance at busy intersections or dart through when an opportunity opens.
[CWU Geography Professor John Bowen will be sharing his experiences of living and working abroad in regular dispatches appearing on Cwucrimsonandblack.com. He and other Wildcats abroad are featured in the Spring 2020 issue of Crimson & Black, CWU’s alumni magazine, available in May.]