Sunday, March 29, 2015

Rangoon (in flux)

When I arrived in Yangon I was struck by the Indianness of it - or, more specifically, how Kolkata it was. I put this down to the obvious factors: both of these cities are ex British colonies, with buildings like that one pictured above (maybe an old school?). There is something deeply satisfying about seeing these strange, transplanted visions wrapped and overtaken by the land they are actually in. Plants growing out of the window, squatters making them into homes, cats skiving class in empty classrooms. 

Apart from this, in both Kolkata and Yangoon the vast majority of people wear local traditional dress, as opposed to the ubiquitous jeans and t-shirts of the rest of my known Asia. The stacks of newspapers. The frantic markets. The copious book stands (Myanmar had to apply for special exemption with international aid agencies; their literacy rate is so high it was diluting their poverty statistics and skewing their ranking on the development index).  

Most of Yangon is very busy; it is a city famous for it's traffic and hours spent in cars. Car horns, 9 minute long red lights and a huge pedestrian population. The streets are not peaceful, and the pictures in this post might give the wrong impression; an impression of emptiness. 

All the same, right beside the busiest highways and byways there is an area which was introduced to me as 'the secret garden.' If you want to sell something to me, calling it 'the secret garden' is a really great start - it is a story I grew up with and identify with perhaps too strongly. 

In Yangon, it constitutes a fenced off area filled with crumbling, usually empty buildings. I feel like this is a pretty 'full' blog post, but the truth is I have only touched on what is available; partly for reasons of editing and partly because some places deserve their own post, later on. 

Below: an old hotel. There were security guards. I asked them, in Burmese, "it's hot, isn't it?" and we had a very short (my Burmese/ their English) conversation, before I motioned that I'd like to wander about in the hotel they were guarding. They were taken aback, but I pointed at my camera, which is suitably imposing and gives the impression I might be here on some formal business (also a disadvantage depending on the context). In any case, the guards were quite easy to persuade and they even found me two bemused guides. 

According to my guides, this hotel was 'built' (not finished) 3 years ago by the Chinese/ the Army and is now being demolished/ finished. It is a mystery. 
Anyway, here is a nice empty room:

Even emptier: 

And, next door, a complete room:

Further down the path you pass a gang of feral dogs (harmless) and come to this. I call it "the Stable" and imagine it filled with ghost horses. 


Walking along this path you can hear the busy roads, only a few hundred metres away, backup up and furious. 

Remains of a cult meeting

In the evening, I sat on the roof of the Alfa Hotel and looked over the area I'd just explored. I stayed at this hotel for two weeks, where I could pretend I was a low-level business lady circa 1987. The rooftop bar is actually just a concrete area, but the staff are charming and the gin and tonics are correct. 

These kinds of views - hodgepodge architecture, temples and organic growth bursting forth - are what I'm doing with my life at the moment.