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I found my grandfather's old home five years ago at the end of a dirt road in the heart of Yangon, Myanmar. Half a hundred years ago, my grandpa was U Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations, but before that he was an official in Myanmar. It was a state chalet and part of Windermere Park, a green area first constructed in the 1920s for the Colonies.
Carefully renovated, the building is now a U Thant Living Room, open to the public, and a place to discuss the topics that were most important to him, as well as the most important aspects of his work, namely people' s freedoms, which are certainly more needed today than ever before. It' an example of Yangon's effort to preserve its legacy.
In the direction of the riverbank there are other delicate renovations, among them the former Glasgow company office buildings erected around the turn of the last millennium, when the Scots ruled the place, such as the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company with its imposing Dorian pillars. The renovation is being carried out in the magnificent office made of scarlet bricks, located in the centre of the city, and in the 130-year-old Pegu Club, where Rudyard Ki-pling designed the road to Mandalay for the first time.
What is impressive is that Yangon city centre has more than 2,000 pre-war structures within a sq. m. of 60 roads with five highways. It' not just the building. They are a marvellous mixture of peoples of many religions, tongues and background, an example of intolerance in a land plagued by gun battle and racial clean-up.
There is the beautiful Mogul Shia Mosque with its schist gray miniature sheets and Italian stone stairs; and, one brick away, the Musmeah Yeshua Synogue, constructed in 1896 by the then flourishing Bagdadi Jews, has since been renovated and open to all. Strangely, this legacy is still preserved because the former army regimes kept the land in isolation from the outside worlds.
Only in the mid-1990s were several hundred old Yangon homes torn down, sidewalks torn down and inexpensive houses quickly built. Now, however, nature conservators are working to stop Yangon from becoming another unscheduled, vast, clogged South East Asia town as fast as the development team.
This is the city's test: to modernise and maintain, which offers a golden age for protecting multi-culturalism and reinventing metropolitanism.