musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Shwedagon Unplugged

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Wi-fi is now available at Yangon’s sacred Shwedagon Pagoda? Say, it isn’t so, Soe Moe! But according to a somewhat tardy news bulletin that I stumbled upon last week, the news is true. Here is an excerpt from one online article that I read:

Tourists visiting Shwedagon Pagoda will be provided with free Wi-Fi access as of 15 August, Mizzima reported, citing a member of pagoda board of trustee. The official said Crystal Shine Company offered the board to provide free Wi-Fi service—30 minutes per head—to foreigners on 1 July. “Wi-Fi password will be provided to foreigners visiting once they have paid five FECs or dollars as usual at foreign guest counter at southern arch,” U Win Kyaing, head of BOT office, was quoted as saying by Mizzima. The service at the most famous pagoda in Myanmar is currently destined for the tourists and its service period will be extended later. Signboards will be erected on the pagoda precinct to let the visitors know the Wi-Fi access is available from 4 am to 10 pm.

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I’ve mentioned this latest wi-fi news to other friends, both Westerners who have visited Yangon and natives of Myanmar, and everyone’s puzzled reaction runs along the lines of: What’s the point of offering wi-fi at a pagoda? Why are they doing this? Why indeed. Why do tourists need to access wi-fi while visiting the country’s most hallowed pagoda? They can’t wait till they get back to their hotel or an internet café? To me, offering wi-fi at Shwedagon borders on sacrilege. Yet the local authorities seem to have no qualms about initiating this so-called “service.” I have visions (okay, nightmares) of laptop-toting tourists sprawled on the grounds of Shwedagon (which is actually more than one famous pagoda, but a large complex of shrines and pagodas, including that famous “big one”), tapping away on their keyboards, oblivious to the worshippers around them. This is just … wrong.

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And it’s also yet another disturbing sign of the increasing sense of entitlement that seems to have become the norm nowadays amongst the tech-savvy generation. These youngsters have practically grown-up online and feel like they need to be — and are entitled to be — connected around the clock, no matter where they wander. I was shocked to see a “Wi-Fi available” sign at a teashop in Myanmar last year, but this Shwedagon sighting it an outrage of a different magnitude. It seems to me that there needs to be a line drawn at some point, leaving some places — such as Shwedagon — off limits to such electronic distractions.

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I remain puzzled at the plethora of businesses and even non-commercial entities that now offer free wi-fi to their customers or the general public. Why? Do they really think these weasels are going to spend more money because wi-fi is being offered? Everything I’ve noticed says that the opposite is happening. I see this new generation of freeloaders and slackers and I don’t see any of them spending any money whatsoever … except to buy the latest shiny new gadget. From free downloads and Google searches to various phone apps and Skype, people nowadays want instant information and instant access, and they don’t want to pay for any of it. It’s what they now expect. And that’s quite sad.

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Wi-fi at Shwedagon? It’s the end of the world as we know it.

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