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Yangon? Rangoon? Who Cares?

The General Sure Does.

By Jason Hart


            The city of Yangon, Myanmar is truly a testament to the military regime’s attempt to “transform the city in line with commercial, strategic and ideological goals, as discussed by Donald Seekin in “The State and The City”. Although the military presence itself is not extremely apparent in human form around the city, its ideological presence can be witnessed in many forms. While traveling through the city I witnessed many billboards that described malignance toward political dissidents. These signs attempted to influence the people of the city into reporting pro democracy activities and organization against the military regime. Other signs described how those caught transporting illegal drugs could be sentenced to death.

            The city’s aesthetic are also the conscious will of the regime. For example, most buildings appear a bit dilapidated with rusting tin roofs and mold growing on the colonial era brick. These buildings house both commercial enterprises and the residents themselves. At the same time, there is a sharp contrast between these buildings and the immaculate pagodas that can be found throughout the city. The government has sponsored the construction of these beautiful religious sites, in what seems to be an effort to convince the masses to look toward the supernatural realm, or the next life, as to avoid the conditions of this earthly existence. This phenomenon seems to be pretty effective, in that the population seems entirely unwilling to express any uneasiness with the regime. While in and around conversations, I heard low mutterings of discontent, but no single Burmese citizen I spoke with was willing to outright criticize the government.

            It was interesting that when the Burmese spoke of their government they consistently used the pronoun “they”. For example, my tour guide discussed how “they” (the government) had recently built the bridge that we were crossing, or the process by which “they” passed legislation. In the United States, all but those who feel severely disenfranchised use the pronoun “we” to describe government activity. Even when an American individual disagrees with the action being discussed, he or she will still often use the same pronoun. For example, when I describe the war in Iraq (an action I did not support from its outset) I still say “We invaded Iraq”, because I feel as though I am part of the nation who made such decisions, whether they were good decisions or not. The Burmese do not feel this sense of identity with the political activities around them, and they should not, because they are well aware that their lives are being influenced and manipulated by a force that currently appears to them to be out of their control.


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