A Wave of Nostalgia for my Yangon University Days

Dr. Saw Mra Aung

(continued from yesterday)

The convocation hall on Chancellor’s Road.
The convocation hall on Chancellor’s Road.

At that time, the Ph. D programme was not yet introduced into Yangon University. Therefore, only a few teachers who won the State scholars could obtain a Ph. D degree from a foreign university. No doubt, Ph.D degree-holders would be held in high esteem in the university campus. As far as I remembered, Dr. Pe Maung Than, Dr. Win Naing, Dr. Yin Yin Nwe, and Dr. Tin Thein were only Ph.D degree holders from the the Department of Geology. The Ph.D degree holders from other departments were Dr. Chit Swe (the then rector who was promoted from Maths professor), Dr. Ko Ko Gyi(Chemistry Professor) and Dr. Tin Aung
(Physics Professor). Master and honours classes were the highest ones Yangon University conducted in those days. As clever students were given favour wherever they went, many students aspired to the eligibility for the honours class. So the disease of honours was epidemic among the students at that time. So when the examination drew near, the students laboured competitively at their lessons. The competition was more severe among geology students, for the number of geology students who were admitted to the honours class was always under ten each year. Some ambitious students vied with one another in the number of their study hours, especially at night. So light of some’s rooms did not go out until that of others’ did. So we shunned going to the  canteen at night but were desk-bound in the privacy of our room, burning the mid-night oil. When we felt sleepy, we went to Lucky Tea-shop at Hledan which was kept open throughout the night and had a strong coffee together steamed garden-pea and roti. On some nights, we studied in the light of the neon-lamps of the posts standing in front of the Convocation Hall throughout the night. As we went to sleep only at dawn on the mats spread under those lamp-posts, we woke up only to the noises of the day students who attended their morning classes. Particularly, we became the objects of jokes to girls. By the quirk of my luck, I stood first in the second year examination and became one of twelve geology honours students in the 1986-87 academic year. When I came to the first year honours class, we had to attend classes at Mandalay Hall. At that time, Dr. Win Naing became our warden. He loved me so much. On day, there was a fight between hostel students and day students at U Chit’s tea-shop. When the fight started, I was at the tea-shop with my friends from the hostel. All hostel-students except a few including me got involved in the fight. At that time, any student who engaged in fights was to be expelled from hostel under the then prescribed law. When the inspection party came to our hostel for enquiring about the reason of the fight, I was called by him into his room and asked to stay there until the party left the hostel. Thus I was evaded from being expelled from the hostel. The rector was then Dr. Chit Swe and the registrar Daw Sein Sein. Both of them were strict with rules and regulations. So, some of my friends who were involved in the fight were expelled from the hostel. Thanks to Dr. Win Naing, I had a chance to remain a hostel-student and pursue my study in peace. After the 1988 Unrest, U Khin Maung Win and U Tin Maung Nyunt became wardens of the Dagon Hostel. After Dr. Chit Swe, the office of rector of Yangon University was taken by Dr. Kyaw Sein and then Dr. Tun Maung. As far as I remember, Dr. Kyaw Sein became rector just after 1988 and promoted to Minister for Education soon. He was succeeded by Dr. Tun Maung in the early 1990s.

Recreation Centre on Chancellor’s Road.
Recreation Centre on Chancellor’s Road.

