Juxtapositions of Yangon, Myanmar

Walking through time in Myanmar.

Right off the plane, it was trip back through time. We are in the 1950s and we are in a country called Myanmar. Except, in 1950, we call it Burma because that's what the occupying country could pronounce.
(Myanmar is too confusing to say and spell.)


The car had been arranged by the hotel where we have one night's stay, per usual, so we search for our chauffeur. Except, when you think of chauffeur, you probably think of a car, probably a black one, with leather interior. In this case, it is an austere brown van that is lacking modern accessories like seat belts and a window that closes fully. D's seat, whose is next to mine, is a bit damp (read: soaked) because of the incoming rain.

The van is surely not going to make it to our hotel destination.  It creaks, it rattles, and it also lacks fully functioning suspension. Despite the odds, we make it. Both our driver and his right hand man, as skeptical as we were upon walking into the car, have been extremely pleasant. Almost everyone we meet in Myanmar is pleasant and helpful, unlike the people of its developed neighbor, Thailand.

Infrastructure is good... if it was actually 1950. The country was modern at a point in time. It may have even been glamorous. In hindsight, it reminds me a lot of Serbia. Both countries had catastrophic changes in government and circumstance. Myanmar/Burma in the 1950s, and Serbia in the 1990s. Both are still structurally in their respective eras, with limited maintenance of the existing structure.

Sidewalks are completely broken. Completely, utterly, unapologetically. In many cases, they are not even there. Existing at some point, they exist no longer. Left are a piles of rubble and concrete. Water does not drain, even, and especially, in Yangon. Walking around the center of the city is going through a rock jungle gym made. Because machine gun and tanks have not roamed the streets in Myanmar on a large scale, nor have bullets been shot or bombs been dropped, it would be difficult describing it as a war zone. It would also be difficult describing it as a ghost town that was abandoned, as the streets are constantly crowded with people.

Before dawn, the Buddhist monks are awake to pray and chant. More devoted followers also wake to pray as well as give alms to the monks. Nearly every male in Myanmar spends a summer, or several summers, at a monastery adapting to a monk lifestyle. Most return to their normal lives while others pursue life at the monastery.

Broken sidewalks and drainage be damned, the monasteries and the places of faith have maintained much of their grandeur and mystery and none better than the Schwedagon Pagoda in the middle of Yangon. A place of great importance for the Buddhist faith in Myanmar, walking around the golden-touched grounds of this pagoda was a small peek into the every day life of a Myanmar person. Ironically enough, this was also the only place where we got acquainted with the number of tourists, which was not many,  running through Yangon.

On temple grounds, every corner, every statue, has a barefoot, devoted follower lighting incense, praying while sitting on their side, and searching for enlightenment.

Downtown, the well-kept British colonial hotel stands luxurious along with certain government buildings while other buildings in the neighborhood are crumbling. A nearby garden has perfect grounds and an imposing statue with a dozen landscapers using sheers to cut the grass, surrounded by a road that is more a collection of potholes than a road.

Juxtaposition is just beginning to scratch the surface of the city of Yangon.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool Iv Pav, we just subscribed to your blog. Looking forward to reading more. How long were you in Myanmar for? We agree the people were SO nice there.