If you have been to or have lived in Myanmar before 2010, you must have seen some people on the corners of the streets sitting out in a chair with one or two telephones on a table in front of them. It used to be the major communication system for us before “affordable mobile phones” arrived. There were two types of telephone service providers then; government and private telephones. Government assigned staffs on the major roads, assembled them with uniforms and telephones but they couldn’t cover the need of everyday uses. So, private telephone owners from the public who lived on the ground floor simply bought a chair and a table to sit out and charge people for communication needs. Service fees was about 100 kyats (USD 0.06 cents) per minute. It’s not too cheap but it worked.
Only a handful of people had mobile phones back then. Legend says the cost of applying for a mobile phone started at 5,000,000 MMK (approx. USD 3,267) 20 something years ago. There was even a phase when people had “Chin Phone” (Telephone in the basket) that they brought with them everywhere they went but I truly believe that such invention was only to make fun of rich people carrying baskets in the television later in the years.
Around Year 2010-2011, mobile phones came out at the price of 1,500,000 MMK (USD 1,000) to much relief of middle class yet it was still too expensive for average households. Then the price fell down to 1,500 MMK (USD 1$) in 2013. Two words we yelled: fuck yes. Everybody went out and purchased two sim cards each and forgot all the other struggles in life. As a result, this cheap price has created different classes of people based on the phone numbers they use. It goes like this:
09-5****** stands for rich and powerful
09-4******* stands for middle class/ very ordinary
09-7/9$%&**#@! stands for freaking assholes that use fake accounts on Facebook or expatriates
There are also some who have all of these above and they are probably the most powerful of all the people here.
With a mobile number, comes the internet access and our people have used it very wisely. Instead of having to wait for a printed journal every week to read the news and transfers of football players, we now have smartphones to check and share latest rumors every second. Social medias followed, message apps followed. Five years after the major price changes of mobile phones, we are now being discussed at US Senate for the way we are using or being used on the social network. That’s when I realized “Man, we are killing it”. Our people had to wait 20 years to have our own mobile phones to play with. We have heard stories of trash collectors from Singapore being able to afford a mobile phone; we have heard how easy it was to get a sim-card in any other country all over the world. So, when the price dropped in 2013, we all dived in. Twenty years too late but we finally got it. And that’s why we are still rewarding ourselves for being patient and hard-working during those without-mobile-phone days.
Here’s a story from back when we were still relying on public telephones. A friend of mine was visiting a distant relative’s place at the remote areas of Yangon and he was going round and round in the area with an address written on a piece of paper. When his only hope of finding the family was to call them in the area and have them pick him up from where he was, his plan changed to finding a public telephone instead of finding the house. Soon, he found one and started dialing. The number was engaged for at least 5 tries so he went outside again and looked for the address heavily betting on luck. Finally he thought enough was enough and went into the telephone place again and started dialing. Yet no luck, the other end was still busy. Wiser now, he asked assistance from the telephone owner and showed her the number he was trying to reach. The woman looked at it and said it was their own telephone number. Long story short. The woman turned out to be his distant aunt. He found them. A couple of hours too late. But he found them.
So, when people argue that we are being used or manipulated on Facebook with all the fake news, perhaps they are right. Maybe we are being too foolish. However, just like my friend’s story above, we have a tendency to go around confused, being outdated, miss out yet catch up quickly and make it in the end. And it looks like we are now at being confused phase as a country. So, Why stop now.
Zwe Oak Soe