Metric in Myanmar – an update

In this article, we put together some reports regarding measurements used in Myanmar, which is often said, misleadingly, to be one of the three “non-metric” countries in the world.

There is a common misconception that three countries around the world are “not metric”, namely Liberia, Myanmar and the USA. It might be more helpful to say that these three countries have not adopted metric as their primary system of measurement, but even this is misleading. The truth is more complex, as noted by Elisabeth Gentry of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Metric Program who says that, “the metric transition is on a continuum from zero metric to one hundred percent metric with every country somewhere along this continuum.” The UKMA YouTube Channel, www.youtube.com/user/UKMetric, has a news story on this in its documentary section entitled “US Switch to Metric System”.

Readers may be able to think of examples that support Ms Gentry’s view. We note, for example, that in many European countries TV, monitor and laptop screen sizes are quoted in inches. Belize, which is usually considered a metric country, makes little use of metric measures. And Myanmar aka Burma, as we shall see, has begun to move across the continuum, intending to replace its traditional and colonial measures with metric for all official purposes as rapidly as resources allow.

We are grateful for the information in this article to contributors to: https://www.reddit.com/r/Metric/comments/7tl0hs/myanmar_update

Road traffic signs

Myanmar imports almost all its cars, mostly second-hand, from neighbouring countries which use the metric system, and odometers and speedometers on vehicles on Myanmar roads are in metric units only.

On page 13 of 21 of the Road Safety report, speed limits are quoted in metric, 48 km/h in urban areas (30 mph from colonial days) and 80 km/h elsewhere:

http://www.roadsafety2030.com/media/1191/myanmar_report.pdf
https://www.mmtimes.com/national-news/mandalay-upper-myanmar/26269-strict-speed-limit-enforcement-begins-in-mandalay.html

Further evidence of metric use on the roads appears in these videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Fk0Ma5qsuE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e993H8NZdLE

At 11 s into the second video, a Vienna convention speed limit sign showing “100” km/h is visible, and at 27 s into this video, there is a marker that appears to be 107.5 km. At 35 s, just past the bridge, there is a marker for 67 miles 0 furlongs, which is 107.8 km. The mile/furlong signs were put up prior to 2013 and the metric markers must have been added later. The metric markers are also seen in the first video but are harder to read even when the video is paused. There is one just past the 100 km/h speed limit sign.

Fuel

For a number of years, petrol has been sold in litres, not gallons. The change would have taken place after 2013. Two articles from 2017 and 2018 show prices in litres:

https://www.mmtimes.com/news/fuel-prices-rise.html http://www.oilseedcrops.org/2014/04/05/petrol-prices-march-2014-in-yangon-myanmar/

Temperature

Myanmar also reports temperatures in degrees Celsius:

http://www.moezala.gov.mm/city-weather-forecast-states-and-regions

Other measures

In 2010, we made a note of this comment on a forum run by the US Metric Association:

“… I just bought and downloaded the Lonely Planet guide to Myanmar (Burma) or at least the chapter on practical matters. (It cost me less than two bucks for just the one chapter and my curiosity got the better of me. Here is what they say about weights and measures:

1 Burmese viss or 100 ticals = 3.5 lbs; 1 gaig = 36 in; petrol is sold by the gallon [sic]; distances are in miles, not kilometres.

Since I believe the books are published in the UK, they must be referring to an Imperial and not a U.S. gallon. I noted in one of their (free) excerpts from another part of the book that they referred to the length of a particular railway journey in kilometres, which I presume was done for the benefit of their (UK) readers. In the chapter I downloaded, they also refer to customs regulations as follows (in part):

Visitors are permitted to bring in the following items duty free: 400 cigarettes, 100 cigars, 250g of tobacco, 2L of liquor and 0.5L of perfume.

While these values may be conversions to metric for the UK reader, I suspect that the rational amounts listed indicate that these are the values announced and enforced by the customs authorities, which I presume means the officers look at the metric values listed on the labels of the good brought into the country and ignore any Imperial or USC indications. But of course I cannot know this for sure just from this excerpt.”

It would be useful to know if the Lonely Planet guide has been updated to reflect the current situation.

After decades of isolation, Myanmar is opening its borders and there are the beginnings of a tourist industry. If any of our readers have recent first-hand experience of the country, perhaps visiting Rangoon or the new capital, Naypyidaw, we should be pleased to hear from them.

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One Response to Metric in Myanmar – an update

  1. Daniel Jackson says:

    On 2019-05 -20, the metric system is expected to get a new look. The change of the kilogram from an artifact to a natural standard could be and should be a new chance for the whole world to reevaluate their present metric usage. Those nations that have done little to those have have been slacking should use this time as a means to complete the metrication process.

    Whereas Myanmar is metricating, it is doing so planless. Mostly, backwards 3-rd world countries not yet in any development cycle continue to use pre-metric units. Mostly the Caribbean Island nations and places like Belize.

    Liberia is the only place in Africa openly not metric. Other countries might be pretty much metric but due to lack of industrialisation their usage will vary. It is difficult to ascertain the extent that Liberia is metric due to its primitiveness but like Myanmar it is surrounded by metric countries or countries depending on developed metric countries for goods and services, that by stealth it is somewhat metric.

    I believe that once the US is completely dethroned as a world power and Europe and China take its place, the status quo will end and metrication will be completed in the areas it is lacking.

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