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August 04, 2020

MY ALMA MATER – YANGON UNIVERSITY

By Maung Hlaing

It was during my schooling days when I fantasized about the life of a university student. Thanks to the inspiration of our teachers, we came to know the taste of reading. Because of the school library, we could appreciate the novels written by famous writers. Among them, the novels depicting the life of university students made me dream about the Rangoon (Yangon) Arts and Science University which was renowned as RASU in those days.
Especially, the works of Tekkatho Phone Naing inspired me to become a university student. Before I passed the matriculation examination, I loved to listen to the tales or stories our teachers told us in the classroom. In my dream world, hundreds of times I was transported to Adipati-lan-ma (Chancellor Road), Convocation Hall, Thitpok-pin, U Chit Tea-shop and so on.
To make matters worse, after reading the novel titled ‘Collegean’ written by Saya Zawana, I could not suppress my ardent wish to become a university student. When this novel turned into a film, I was totally magnettized by the starring characters–Collegean Nay Win and Myint Myint Khin.
Then, the songs like ‘Tekkatho Kyaung Thu Ta-oo’ (A University girl student) sung by Ko Min Naung and ‘Chit-yet Shay-shay Inya-myay’ (Longer days of love at Inya Lake) by Twantay Thein Tan were so popular that even rural folks loved to sing them. The novels, films and songs depicting about the life of RASU made the high school students who were crazy for university campus long for the days of Yangon University. Then I was only Sixteen and tried to sit for the matriculation examination.
As I was born in a delta town, I hardly visited the capital city of Yangon. In those days, when university students came back from RASU in summer holidays, we could not keep slobbering over them.
The then university students wore vests printed with the letters ‘RASU’ at the back. They wore white Teteron shirts so that the letters would be vissible on their back under their shirts. As the number of university students was so few, being a university student was a boastful thing. Only students of well-to-do class of our town could join the university when they passed the matriculation examination. Most of the families could not afford to send their children to the university where students could pursue a particular branch of study.
In those days, my native town saw the insurgents and Tatmadaw, or Armed Forces playing hide-and-seek. Peace and stability did not prevail in the rural areas. To make matters worse, when I was in the tenth standard, currency notes were demonitized. As a result, the whole town was in recession. Being a member of the family that was leading a hand-to-mouth life, to pursue education solely depended on my big aunt who ran a brokerage house. Due to the demonitization, her earnings had slumped.
Although I passed the matriculation, I could not join the university because of a slump in my aunt’s business. My hope to go to RASU had collapsed. Fortune failed to smile on me. Finally, I had to work in the Posts and Telecommunications Department.
However, I never lost sight of pursuing the university education.

The University of Yangon is the oldest university in Myanmar.
The University of Yangon is the oldest university in Myanmar.

After working for two years in the country, I was transferred to Yangon where I could join the Workers’ College which was set apart for those who were working in the government departments and work-establishments in Yangon municipal area. At this point, you may raise a question “Is Yangon University your real Alma Mater?” I must confess that Yangon University is not my real Alma Mater. My real Alma Mater was the Workers’ College where I was reading for B.A. Degree from 1968 to 1972. Workers’ College, indeed, was one of the affiliates of Rangoon Arts and Science University. At that time, we had our separate faculties and owned lecturers, tutors, demonstrators and its staff. Although we did have our deans of faculties, they all were under the control of RASU. Most of our teachers were from RASU. After teaching day students at RASU, they came to teach us of Workers’ College out of their goodwill, or cetana without taking rest in the evening.
Workers’ College was situated at the corner of Botahtaung Pagoda Road and Merchant Street. Formerly, it was known as University of Adults Education which is now turned into National Management Degree College (Botahtaung). Due to the insufficiency of classrooms, first-year students were placed at a primary school on Botahtaung Pagoda Road in Pazundaung. As for third-year students, they had to go to Institute of Education on Pyay Road, which was opposite the then Burma Broadcasting service: BBS (now Myanma Radio and Television: MRTV).
Sometimes, our tutoriad classes were conducted at the buildings of respective subjects or departments on Saturdays (even on Sundays at other times.) In this way, RASU had been my Alma Mater since then. It was the very university that I eagerly wanted to reach. On the first day when I landed on the campus, the first thing I did was nothing but walking up and down the Chancellor Road, passing through the halls of Pinya, Thaton, Bago and Mandalay before reaching the Convocation Hall.
The second thing I did was sitting under the Thitpok-pin which is over 100 years old. It is located in front of the Science Hall near Adipati-lan and Convocation Hall. I sat under the tree over fifty years ago but it is still alive and it has been standing as the symbol of RASU for over 100 years. Recently, it was installed with Blue Plaque as a heritage of Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT). If the tree could speak, it would tell a lot of stories hiding in its heart.
During the period of five years, whenever I reached Yangon University, I never failed to visit Yangon University Library which was commissioned into service in 1928. Later the Universities’ Central Library that emerged with the birth of new system education was also a place I loved to spend my leisure hours. The images of Judson Church, over 100-year old Thitpok-pin, Adipati-lan, or Chancellor Road, U Chit Tea-shop and prominant halls are still in my eyes and heart. It is because they have been characters of novels, and short srories written by renowned writers, songs by some composers, poems by famous poets, and films by some movie-directors. It is for this reason that I could participate in the Golden Jubilee Anniversary activities held 1 to 5 December, 1970. I could remember that a big archway was erected at the entrance of chancellor Road. Because of the bad weather, I failed to visit the event on first and second days. On 3 and 4 December, not only the campus of RASU, but also other places such as Institute of Medicine I, Institue of Education were also crowded with students and laymen.
There were two or three stages on the campus. Among them, the stage on the vacant plot between Mandalay Hall and Amara Hall attracted an audience of thousands. It was because RIT (YIT) anyeint, Workers’ College anyeint and so many yeins, or varieties of dances were performed at that stage. Most of the performers were highly praised as real professionals.

