Myanmar coup: S'poreans in Yangon carry on with daily life amid air of uncertainty

Singaporean Joyann Lim (in black, standing) taking a public bus in Myanmar.
Singaporean Joyann Lim (in black, standing) taking a public bus in Myanmar. PHOTO: JOYANN LIM

SINGAPORE - The streets of Yangon are quieter than usual in the days following the Myanmar military's power grab on Monday (Feb 1).

Snaking queues at the automated teller machines and the hordes of shoppers grabbing rice, noodles and chicken at the supermarkets have dwindled as the country enters a year-long state of emergency with the military back in charge.

Perhaps one of the most obvious public responses to the military coup that ousted the Aung San Suu Kyi government is the 8pm nightly chorus of cheers and clashing of metal, when locals beat pots and pans in a symbolic gesture of driving away evil or bad karma.

For Singaporean Joyann Lim, the 30-minute-long cacophony of pots and pans symbolising a rejection of the military's action has been a powerful reminder of what the people of Myanmar are going through.

"I was honestly so moved to tears," said the 27-year-old digital marketer on Thursday.

So far, military rule has made little difference to everyday life, Singaporeans living in Myanmar told The Straits Times, though there is an air of uncertainty as the situation could change anytime.

The chaos after the military seized power and arrested country leader Ms Suu Kyi and her fellow party officials was unnerving, said president of Singapore Association Myanmar (SAM) Lee Leong Seng, but after a few days "things have settled".

"But then again, we cannot say the same for tomorrow, things are dynamic. It's too early to fully understand what is going to unfold," said the 47-year-old in the real estate industry who lives in Yangon with his wife and 10-year-old son.

He said there are no roadblocks or violence on the streets of Yangon apart from some small protests, and he has been going to work and meeting clients as usual since Tuesday.

"Right now, there is no major panic. I think everyone is keeping calm and waiting for more information on what will happen next," he said adding that there has been talk of curfews or martial law, but so far these have been rumours.

The SAM has more than 200 members in Myanmar, and Mr Lee says its plan is to stay connected to Singaporeans and disseminate any new information or announcements.

Singapore Airlines resumed weekly relief flights from Singapore to Yangon on Friday (Feb 5), and while he does not have the numbers, Mr Lee said he knows of Singaporeans who will be getting on the flight. "Many were already considering returning home for Chinese New Year, and I think Monday led some to decide to head back."

Mr Kenneth Lim, 58, a senior executive at a real estate development firm, has not been back to Singapore for almost a year, and the recent situation in Myanmar has made him decide to stick it out for a few more months as a confidence booster for his staff.

"I see myself staying for three more months to allow my staff and company to find some stability as we have a few ongoing projects," said Mr Lim whose wife and adult daughter live in Singapore. "But if things turn volatile I will leave."

Mr Lim said he is currently living "day by day to see what will happen tomorrow". "It's tough, not the Singaporean style at all," he noted, wryly.

Student Ethan Swee has been living in Yangon for two years with his parents and younger brother. PHOTO: ETHAN SWEE

Student Ethan Swee, 17, who lives in Yangon with his parents and younger brother, has been cooped up at home since Monday.

The teenager attends school online and relies on the Internet to stay connected with friends and to navigate the misinformation and rumours circulating around.

On Thursday, access to Facebook and services like WhatsApp were blocked in Myanmar, however there was still intermittent service on the latter when ST spoke to those interviewed.

"There is a lot of news and different opinions going around. I'm not sure what to think, but I sense a lot of anger and disappointment from my local friends who are worried for their future," he said.