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Southeast Asia, explained

Myanmar's first-ever New Year's countdown

At last, a big, messy and joyous countdown
Myanmar4Enlarge
People wait before the countdown to the New Year near the Shwe Da Gon pagoda and Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon on December 31, 2012. Some 50,000 people were expected to gather at the revered golden Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon for the city's first public countdown to the New Year and fireworks. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)

Focusing on the long toil for big-issue freedoms in Myanmar -- free elections or freedom from land-grabbing army battalions -- can sometimes overshadow the small pleasures that were forbidden by the former military regime.

Like getting tipsy and joining thousands of compatriates in a New Year's countdown.

But last night, at Yangon's resplendent Shwedagon Pagoda, the citizens were allowed to do just that, the Associated Press reports. One organizer told news outlet The Irrawaddy that roughly 50,000 were expected to turn out. (GlobalPost has posted a slideshow of the gala.)

Large and uncontrollable gatherings on this scale have long been prohibited in Myanmar, an authoritarian nation on the mend.

This giant New Year's bash, standard fare in most countries, is just one of many signs that the nation is swinging towards normalcy. Still, given Myanmar's odd time zone, which is 30 minutes off from its neighbors, the nation was largely alone in celebrating at the stroke of midnight. Only Australia's remote Cocos Islands -- population 600 -- share the same time zone.

It's impossible to neatly sum up Myanmar's 2012, a year that saw draconian laws relaxed and U.S. President Barack Obama's historic visit along with intense ethnic violence both in the mountains along China's border and the tropical coast. This year may prove whether Myanmar's reform movement is really powerful enough to tame the nation's worst abuses.

But here's to a less bloody and more free Myanmar in 2013.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/myanmars-first-ever-new-years-countdown