Giant Thitpok-pin in the middle of Yangon Univeristy beautifies the campus.
Giant Thitpok-pin in the middle of Yangon Univeristy beautifies the campus.

The Performing arts competitions on mandolin, violin, harp and xylophone were held at the Recreation Centre (RC) on Chancellor Road. I remember well that Ko Thit Sar of Workers’ Collage won the first prize in the mandolin competition. We could also enjoy other professional anyeints such as College Myaing Anyeint and UTC Shwe Hnin Zi which were entertained on the campus of RASU.
The Diamond Jubilee Anniversary was ceremoniously held in the time of Tatmadaw Government in December, 1995. However, I was not able to attend that anniversary as I was away from Yangon at that time.
Yangon University, indeed, has a long history. It came into being after the (Rangoon) University Act had been enacted on 1 December, 1920. The university and its birth cohorts — Judson Church, the over 100-year old Thitpok-pin (Tetrameles Nudiflora. R.Br.Datiscaceae), the Convocation Hall, Chancellor Road, Yangon University Library, and its hostels saw what had happened through the ages they passed. Yangon University Students Union where students who struggled for independence gathered was destroyed in the time of Revolutionary Council in 1962.
Built by the British government in the Pre-War time, Yangon University was the most impressive and prestigious university in South-east Asia. She gave birth to prominent political leaders such as Bogyoke Aung San, Myanmar’s first Prime Minister U Nu, former UN Secretary-General U Thant and so on. Rector Dr. Htin Aung was world-famous scholar who promoted the lirterary world and education field as well. Doubtlessly, the university still is producing so many young leaders who are now playing their roles in nation-building endeavours.
Thitpok-pin, which is older than the hundred-year old Yangon University, the Convocation Hall, Judson Church, the Inya Lake and Kant-kaw trees (ironwood trees) have welecomed and said goodby to generations of students who come to pursue university education.
Due to the WWII, Yangon University could not hold her Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1945. However, the university held a Students Festival under the leadership of Students Union to commemorate the 40th anniversary in 1960. The Golden Jubilee celebrations were successfully held under the unseasonal rains on 1 to 5 December, 1970. The Diamond Jubilee was ceremoinously held in the time of Tatmadaw Goverment in December, 1995. In 2020, we are now holding the Centenary celebrations all the year round on the campus of Yangon University.
For the celebrations of the Centenary of Yangon University, Myanmar Post under the Ministry of Transport and Communications has issued two new postcards to commemorate the Centenary of Yangon University. Like the former celebrations, paper reading sessions and respect-paying to the old students who are still alive will be held. Students young and old alike are now taking an active part in the centenary activities.
I am now over 70. Luckily, I have seen Golden Jubilee, Diamond Jubilee and Centenary celebrations in my life. How lucky I am! I am proud of it.
Yangon University, my Alma Mater, has lived through so many political upheavals and ups-and-downs of Myanmar’s modern history. In the early rainy season, Thitpok-pin becomes green with new leaves and the tree shows its skeleton in the summer holiday. Students of generations are coming in and going out. This is an unending process.
Yangon UNIVERSITY is and will peacefully be standing tall till doomsday!
Ref : 1. The Mirror Daily, 12-7-2019
2. The Mirror Daily, 14-12-2019

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