myanmar 2013: running with longyi

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Copyright Kerk Boon Leng July 2013

One hundred and fifteen years after Rudyard Kipling famously described it as a land quite unlike any other you know about, Myanmar in July 2013 is still by any standard a surprising and extraordinary place. Nowhere else will you see, especially not in cities, men with red-stained teeth like vampires going to work in skirts and women coat their faces all day with whitish yellow ground bark. On streets, along dusty country lanes and everywhere where there is a beaten track, barefooted monks in maroon robes walk cradling big black glazed bowls in the blazing sun. In the country’s biggest city, Yangon, the tallest building glows like gold looking neither like a hindu temple, orthodox church, chinese pagoda nor mosque but all four combined.

Myanmar a land of a dozen and more major ethnic groups with partial Tibetan origin is on the fringe of Hindustan but shares mountains, plateaus and rivers with Yunnan province. It is a land where India and China meet exchanging not only ideas and merchandise but also genes.

These days it is a nation running with its longyi ( Burmese styled sarong) into the 21st century. When I first saw Burma a few years ago most people had no access to a phone and a trunk call could only be made in specialist telephone shops paying in US dollar. Today, it seems that almost every adult owns a mobile phone and the only shopping to be had at night in Mandalay is to check out the latest phone gadgets at the rows of brightly lit emporium type stores on the main street. At the traffic lights on our way from Yangon airport into the city a man approached our car window clutching copies of the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar ” Foreign Investment Rules ” for sale. As the traffic began to move we paid him and took two copies.

Myanmar is on the cusp of change. Better days are coming soon for its people who for now are the poorest in Asia with a GDP per person lower than even that of Bangladesh and only half of Pakistan’s. But no matter how normal Myanmar eventually becomes it will always be different from any country you know.

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A pensive moment in the kitchen, Pyay

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Approaching rain clouds over Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

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Doing the buddhist thing by loving all beings big and small, Yangon

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Boats on the Irrawaddy River at Mandalay

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Hats are optional but not the sunglasses in up and coming Yangon

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Free concert in the park, Yangon

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In the late evening after the rain Yangon flaunts its brand of tranquility and beauty

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Fast food kiosk, Yangon

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Waiting outside a clinic in the old city, Yangon

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friendship and umbrellas in the drizzle, Yangon

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A senior staff from the auditors office during morning tea break in Yangon

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Outside the Sagaing hill top pagoda

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Relaxing monks on the U Bein Bridge

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With friends on the U Bein Bridge, Mandalay

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Quail eggs snack vendor in Letpadan a town in south central Myanmar

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Cyclist and fisherman on the U Bein Bridge in Mandalay

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In front of a factory in north Yangon

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Mother and child at their street side stall in Yangon

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Colourful longyis next to garlands of white flowers, Yangon

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Yangon has a historic chinese community

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The British when they ruled merged the country with India in 1886 and made Yangon ( Rangoon) the capital of Burma. As a province of India, Burma saw a huge influx of migrants making the newcomers the majority race and Hindustani-Urdu their lingua franca in pre war Rangoon.

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A bashful plantain seller outside a market in Yangon

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motorcyclist beside the moat of the Mandalay palace

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Shopping for clothes at a morning bazaar in Okkan, a dusty market town some 110 km north of Yangon

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Sitting outside a meal shop in suburban Yangon

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Sprigs as shade against the fierce afternoon sun in Mingun, Upper Myanmar

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The temple in Mingun bearing its iconic earthquake scars

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Well-dressed devotees at the steps of the hill pagoda in Sagaing

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Bathing in the Irrawaddy at Mingun

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Bathing monks at Amarapura

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Files of novice monks at meal time, Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura, Upper Myanmar

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The much photographed U Bein Bridge near Mandalay – at 1.2 km the longest teak wood bridge in the world

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The Irrawaddy River near Mingun

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Fishing in the Irrawaddy near Mingun

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Mandalay

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All images copyright Kerk Boon Leng 2013

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