On some late afternoons, we went to Inya Lake for a swim. In those days, swimming in Inya Lake was permitted. There was a rental service for swimmers under a tall, big tree near the University Boat Club, which was established in about 1924. We could hire a tire-tube, shorts, etc from it at affordable charges. In general, the area between the land jutting out into the lake where the University Boat Club existed and a wooded island not from the bund were full of swimmers on late afternoons and evenings. No definite boundary was demarcated between men and women swimmers. But men and women swam separately on the grounds of mutual understanding. But, some mischievous boys, in a mocking manner, dived and swam under water and bobbed up suddenly amongst girl swimmers to scare away them. The shouts given by them to the skies were pleasing to the ears of the mockers. But no problem was heard to arise among them. After the swim, we used to follow Inya Road turning east and to enter Yangon University Campus by Inwa Road which ran between the residence of the rector and Inya Hostel. When we got to the junction between Bagan Road and Inwa Road, we covered our head with our longyi and, in union, shouted the names of the girls from our major who lived in the back- row of Inya Hostel. At their names shouted at the top of our voices, the girls ran out of their rooms and held up their fists to us. We had taken to our heels before they flung their angry glances at us. But our joke was not workable, for, the next day, when we met them in the class-room, they told us that they could identify us by the longyis which covered our head. We then remained silent on their identification as the saying “ Silence is equivalent to confession,” goes. On some evenings after dinner, we used to spruce ourselves and walk along the bund of Inya Lake where girls from Inya, Thiri, Malar and Yadana Hostels strutted along in groups. If there was an acquaintance of ours in those groups, we brazenly approached her and made friends with other girls. Thus we sometimes had the chance of sitting together with the girls at fried gourd-fritter stalls or Rakhine Monhti stalls on the bund of Inya Lake in the evening, enjoying the beautiful scenery of Inya Lake at sun-set. Indeed, it was the happiest and most memorable occasion in our life-time. On some summery nights, we, in groups, sang songs to the guitar in front of Inya, Malar and Thiri Hostels. As I could not play the guitar, I was always a singer. In those days, some
songs such as armifYvjynfU0ef;? &efukefrSm omwJUv? yvufazmif;rif;om; ?a&’D,dkurm&Guf of Sai Hti Saing, uHhaumfjrdKUawmf?
wifav of Hlwan Moe, rdqdk;? of Tu Tu,ta0;qkH;?ppfudkif;vrf; of Khaing Htoo aumfzDcg;cg; of Chit Khaung, &wemol? r[mqefol?tarhtdrf of Khin Maung Toe, yef;c&rf;jym of Aung Naing..etc.were very popular among university students. In the early 1980s, actor Kyaw Thu and actress Moe Moe Myint Aung made their debuts. They were regarded as a good match. When their films were on the cinema-houses at Myenigone, most students skipped their class and saw them. We were no exception. In the university campus, Kyaw Thu’s style was in vogue among male students. Almost students used to wear a white long-sleeved engyi without the collar, with the sleeves tucked up to the elbow, the longyi short, the bag hung across the right shoulder with its straps knotted on the shoulder and the hair shaped like the Myanmar alphabet “ Ka” on the forehead. Kyaw Thu was the apple of the eyes of every university student to that extent.
Starting from the second year, we had to go on field-trips at the end of March every year. As the examination was over at that time, all the students from other hostels had returned home. But, we had to continue to stay at the hostel for a few days, waiting for the day of our field trip. At that time, Yangon University humming with students from sun-rise to sun-set fell into a deserted land. All hostels, halls, canteens, roads, streets, benches under the Gangaw trees, etc emptied of students. In the afternoon, whatever I saw around the Dagon Hostel were old Padauk trees clothed in yellow leaves shedding withered ones, lanes with no pedestrians, Seinpan trees covered with red flowers, Gangaw trees cloaked in deep green leaves spotted with white flowers, etc. Now and then, melancholy calls of cuckoo wafted to me with summery eddies. I, as a teen-ager, was gripped with a surge of home-sickness. I had to go a one-month field-trip-  to Kyaukse and Nahtogyi in the second year, to Pindaya in the first year honours and to Yin-mar-bin in the final honours. Although we were scheduled to go on a field trip to Mattayar in the second year honours, it was cancelled due to the 1988 Unrest. We had to labour at our field works such as surveying, measurement of the inclination of outcrops, collection of rock samples, looking for fossils and minerals, during the day-time and to continue to do office-works such as drawing contour and maps, reading of old reports, writing daily field-reports, etc. During our day-time outings, we sometimes came across unexpected dangers and difficulties such as beasts, attack of malaria, sudden changes of weather, falling from the hill-sides, etc deep in the forests. Some students lost their way to the main camp and had to sleep deep in the forests for the night. While getting through the difficulties and dangers together during the field trips, the bonds between us became more cemented and we were tied to one another in brother-hood spirit.
On 5th September 1987, 25- kyat, 35-kyat and 75-kyat notes were demonetized without any compensation. We also had nothing to spend. So about 1000 students went on a rampage in Yangon.We were forced to send back to our native towns. I had to fly back to Sittwe free of charge when the examination for the first year honours was at hand. But the university was reopened at the 26th October that year. On the 12th March in 1988, some students from Yangon Institute of Technology (RIT) clashed with local people at Sanda Win tea-shop in Gyogon West Ward, a Yangon suburb. The next day, Maung Phone Maw from the RIT was shot dead during the clash between the students and riot policemen (Lone Htein)and other 6 or 7 students died from gun-shot wounds a few days later. Thus the political instability reached its peak and our universities and other educational institutions were closed down with no limitation. The historic stormy year started. Some transportation modes were blocked. So I had to accompany Maung Maung Zaw to his village near Thabaung and stayed there for a month. I then went back to Yangon and thence to Sittwe.
When the university was re-opened, I proceeded to the second years honours class. I noticed that a few friends of mine did not turn up. No definite information about them was available to us. With more constraints imposed on the students, we hardly felt freedom and happiness. Commodity-prices were some times higher than those before 1988. Due to the economic set-back, most parents were hard up. So students came to focus more on their study to be able to graduate from the university as early as possible. I graduated from Yangon University with my honours degree in 1992.  Thus my university life at Yangon University came to an end. Anyhow, the days I spent at Yangon University are the most carefree and happiest moments in my life. I wish that my Alma Mata, under the management of the first civilian democratic government, would be rejuvenated with promising, fresh generation students and higher academic prestige in a few years to come.

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