travel bite: Yangon (Rangoon), Burma

THE city’s streets are dark. At intervals there is the odd fluorescent tube, a candle, a dim shop light. Sounds and smells become guides. Uneven terrain is blindly navigated underfoot.

In what light there is a man is spied on his back, spreadeagled, his body contained within a metal framed trailer. It is parked in the middle of the pavement – he is fast asleep, oblivious to those around him.

Then the betel nut booths appear. Every few paces – stationed by a light or having brought their own – the vendors brush palm sized green leaves with a wash of white paste before stuffing and rolling tight parcels to order.

The following block offers a sprawling void. Heading into darkness it is a surprise to see a grand colonial red brick building loom into view. Eyes brought down to ground level a fence of solid bars is noticed, barbed wire spiraling its top. As the form reveals itself further the appearance of a castle takes shape. A gutter posing as a moat is sunken between the first and a second fence.

Mid-block arches can be seen flickering. Fires burn, cauldrons steam, and sheets billow on a line. A TV plays somewhere further within. The odd person moves between crumbling walls leading to a courtyard deeper inside the complex.

When curious eyes are finally drawn away from the strange, eerily silent, smokey scene they come to settle upon two guards. One crouched. One standing. Faces mutely staring out through barriers. Watching; not watching.

It is hard not to become transfixed by the presence of life beyond the walls of this unmarked, unmapped building. Who are the men, women and children, tending to apparently mundane activities in the glow of rubble? Are guards necessary? Who are they protecting – those within? Or those that are outside?

Lingering, the mind roams. But it is entering the realm of fantasy – refugees, religious sect, the occult – and by daylight it shall be revealed that there is in fact nothing sinister surrounding the goings on.

But the stage is set, the atmosphere absorbed. It is time to move on out of the darkness and into the (relative) light.

This time strips of fluorescent tubing are strung up at abstract angles in a cluster. It is not enough illumination though. Venturing through a throng of market sellers – colourful fresh produce piled high on the ground – thick wooden chopping boards are revealed bearing candles crudely stuck into slabs of raw meat. Bald chickens are on display, legs splayed up in the air. Fresh fish – bodies severed – and small heaps of their dried out friends line up by the feet of passers by.

And this time there is an audio accompaniment emerging out of Yangon’s darkness, permeating the medieval scene. A dull repetitive thud of rough blades, cutting through flesh into solid, blood soaked, wood.

Now that the scene has been set, here is Yangon by light…

One Response to “travel bite: Yangon (Rangoon), Burma”
  1. Carrie Haines says:

    Your sharp eye and ear always captures the moment.

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