“Yangon: scenes from the end of strife”
Yangon, Myanmar. November 2019 (13 photos)
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…
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.
Heat and humidity contribute to accelerated decay in this and other areas of South East Asia.
Myanmar is very much a market economy. Markets and food stalls spring up on many streets, day and night.
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.