28 July 2013

stuck in the sixties

after being really sick for over three days, i'm finally (mostly) alive again and ready to explore yangon...

but, um, er, there isn't really that much to explore.

by far my favorite picture of my dad this trip: battling a swarm of pigeons to cross the street in front of sule pagoda.

my grandparents arrived yesterday, so we decided to walk around "downtown" (if you can call it that) and see the more cultural - i.e. colonial, but covered with moss and falling apart - area of the city.

they still use this building as the high court.

it's a sunday, and there weren't many pedestrians, except near markets. the walk was not exactly pleasant. huge gaps in the crumbling, muddy sidewalk reveal the sewage lines underneath, if you haven't smelled them first.

the landmarks are all big, old, british-colonial-era buildings that appear to not have been maintained since the british left burma in 1948. the fanciest hotel, the strand, is, well, nice, but not impressive for supposedly the most expensive hotel in the country. rarely did we come across a bona fide tourist attraction or tourist shop, let alone an actual tourist.

a typical sidewalk.

when a 2,500-year-old pagoda gets in the way of a road you're building... you just put in in a traffic circle.

fortune teller stands circle the base of sule pagoda, inside the traffic circle.

mostly, it's just interesting to see a country stuck in another decade; it really doesn't seem to have progressed since it was closed off to foreigners in the sixties, and it's easy to see how it's become the poorest country in southeast asia. the whole society seems to be a relic of a time before my memory. no credit cards. few cell phones, since sims are strictly controlled by the government. pay phones on every block - and not the london decorative kind; these are manned booths with several little office telephones! the first atms were literally installed two months ago. no one has internet, but every apartment window has a tv satellite dish.

some sort of massive government building that is awesome because it is lavendar-colored.

there are zero international chain restaurants or stores. people shop at the local market, where you can watch a shopkeeper sew an umbrella with an ancient singer sewing machine or cut a pineapple in a perfect spiral shape.

or you can sit down on a plastic stool and pay a few kyats to be served from a piled-high basket of cooked noodles and a plate of fried fish cakes, right on the side of the road. not that i would try that - one bout of food poisoning is enough.

all the better photos in this post were taken by my mom!

went to a normal restaurant instead! 'gold rush' juice: mango, banana, and pineapple. :)

distinctive cultural elements have also survived military rule. nearly every person, man and woman, wears a longyi, a long plaid or embroidered skirt that's actually tube-shaped and tied with a special knot. i literally don't think i've seen someone on the street wearing jeans. loads of people also wear thanaka, a sort of cream or paste made from tree bark, on their cheeks or face. a less charming tradition is the chewing of betel nuts, which stains people's teeth crimson and causes them to spit bright red juice indiscriminately on the sidewalk and street.

and then there's the overwhelming friendliness and helpfulness of every person here. the security guard will show us pictures of his children, or the taxi driver will give us a history of a pagoda in broken english as we drive by. i've felt overwhelmed by crowds and disgusted by filth, but i've never felt unsafe in yangon.

i can't even imagine how myanmar will have changed in the next two years, never mind in ten. we're so lucky to get to see it now.

suffocating in the back of a taxi.

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