Postcard from... Rangoon


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Incense swirls through the air as a Buddhist monk sits cross-legged before an ancient temple, his eyes closed in meditation. His mobile phone rings. The monk fumbles in his crimson robes, speaks for a while, then puts it aside and continues meditating.

Just a few years ago, a mobile phone was a luxury well beyond the reach of ordinary citizens in Burma, also known as Myanmar, a country isolated from the rest of the world during decades of military rule.

The junta tightly controlled who got SIM cards, and black-market cards cost as much as $2,000. Less than 10 per cent of citizens had access to mobiles.

But in recent months, mobile phone use in Burma has skyrocketed as the quasi-civilian government opened up its mobile market to two foreign telecommunications companies. As a result, cheap smartphones are more widely available, and the price of a SIM card has dropped to $1.50.

Earlier this month, some in Rangoon lined up outside a Telenor store, an outlet of the Norwegian telecom firm that opened here in September.

Myint Thein, 67, a retired government employee, left the store with his first mobile phone, which he bought for about $20. “It surprises me in my heart that I can actually have a cellphone,” he said.  © Washington Post