“Yangon: scenes from the end of strife”

Yangon, Myanmar. November 2019 (13 photos)

This is Part 10 of my posts about Myanmar, and Part 13 of my posts about my near month-long visit to Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore in November 2019.

Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is the largest city in Myanmar with a population of over 7 million. The name Yangon is derived from the combination of the Burmese words ‘yan’ and ‘koun’, which mean ‘enemies’ and ‘run out of’, respectively. This word combination is commonly translated as ‘End of Strife’. It’s rather ironic given the history of Yangon and Myanmar. Anyway, here are some photos from Yangon: Scenes from the end of strife…

“Monk’s residence”

Yangon boasts the largest number of colonial-era buildings in Southeast Asia. Note the Burmese script on the boundary fence. Burmese is written from left to right and requires no spaces between words.

“Birds on wires”

Yangon used to be the capital of Myanmar. In November 2005, the ruling military government designated Naypyidaw, 320 kilometres north of Yangon, as the new administrative capital, and subsequently moved much of the government to the newly developed city which to this day remains a relative ghost-town.

According to David Eimer*, the military Head of State at the time was advised by his fortune teller that Myanmar faced an impending attack from the West. Therefore moving the capital inland to the centre of the country, away from the sea, would make it harder for any invading army to capture him. Myanmar is a profoundly superstitious nation, and the ruling military government had an official board of astrologers to advise them.

“Where will the children play?”

Buildings in Yangon are in various states of decay and infrastructure is inadequate compared to other South East Asian cities. It’s a lot worse in the outlying areas.

“Concrete canyon”

Heat and humidity contribute to accelerated decay in this and other areas of South East Asia.

“Market economy”

Myanmar is very much a market economy. Markets and food stalls spring up on many streets, day and night.

“Street market”

But the streets aren’t necessarily closed to traffic just because there is a market there. Trucks and cars simply drive right over food displays left in the middle of the road. Not as hectic as the Maeklong Railway Market in Thailand, but still just as unusual.

“On the streets of Yangon”

Markets are very colourful places.

“The Sule Pagoda”

That’s the Sule Pagoda in the background, on a roundabout in the heart of downtown Yangon. According to legend, it was built before the Shwedagon Pagoda during the time of the Buddha, making it more than 2,600 years old. The Sule Pagoda has been the focal point of both Yangon and Burmese politics. It has served as a rallying point in both the 1988 uprisings and 2007 Saffron Revolution. Yangon, not exactly the end of strife.

But I wanted to point out something not immediately obvious and perhaps difficult to appreciate. The oncoming white sedan in the foreground of the centre lane is a right-side drive vehicle. Behind it is a truck (in front of the bus) which is a left-side drive vehicle.

Until 1970, all vehicles in Myanmar were right-side drive and cars drove on the left side of the road, as many countries do. According to David Eimer*, in 1970 the military Head of State suddenly switched the side of the road people drive on, after his astrologer informed him that Myanmar was drifting to the left politically.

Being a poorer country, most cars in Myanmar are still older right-side drive vehicles, including every taxi I rode in.

“The Bus stop”

Again, note the bus is left-side drive and the taxi next to it is right-side drive.

I would have liked to have watched that woman with all those baskets balanced on her head get onto a bus, but it didn’t happen. At the time, I was more concerned about crossing the road and surviving.

Here are some observations about traffic in Yangon:

1. Pedestrians have no rights. Anything on wheels will not stop for you. I saw many almost hit by cars. Whenever I wanted to cross the road, I stood “downstream” of a native Burmese person, copying their movements and using them as a human shield.

2. Pedestrian crossings are for decoration only. Cars will not stop for you if you are on one. I saw people standing in the middle of the road for over 5 minutes waiting for a break in the traffic to complete their crossing.

3. Roads are marketplaces too. Vendors walk around cars stopped in traffic selling eggs, water, etc.

4. Until recently, most cars in Myanmar were second hand cars ex-Japan.

5. Motorbikes are banned in Central Yangon. According to David Eimer*, this may be because a senior member of the military government was once hit by a motorbike.

“Off the back of the truck”

Man sleeping on boxes of Glan Master (local whiskey brand) in the back of a moving truck.

“Seen better days”

The stripped interior of an abandoned plane.

“Other scenes from the end of strife”

A parade of child nuns in Yangon. I’ll have more from Yangon later.

*David Eimer is a former South East Asia correspondent for The Daily Telegraph (UK) and the South China Morning Post. He wrote a book about his time living in Myanmar entitled: A Savage Dreamland – Journeys in Burma. It was published a few months before my trip. I saw it by chance and bought it – it provided a fascinating insight about Myanmar.

…..

This is Part 10 of my posts about Myanmar, and Part 13 of my posts about my near month-long visit to Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore in November 2019.

