Singaporean-Run Spa at Myanmar’s Secretariat Due to Close

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 8 November 2019

YANGON – A conservation group that is restoring Yangon’s historic Secretariat building said it will shut down a controversial spa in the building complex, according to a lawmaker who attended a parliamentary hearing on the issue.

It followed public concerns that hosting a high-end beauty outlet at one of Myanmar’s most important colonial-era buildings was historically insensitive and could downgrade the building’s national significance.

The Anawmar Art Group has been carrying out restoration work on the more than 120-year-old building and it leased a building in the compound to Singaporean-run Dé Béau Wellness Center. It held its grand opening ceremony at the Secretariat late last month.

The colonial-era structure at No. 300 Theinbyu Road has witnessed some of the major milestones in Myanmar’s modern history. Most importantly, it was the site of a national tragedy. Independence hero General Aung San, the father of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and his colleagues were assassinated in an upstairs room in the west wing of the complex in 1947.

During colonial times, the Secretariat served as the headquarters for the British Burma administration. Standing in the center of the Secretariat courtyard is the flagstaff on which the flag of a newly independent Burma was first raised on Jan. 4, 1948.

After pictures from the opening ceremony went viral on Facebook and other social media, the event attracted a wave of online criticism, with many people questioning whether a building as historically important to the country as the Secretariat should host a spa.

Many netizens made critical comments on the center’s Facebook page. One read: “The secretariat is not a place to open spa … surprised that the authorities allowed this kind of service at our heritage premises. #ShowRespect.”

On Friday, the Yangon regional parliament held a hearing about the opening of the beauty center with the parliament’s Social Affairs Committee members, House Speakers, the city mayor and representatives from Anawmar and Yangon Heritage Trust.

“After discussions, Anawmar’s representative said they will shut down the spa, adding that there will be no more incidents like that,” said U Hla Htay, a member of the committee who attended the hearing on Friday.

“We made it very clear at the meeting that a spa shouldn’t be hosted at a place like the Secretariat,” said another committee member, U Nay Phone Latt.

Anawmar group was not available for comment on Friday.

U Soe Thwin Tun, managing director of the group, told The Irrawaddy in 2016 that one-third of the complex would be used for commercial purposes to cover the considerable cost of renovating and maintaining the building.

Since the handover to the Anawmar Art Group, the Secretariat has been a source of public controversy, especially over plans to host ceremonies or events there.

In 2015, the group used the courtyard of the Secretariat as a venue for a birthday party for a family member. This prompted online criticism, mostly saying the birthday party was proof of how insulated and oblivious to public sentiment the “corrupt” descendants of Myanmar’s military elite are. Many others said the nation’s martyrs did not sacrifice their lives at the Secretariat for the site to become a birthday venue.

In February this year, a plan to host a “grand bazaar” at the site to promote ties with the US was “postponed indefinitely” following public criticism that the event was disrespectful to the site. The two-day “NightFest at Yangon’s Secretariat” was due to showcase Californian and Italian wines and other alcoholic beverages, a variety of cheeses and other American food, including Krispy Kreme doughnuts.