RANGOON—Until three weeks ago, Rangoon’s Myoma Parade Ground remained neglected and covered with weeds and bushes. But now the area has been cleared of scrub vegetation and the 16-acre field has even been leveled as the city gets ready to host its first-ever public New Year countdown.
The free ‘Myanmar Countdown 2013’ will open its doors at 4 pm and provide music and dance performances and comedy shows by Burmese artists and entertainers, according to advertisements. It will also be broadcast live on local television
The countdown will be the second major public entertainment event to hit the city this month after the concert of American pop star Jason Mraz on Dec. 16—indicating just how fast Burma’s opening-up is exposing it to large-scale commercial entertainment that is common throughout the region.
“Most other countries usually hold public New Year countdown parties. But we Burmese have no idea about the countdown, as we have never celebrated it before as a public gathering,” said Swe Hein, project manager at Myanmar Index Creative Village (MICV), one of the event’s organizers.
“I’m really excited. I can’t wait to see what the celebrations will look like,” he said, adding that about 50,000 people were expected at the countdown celebrations—about the same amount that joined the MTV-organized Jason Mraz concert.
MICV is a Burmese subsidiary of Thailand’s largest event organizer Index Creative Village (ICV) and it organizes the event with several other Burmese companies, including Burmese media company Forever Group.
Thai newspapers The Bangkok Post and The Nation reported that ICV was keen to be among the first professional event organizer to enter the Burmese market and it spent about $1.1 million to organize the countdown, which is sponsored by several consumer brands including Olay.
Forever Group’s general manager Win Thura Hlaing explained to The Irrawaddy that his firm had been planning the event since last year, adding that they were confident of its success.
“Jason Mraz’s concert proved that Burmese people from all walks of life enjoyed it and participated. So our dream to hold an admission-free countdown can be realized,” he said.
“We guarantee that the fireworks, sound system, lighting system and entertainment here will be no less than [New Year parties] in New York, Tokyo and Bangkok,” he boasted, while giving instructions to workers who were installing a huge sound system on the 110 meter-by-60 meter stage last week.
Asked if he had any concerns about managing an event with 50,000 visitors, Win Thura Hlaing admitted he felt a bit worried, as local organizers and police had little experience with handling such large crowds.
“Local police forces and private security personnel will collaborate to get everything right during the celebrations,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to make sure that everyone who joins our countdown will have a fun time.”
Although major public events to ring in the New Year were not allowed by the government until now, many Burmese celebrated New Year in private. In the past, youths also met at Inya Lake in large numbers to welcome the New Year together, until the military regime banned the celebrations because of recurrent brawls.
Rangoon’s large youth population is eager to join in new entertainment events such as the 2013 countdown and some said they want to enjoy these festivities like their peers in the region do.
“I’m ready to join the Myanmar Countdown 2013,” said Hein Ze, a 20-year-old graphic designer. “It’s really great to have an event like this here. We have to celebrate it while the whole world is also ringing in 2013.” He added that he bought a special outfit for the event.
Such big entertainments events also offer new opportunities for Burma’s entertainers and artists to showcase their talents to a wide audience, and they are excited about the prospect.
“It’s really fantastic to be part of the event as it’s the very first public countdown in Burma,” said Kyar Pauk, the front man of well-known alternative rock band ‘Big Bag,’ which is scheduled to perform on New Year’s Eve.
“We are going to play seven or eight of our hits on that night. I’m sure we, both entertainers as well as audience, will have a good time,” he said.
For those who feel that the musical line up at the Myanmar Countdown 2013 is not to their taste there are also alternatives on New Year’s Eve.
A hip hop concert at the People’s Square near the Shwedagon Pagoda will offer performances for fans of Burmese rap music, while rock fans can head to Tower Island in Kandawgyi Park where rock bands will perform.