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

Yangon: Scenes from the end of strife

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80 thoughts on “Yangon: Scenes from the end of strife

  1. These are brilliant images, Lignum!! The last one with one of the boys looking back at you is amazing for the timing and how you captured that fleeting moment… The urban architecture is striking… Glad you’ve survived the traffic to capture all those colorful details πŸ™‚

    • Thank you very much, Alex, but I must correct you on one point. Those are young girls/nuns in the last photo, heads shaved. I only know that because they wore pink. LOL πŸ™‚ Yes, I was happy to get a photo with one of them looking back.
      Yes, the buildings are in various stages of dilapidation and it looks like Nature is trying to take them back.
      A couple of times I gave up trying to cross the street where I was, and instead walked a couple of extra blocks to find a better place to cross.

  2. That’s a very clever trick, staying downstream of a local and following them. Must be something you learned in secret agent school.😎 Fabulous photos as always. There’s something fascinating to me about urban decay.

    • Yes, skills learnt on the job often become useful in real life. πŸ™‚ And you can’t trust walk signs at intersections either!
      Thanks, Julie. I guess urban decay reminds us of our transient time on this planet.

  3. I appreciate how you included a little of everything in your article with the photos being the icing on the cake. The entomology, politics, real life glimpses, practical advice and wry humour.

  4. What an experience! Those crowded tiny flats in the first photo, I cannot imagine living in such conditions with a family. And seeing that chap in the back of the truck, I just cringe to think what would happen to him if the driver had to stop suddenly. Great photos as usual LD and the little girl looking at you in the end one is so perfect!

    • Thank you, Jude. Life is certainly different in Myanmar. Rules and regulations we take for granted don’t exist there, apart from being given a bit of lip-service. Yes, apartments look small and buildings derelict. I hate to think what plumbing is like and mould on buildings is a common sight. They banned motorbikes, so you don’t see 6 people crammed onto a bike like you do elsewhere in South East Asia but traffic is chaotic nonetheless. The experience of travel can be very eye-opening.

        • I guess we all need to see what the status of international borders and air travel is in a few months. No point going on a 1 week holiday if you have to go into 2 weeks isolation at either end of the trip. But they are talking about reestablishing travel between Australia and NZ, so that might be the only option for a while, if it eventuates.

  5. It has a surreal feeling. Surely those buildings are holding each other up? And so narrow! How can the fruit look so good and the homes so bad? And the contrast with the modern stuff. Definitely an assault on the senses, Draco. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • An eye-opening sight and experience, Jo. The urban decay is not as bad as in Havana but I’d hate to be living in those conditions. Despite that, there’s plenty of colour, the people are friendly and the smiles are genuine.

  6. Seeing those tiny, decaying apartments make me wonder whether people there are “staying in” during the virus and how difficult it would be to have to do so. What a difficult life they must live, even to crossing a street!

    janet

  7. Thanks a lot for the insight, Draco. Especially about right hand/left-hand driving and the influence of astrologists.

    I’ve been on the verge of going to Myanmar a few times but always backed out at the end.

    • Glad to provide some useful insight. Yet, I didn’t see any crashes in my time there. I guess if you’re used to the system, you get by. If you’re going to go, go sooner rather than later, whilst tourism is still a relatively new phenomenon there.

  8. Excellent photos, as always. So full of life and people, and that makes me wonder how will these people survive during this Corona time. Seven million people very close to each others, we have only 5 million people in the whole country, and Corona is spreading all over.

  9. I had no idea that it could be translated to “End of Strife” ironic indeed.
    I live in England and we own two cars, a right-hand drive and a left-hand drive. The most difficult thing about switching between the two is actually the fact that one is a five-speed and one is a six-speed.

    • That’s interesting. I would have thought it would take some getting used to. I know when I switch between Japanese and European cars, the side of the left/right turn indicator lever gets me every time.
      Sorry for the delayed reply. Been a bit busy recently and needed a break from blogging.

      • No Worries on the delay, I think that’s the nice thing about blogging you really can take breaks, the internet will still be around when you get back.
        I remember the first time I drove in Australia, always turning on the windshield wipers to indicate a turn πŸ™„Drove myself nuts with that at first.

  10. A different life – but the same world – somehow. So many lovely images and the last one is special too. Thank you for taking us – again.

  11. I love how you take us on a virtual world tour while we’re seated on our sofas, swiping our devices. Amazing pictures which capture a slice of life! Great job, thank you!

  12. Super photos Mr Draco as always. I too wondered what it would be like confined to those apartments in lockdown. Good to hear that you were being very cautious when crossing the road!

    • Thanks, Julie. I think I’d go stir crazy in one of those apartments, and I’m a city slicker! Maybe I need a T-shirt saying “I survived Yangon traffic”. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you. Traffic in Yangon had me quite worried at times – even froze a few times working out how to cross the road. All part of the thrill of the travel experience.

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