Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


Horizontal and Vertical Tensions in Myanmar

By Sarah Grimaldi

    I stayed in Yangon the entire time in Myanmar. This city that once was the capital of the country has historical, economic, and political significance. The importance of Yangon is shown through the pagodas and colonial buildings that are scattered amongst the city. The transnational neighborhoods dominate the city, and it was striking to see a large colonial-era building amongst the small houses and buildings. There were juxtapositions between the transnational and vernacular architecture everywhere in Yangon. One day we were driving through the city and came across a neighborhood with several local vegetable markets and hut like homes. A few minutes later we were driving past an estate that was being constructed for the elite. These neighborhoods reminded me of the billboards in China for the transnational gated communities. A community such as this seemed out of place considering its surroundings of homes without paint, cement, or backyards.

            As mentioned in the reading of Donald Seekins, there were examples of the vertical versus horizontal power throughout the city. I observed several black market stands for money exchanges that our tour guide pointed out to us. As the state is trying to reassert vertical power, the attempts of the urban population to exercise its horizontal power were evident. The Shwe Dagon Pagoda is a key example of monumental Buddhism to acquire legitimacy and deter resurfacing of democratic movement and horizontal power. The vernacular, transnational, horizontal, and vertical juxtapositions in Yangon were absolutely mind boggling. I am hopeful to see Myanmar move forward as a country but the horizontal and vertical tensions must be solved before the change can take place.


Return to course home page Send me your comments: