Burmese Chronicles, continued


Burma is an open society. Most of life happens in plain view. There is an overwhelming sense of connectedness. Everybody’s acts are exposed.

burma-01Yangon cats are always lean. Unlike the monks.

chaosTraffic is the worst part of Yangon. The easiest way to get around the city is by taxi. They are everywhere.  The destructive effect of the car – as a transportation concept – is visible in every country but Burma is one of the worst examples. Not just the ecology but the destruction of the city as a communal form of living.

In fact, what the car does is turns every city to an anti-city. (The city as the idea of “Agora” in the  Antiquity.)  Most of us were born in anti-cities so we don’t know any better. But it pains me to see the destruction of a living Agora that’s going on right in front of you.


The massive invasion of cars is rapidly destroying both the ecology and the human connection. The traditional velo-taxis are still popular but they are assaulted by these road monsters.


People are poor but everyone seems to own a massive Japanese SUV. It certainly feels like Japan dumps its used cars here.

Japanese cars are made for driving on the left. The Burmese drive on the right. The chaos is unbelievable.

Most of Yangon consists of narrow streets with no sidewalks.  Every driver beeps when they approach you. The locals don’t seem to car  but it drives westerners crazy!


When it’s lunchtime, everybody goes out (or inside an air-con mall – depending on one’s income.)

Street dogs appear absolutely comfortable. Nobody minds them and there’s plenty of food. I heard rumors  that the government poisons them.



Lunch is a communal ritual thousands of people partake daily.


All business is done in cash. The Myanmar currency is called Kyat (pronounced chut). She keeps the bills in a plastic bag. Some people carry massive wads of cash.

It’s still a very cheap country. But the times are a-changing. Next year it would probably be a different country. More “advanced” in the Western sense. More banks, Burger Kings, ATMs, and alas even more cars.

Yangon: the ultimate time machine

You will see glimpses of modern brands and lots of new cars from Japan but the overall feel of the city is like you just landed into Orwell’s Burmese Chronicles. (Orwell spent a few years in Yangon as a police chief.)

Buddhist monks are the most common persons on the street. These are girls (pink robes.)
The male garb is maroon.

Here’s a group of well-off Burmese in the new shopping area. Regardless of age and class, most men wear Longyi.

The average Burmese live in slums with all their belongings in the open view. There are lots of raw areas in Yangon. It’s like being transported 200 years back, to the time of Anglo-Burmese wars.

I photographed the Yangon grit  with a film Leica in black and white. (This is another project.)
Burma (Myanmar) is the easiest country to photograph. People are overwhelmingly friendly. They don’t ask money for it (like they do in some other poor countries.)

And they won’t make a face and demand to delete the picture like the French and Moroccans practice.

Woodcarving is huge in Yangon. The reason is that all these elaborate decorations that you see on the local monasteries (and there is a monastery on every street) are made of wood and painted. As they decay fairly quickly replacements are ordered.

Jade jewelry and Burmese fabrics are also popular.

It seems like kids take care of other kids. All life goes in the open street. Unlike Latin America, the Burmese poverty does not lead to crime and violence. Go figure.

With respect, you can approach anybody with your camera. People show dignity and friendliness.

The Shwedagon pagoda behind the trees and the monasteries around it. The pagoda is gilded, but most of the monastery decorations are carved wood, painted (usually) or plated with gold.

This young man is finalizing a large snake that needs to be painted.