The Grammar Police Spell-Check Rangoon Restaurants

By Yen Saning 24 March 2015

RANGOON — Confused and famished, restaurant-goers could be wandering the streets trying in vain to find the Rangoon Tea House, a hip new eatery on Pansodan Road. Unlike many of the city’s treasures, it was relatively easy to find until late last week, when the sign outside suddenly disappeared.

Curiously, a rash of similarly named restaurants has recently opted to alter their insignia as well. The Rangoon Bar, tucked away in downtown’s Union Business Center, is planning to rebrand in the near future. A staffer told The Irrawaddy that his boss simply “didn’t like the name.”

In Hlaing Township, the newly opened Rangoon Grill & Chill also had a sudden change of heart, taking down its newly-minted signage and replacing it with Burmese script which, when read aloud, spells out “Yangon.” Will the Rangoon Kitchen Brasserie, seated in Naypyidaw’s luxurious Kempinski Hotel, follow suit?

It’s still unclear why Rangoon’s restaurants are having a collective identity crisis, but the rumor mill has begun to churn. Some suspect the clandestine meddling of a mysterious lot that is believed to have stalked the nation since roughly 1989.

Burma’s grammar police appear to have struck again, after lying low in the months following a bungled attempt to strong-arm this publication into changing its name to conform to transliterations preferred by the former military regime.

Business owners have been conspicuously quiet on whether they had been pressured to rebrand, but some sources told The Irrawaddy that orders came from the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC). An administrator at the YCDC office in Hlaing Township, Kyaw Linn, said that while they do not “deal with sign-post issues,” the YCDC does sometimes request that shops include Burmese script if their signs are written only in English. Who could it have been?

The Kyauktada Township administrative office, which operates under the Ministry of Home Affairs, did not respond to two days of inquiries as The Irrawaddy tried to solve the mystery of the namesake schizophrenia. We even appealed to Naypyidaw, where an officer from the capital’s General Administrative Department assured us there was no existing order related to changing business names, but that the Adaptation of Expressions Law, enacted in 1989 by the then-ruling junta to prohibit the use of some English-language terminology, was still on the books.

For now, restaurateurs are tight-lipped about why they made the sudden adjustment. But whatever the reason, said Nay Lin of the Myanmar Restaurant Association, a business owner should be able to name their shop to their liking, so long as it is not deliberately offensive. After all, he said, “a name is just a name.”