03 August 2013

yangon "living"

a few weeks ago at bogyoke aung san (scott) market.

this month in yangon feels long - dad's work means we're basically stuck in the city with few touristy things to do and loads of time to fill. so we've had to settle into a routine and spend time hanging out or doing things we'd be doing at home. with the exception of our few hectic days in thailand, this has been unlike a typical summer vacation trip which, like our time in turkey or south africa, is a busy amalgamation of tours and sights and a frenzied rush from place to place in an effort to see the highlights of an entire country in just three weeks.

we've settled into a bit of a routine and figured out how to entertain ourselves and structure our days. we've read plenty and traded the books we brought among us. everyone's been working out: i've practiced yoga and tae kwon do (not as much as i should, though), tiger's kicked the soccer ball, and mom and dad have been running with elsa, who's training for field hockey. elsa, tiger, and i are taking art classes nearly every day, each of us focusing slightly different media, including acrylics, pencil drawing, and sand painting.

i learned that i much prefer drawing to painting.

apparently typewriting is still a valuable skill.

we've picked favorite restaurants. (who knew yangon would have a hole-in-the-wall delivery place with some of the best pizza we've ever had?) 

focus on what's important.

my favorite local dish: myanmar lentil soup.

random soft serve shop that only serves one flavor, one size, for one thousand kyats - and as far as we've seen, one customer: us. they only turn on the lights and the ice cream machine after we've ordered.

at a different ice cream place: takeaway involves little cups in individual plastic bags.

we've made friends with our repeat taxi drivers, who ask, shocked, "how long are you staying here?!" since most families are in and out of the city in a night or two. we've walked the kandawgyi lake bridge path in every direction.

other times we fill days with more tourist-type activities. we had a lovely half-day guided walk around downtown yesterday. we explored buildings that are relics of yangon's colonial heyday around the 1920s, when it was a beautiful, fashionable, wealthy, and modern city. we walked into the department store where george orwell once shopped for books (!!) and the mansion-sized, century-old townhouse of an indian merchant family.

the townhouse we entered.

the buildings still have their intricate facades, beautiful teak staircases, and expensive floor tiles from manchester.

george orwell climbed these steps.

now, however, those same structures appear to be falling apart. they're full of squatters or divided into tiny apartments, and they haven't been maintained in decades. there are no litter laws; i literally saw someone throw trash out her second-story window. garbage collects on the streets, in alleys, and on top of awnings below the windows from which it is tossed. the old department store's courtyard was particularly disgusting: what was once a tiled area where children played is now home to footlong rats scurrying over a sea of junk.

luckily this photo isn't high enough quality to see the rats.

we stumbled upon a show opening at an art gallery in that same former department store.

we saw prettier aspects to the city too, though. a chaotic, busy, and loud hindu temple and the city's lone synagogue were fascinating respites.

the temple from the street.

there used to be thousands of baghdadi jews in burma. now, there are only 45.

the market was full of colorful produce as well as recently-dead fish, chickens, and even frogs. i have never been more glad to be a vegetarian, since i felt no hypocrisy in being absolutely revolted by the sight of the roadside butchers. i didn't take pictures - i'm sparing everyone that one.

a spice shop.

pay phone, anyone?

i also observed one of my dad's classes on democracy. the students were a collection of burmese dissidents with incredible backstories - political prison, village leadership, an ongoing social media campaign to stop arrests of transgendered people.

we even took an indian cooking class!

we've got one more week of this semi-"living" arrangement, so i'm going to make the most of it.

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