I bought a new Sim card from one of the hundreds of tiny shops that line Insein Road here in Rangoon. The guy on the right here wasn’t absolute magician with my phone. His fingers moved so fast I could barely see them as he was setting up my phone to work on the Telenor network. 

His co-workers called him over when they saw I had a new iPhone 7+ with a US SIM card in it. He didn’t speak as much English as they did; he let his skills do the talking. They hopefully offered to trade my gringophone for theirs (I heard them whispering “Rose Gold!” as they handed the phone to each other.)

This level of skills is even more impressive when you consider that it’s only in the last 5 years that it’s even been legal to own a smartphone in Yangon. 

If you look closely at this panorama of Insein Road (yes, it is pronounced like “insane,” which always made the bilingual women in Thabyay giggle and make crazyfaces at me), you can see that there are electronics shops lining the road, one after the other. And this is in the working-class area of town. 

panorama of insein road yangon myanmar
This was a tricky shot to take – the relentless traffic leaves you just brief seconds between torrents of cars. Also: torrents of rain. (click to embiggen)

Everyone here is so aware of technology right now. Even the new kids at Thabyay who are from tiny towns out in the rural areas (i.e. jungle) come to the program with new phones in their pockets, and a jaded attitude towards social media. 

The newest phones that the young girls were trying to scam me into accepting as an equal trade for the iPhone 7+ had two (2) front-facing “selfie” cameras – a feature that apparently allows you to take both a close-up and a panorama shot at the same time. I am sure there is a reason why you would want both, but right now I can’t quite wrap my head around what that might be. 

But everywhere I go, I see the young kids giggling and taking selfies and photos and immediately huddling up to check out the photo and share. Seconds later, their phones all start buzzing and pinging with responses from their friends. 

There’s something interesting happening here.