Myanmar’s all geared up for SEA Games party

Street vendor Hla Chit at his snack and drink stall outside Myanmar ICT Park. Photos: Low Lin Fhoong
Photo: Low Lin Fhoong
Photo: Low Lin Fhoong
Photo: Low Lin Fhoong
Entrance of the Wunna Theikdi Stadium - which will host the opening ceremony of the 27th SEA Games. Photo: Low Lin Fhoong
Photo: Low Lin Fhoong
Photo: Low Lin Fhoong
Photo: Low Lin Fhoong
Test events have already been staged at the Wunna Theikdi Swimming Complex.
VIP area at the Zeyar Thiri Stadium. Photo: Low Lin Fhoong
Joy, excitement on the streets as country prepares to welcome Games again after 44 years
Published: 4:03 AM, November 11, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, November 12, 2013
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YANGON — Like the slice of old-fashioned butter cake in his hands, Mr Hla Chit’s gesture was sweet and simple.

So, too, were the heartfelt words that accompanied his offering, made to this reporter after a chat about next month’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, which Myanmar will host for the first time in 44 years. “Thank you for interviewing me and for writing about the SEA Games,” said the 60-year-old street vendor.

For Mr Hla Chit, who earns 5,000 kyat (S$6.40) a day selling coffee, soft drinks and snacks at a dusty stall outside Myanmar ICT Park, the return of the SEA Games to Myanmar is a special occasion for its people. He told TODAY that he was just a teenager when Yangon — then known as Rangoon — hosted the biennial regional Games in 1969.

They were known as the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games at the time. And those Games — the fifth edition — were particularly memorable for Myanmar, which was then called Burma. They not only topped the medal standings with 57 golds but also won the most prized gold medal of all by beating Thailand 3-0 in the men’s football final.

“I am very proud we are hosting the SEA Games and I hope the football team will win the gold medal,” said Mr Hla Chit.

He is not alone. Said 20-year-old Thee Oo Thazin, a member of the 12,000-strong group of SEA Games volunteers: “The SEA Games comes just once in a lifetime. Everyone is very excited. About 20 of my friends are going to volunteer too.”

The sense of pride and anticipation in the air is palpable as Myanmar readies itself to welcome more than 5,000 athletes from 11 neighbouring countries for the sporting festival, to be held from Dec 11 to 22.

Banners proclaiming its advent line the traffic-choked streets of Yangon, while stalls selling SEA Games souvenirs have sprung up in tourist spots — even though the city is hosting only seven of its 33 sports.

Most of the other sports will be staged in Naypyitaw, the country’s new capital, a six-hour drive from Yangon. It provides the biggest proof of just how important the SEA Games is to the government and how determined it is to stage it successfully.

The two impressive main multi-sport arenas — the Wunna Theikdi and Zeyar Thiri — have been built after three years of construction and have staged test events to ensure that facilities and equipment operate smoothly.

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