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Doctored Perceptions of Rangoon

Jessica Von Wendel

A global city becomes global by catering to the desires of the global population.  These cities cannot be completely inwardly focused on the vernacular or else risk loosing the appeal that draws in a transnational flow.  Currently, Burma is beginning to establish this image.  Due to the political unrest in the country, the general public’s voice is silenced and only the military dictatorship chooses how to make what was essentially an isolated country into a modern city.  This results in one version of Burma that is portrayed, thus giving the largest city in Burma, Rangoon, an artificially imposed atmosphere.

As I walk down the streets of Rangoon I pass by an Indian district and then a China town.  The presence of these transnational migrants establishes a base for a global city to emerge, but even they fall under the restrictions of the dictatorship.  Other than the people themselves there is little influence of their cultures on the city.

It is primarily Indian men who sell ‘traditional’ Burmese handicrafts and work as money exchangers at the former British Scott Market that is now predominantly designed for tourists.  In Donald M. Seekins’ article, “The State and the City: 1988 and the Transformation of Rangoon”, he describes these populations as “economically active populations of immigrant Indians and Chinese.”  The economically active description of these populations indicates that these migrants are here specifically to raise the status of the city.

b In addition, the staged feeling of the city is emphasized by spectacle buildings.  The construction of these facades attempts to deceive the foreign visitor.  I walked into a little restaurant called AKK near the Indian district of Rangoon.  The restaurant was pleasant, but when I used their restroom I peeked out the back door.  I expected to see an alley, but instead the area was completely closed off, like a courtyard, but with mounds of trash piled stories high.  I asked if it is ever collected.  They just laughed and said it has been piling up for years.  No one ever does anything about it. 

     The real situation of Burma is cleverly kept from the eyes of visitors.  Even transnational migrants must fit into the role that the government decides they must play. Any traveler walking through these streets can pick up on this surreal vibe issuing from both the architecture and people themselves. Unfortunately, this atmosphere is the real, current situation in Burma.  

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