Yangon Dispatch

While digging in my box of negatives I discovered this old set of pix from May 2010 in Yangon, Myanmar/ Rangoon, Burma.

We were preparing to leave Singapore to move to France and we wanted to make one last trip to somewhere in South East Asia. Myanmar had always been on our list of must see places. After being under repressive military rule for fifty years many people I knew were not travelling to Myanmar in protest.

But Myanmar’s transition to civilian rule started under a new Constitution that came into effect in May, 2008.

The last window we had to travel was May, the hot season. And it was hot! In the high 30s celsius during the day. Traveling in the off season has its advantages too.

Hotel rooms are abundant and cheap. We stayed at the Inya Lake Hotel. A Soviet designed and built hotel on the lake with huge, high ceilinged rooms. Legend has it that the pool was designed by Nikita Kruschev himself.

And it was a beautiful pool to us hot and sweaty travellers, albeit it was warm as a bath.

The city of Yangon was fascinating and contradictory. Bustling but relaxed. A city visually trapped in the colonial past, a bit faded, a bit battered, and obviously very poor. 

A woman gives her little son a wash on the side of the street in Yangon, Myanmar

There were still very few shiny tower blocks in the downtown area to bring the visitor back to the present. I don't know wether this has changed.

The taxis we rode in were old Japanese cars with non functioning air conditioning. Our ride from the airport had a hole in the passenger side floor through which I could watch the tarmac whiz past.

We saw the important sites such as the Shwedagon Pagoda, and some of the lesser sights.

Western tourists taking photos in the grounds of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

But the highlight for me as a visual storyteller was the Emerald Island Amusement Park on the shore of lake Inya.

The entrance gates to the Emerald Island Amusement Park, Yangon, Myanmar

This must have once been a spectacular, colorful temple of pure joy on a prime piece of real estate on the lake shore.

I spotted the ferris wheel peeking out above the trees from the passenger seat of a battered taxi. After a day of wandering and shooting I thought it would be fun to take my little daughter on some rides.

A stagnant pond and unmaintained walkways at the Emerald Island Amusement Park in Yangon, Myanmar, May 2010. Across Inya lake from the residence of Aung San Suu Kyi is the Emerald Island Amusement Park. It stands neglected and decaying, with the odd visitor, yet somehow still functioning, perhaps symbolic of Burma (Myanmar) itself

Tickets were still being sold for the rides that worked but there didn’t seem to be any people to work the rides. On top of which they didn't look very well maintained or safe.

Toy car ride with no people at the Emerald Island Amusement Park in Yangon, Myanmar

The cafes were derelict with people sleeping in them, including a couple of Burmese soldiers. The tables and chairs on the terraces had been stripped

leaving jagged, bare metal.

Homeless people in a disused cafe at the Emerald Island Amusement Park in Yangon, Myanmar

We didn't go on any of the rides but we wandered the grounds wondering what had happened to this place.

At the time the Myanmar story was dominated bythe corrupt military Junta. People were living in poverty and Aung San Suu Kyi was living under house arrest.

I was working on the picture desk at Reuters in 2007 and photos from Yangon during the uprising by the monks (aka the Saffron revolution) had flashed across my screen as they were processed, vetted and sent out to clients. One of the photos was Adrees Latif's Pulitzer Prize winning picture of a fatallywounded Japanese videographer.

Nearly a decade later has much changed in Myanmar? Aung San Suu Kyi has been freed and has been the de-facto head of the country in her position as State Counsellor since 2016. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate's handling of the Rohingya crisis has been widely condemned.

Members of the old military junta retainmany key positions in government and continue to control the state security apparatus.

Journalists are still being locked up for doing their jobs.

Searching the internet when I got back to Singapore revealed nothing. Not surprising given the state of internet in Myanmar at the time, there was simply no one using it. Even today I cannot find anything.

I only have these photos - a snapshot from that time, that day, that afternoon - isolated by a lack of any real information.

The images give a very subjective view of the place, the country and the park, filtered through my preconceptions about the state of the country as a whole.

This profoundly sad set of images of the Emerald Island Amusement Park symbolizes the faded glory and unfulfilled promise of Myanmar.

#photography #behindthescenes #BTS #charlespertwee #landscape #reportage #hasselblad #analog #filmphotography #documentary #yangon #myanmar #travelswithmyfamily

 © 2020 by Charles Pertwee                        

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Charles Pertwee is a photographer with over 20 years of experience. This site contains images from my extensive archive and new images. All images are available as fine art prints. I am passionate about landscapes, both natural and urban, the built environment and the ocean.