Present Time in MyanmarThe Present in Myanmar
Walking a road between past and present
In many ways, the downtown Yangon city' s colorful monuments are treasuries, not least because so many of them are now manned by young bankers. Other people, like building, are standing as silent witnesses of another epoch, while they are a part of it. The Yangon has preserved more structure from its colonisation than any other South East Asia capitol, though hardly in the tradition of preservation.
This is the proposal of the Yangon Heritage Trust, organizer of the hike, which took me and other like-minded people to the storm. As the Yangon Heritage Trust walk will show, the town did not begin and end with the colonialist age. "Globe city: Yangon's Past, Present and Future", a small show in the YHT's individual room, exhales the ecopolitical, east-western culture blend that could have been the inspiration for the evolution of "Rangoon" in London or New York in the 1960s.
There are the pale colored cards of a smaller, more simple but still recognizable city; there is a photograph of a traditional clothed lady with a hive hairstyle that would not have caused an eyebrow in a swaying Carnaby Street store, or a café on Bleecker Street. Looking out of the windows, our group of six is shown the dome house, which in former days accommodated the General Accountant's office and is now the penal tribunal.
"It' a federal bench now," our leader, Mr No, tells us. So' s the house next to it. Many of Yangonís historic structures have been rebuilt as general public sector structures and banking structures in particular. Then we wiggle on and drift through the sofa house, which is clad with its pristine 1901 slates.
Then we drive through the Burma Translation Society and Ascott and Co premises (now a govermental bank) and drop back to Strand Road. On Seikkantha we are told not to take any pictures of the next building: It' a federal bench now. Along the way to the historic secretarial office on Bo Aung Kyaw Street we are comparing three different era houses - postwar, 1990s and postwar - side by side, taking off our caps in front of the Armenian church (opposite the Good Time Hotel) and visiting a run-down house that YHT wants to refurbish.
In Bogale Zay Street, where the secretarial office is located in the far away, we stop to listen to the tale of Pablo Neruda's time in Yangon. "These are the anaesthetics and this is Yangon, his tale, hiding in the tiles and marbles of the everyday structures that were here before us all and may also be here after we are gone, dressed in a new series of tales that still need to be retell.
Yangon Trust is working with the Yangon City Development Committee to restore the former capitol and protect both the historic structures and the localities in them. Maybe the YHT itself has been explained to us during the trip. When we reach the secretariat we see the setting twilight and we are tired and dissatisfied when something good comes to an end.
It takes more than two lessons to transmit such an inheritance. On the next morning, the free hike of Studio Yangon under the direction of Angela drew a much larger multilingual group of 25 group. The Sule Pagoda began at the beginning of Yangon's story, leaving more time for tales along the way.
At each stop, the additional two-minute break gave her time to shoot stories around the building. Beyond the former office of Bombay-Burmese Trading Co. she even had the time to tell us the story of the Third Anglo-Burmese War and to connect it with the UK's desire for tea. She has a full-time position, but runs at least one trip a weeks.
How does she enjoy guiding free of charge visitors around the town? The Yangon Heritage Tours (US$30) take place on Wednesday and Saturday at 10am and 4pm. Yangon walks are free of charge at 4 pm on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.