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Myanmar's Amazing Modernization

 
 

Over 20 years have passed since Myanmar began to open up to tourism. For decades, its people had suffered from economic sanctions and the country had been in a deep sleep. Finally, the former British crown colony has awoken and is currently catching up with Western modernity and progress.

The country once known as Burma has strapped off its narrow corset of military rule and is undergoing a rapid transformation, both politically and economically. This change is most evident in the nation’s former capital Yangon, or Rangoon as it was once known. Myanmar’s largest city still serves as the commercial hub with a population of more than five million. State-of-the-art apartments and office buildings are being erected throughout the city, largely financed with the support of foreign investors.

The most striking change is currently taking place near the Sule Pagoda, where several concrete blocks are being constructed, with the first one having reached completion last year. The new Sule Square combines modern office space and commercial functions like luxury retailers, restaurants and a spacious supermarket.

In the narrow alleys in between street vendors, food stalls and fortune tellers line the pavement. Hawkers spread out their newspapers and books while boiling hot oil splashes from a rusty pan of a neighboring snack vendor. Yangon’s city life still takes place on the street and in the shade of its old colonial buildings. Hopefully this cultural heritage does not fall victim to the investors’ greed as the architectural style contributes enormously to the unmistakable charm of this city.

Yangon’s traffic comes to a complete standstill every day, especially in the peak hours, when honking avalanches of cars congest the city’s streets. In order to improve the chaotic traffic situation, the government has started to introduce young female traffic police officers who now control and navigate the increasing amount of vehicles.

According to many Burmese, a lot has improved since the opening of the country and after the elections in 2015. Everyone welcomes the fading appearance of the authoritarian oppression. Political change and economic progress are now being discussed controversially and openly. It seems though as if the rapid transformation of Yangon is happening at an unprecedented pace. Regardless of Yangon’s development over the coming years, the very natural friendliness of its people will surely survive.

Olaf Schuelke is a freelance photographer based in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
Standing on a pedestrian bridge, a Buddhist monk takes a picture of the recently opened Sule Square, a new office and commercial building in central Yangon. Behind it, the similar looking Shangri-La Hotel is seen, which also belongs to the Shangri-La Group.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
A construction worker cleans his teeth with chopsticks during a lunch break. Numerous new buildings are being erected in the former capital with the financial help of foreign investors.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
A Buddhist monk walks by a street vendor who sells calendars and posters. The streets of Yangon are lined with numerous street vendors who sell anything from used electronics, new clothes, shoes, newspapers, and books to live puppies and birds. Since the lifting of the economic sanctions, anything can now be purchased in Yangon; the first Ferraris can already be seen speeding down the bustling streets of the former capital.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
An employee cleans the window of a retail shop that sells luxury watches in the recently opened Sule Square, a new office and commercial building in central Yangon.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
People walk by a retail shop that sells luxury watches in the recently opened Sule Square,.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
Workers unload paper from a truck that is delivered to a local bookbinder in central Yangon.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
People queue up for a free meal during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations in Yangon’s Chinatown district.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
A female dance group performs during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations in Yangon’s Chinatown district.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
A Buddhist novice monk is seen waiting inside a public bus in front of the Sule Pagoda. Most bus services, destinations, and departure times were changed recently and still cause confusion among many passengers.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
Young women participate in a beauty contest at the Maha Bandula Park in central Yangon.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
Male workers take a break and stare at their smartphones.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
A group of female traffic police officers on their way to a break in central Yangon. The government started to introduce young women in uniform in order to get a grip on the city’s chaotic traffic situation, especially during peak hours.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
A view of the daily evening rush hour along Strand Road. A large proportion of the cars are private taxis, whose numbers are increasing on a daily basis. Since there are no more official licenses required, anyone can become a taxi owner.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
Myanmar's Amazing Modernization
A young woman watches the passing traffic below on Strand Road from a pedestrian bridge as she waits for her boyfriend.
Image Credit: Olaf Schuelke
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