We fly to Yangon, until very recently the capital city of Myanmar.
OK, first and foremost, let’s get to the bottom of whether we call it Myanmar or Burma. We asked many people during our 16 days there, and basically the answer is that the people don’t care too much one way or the other, but lean towards the name Myanmar. Myanmar is the original name for the country and it means “Land of the Strong”. The name got changed to Burma by either the Portuguese or the British (some confusion over this) because they found Myanmar hard to pronounce. The Generals then changed it back to Myanmar because they didn’t want to be reminded of their colonial history. The people like the name Myanmar because of its origins, but they are used to calling it Burma . The older people find it hard to change and still call it Burma . The younger people are more inclined to call it Myanmar . But no one seems to see it as a political question, just one of preference and usage. In the interest of fairness I shall refer to it as both.
So here we are in Yangon, or Rangoon as it was called by the British, the old capital of Burma . And as English citizens we grew up knowing it as an exotic far away part of the British Empire , made mysterious by Rudyard Kipling, who back then was a favourite author of many English children.
As such we envisioned it as a wonderful, colonial city, full of romance and wicker furniture. Well, things have changed. The wicker furniture has been replaced with cheap plastic, the romance is tawdry, and the city desperately poor, depressingly dirty, and deplorably dilapidated. The once fabulous Edwardian and Colonial buildings are now derelict.
A few are still in use, but they have broken windows and black mold growing on the walls. Many are surrounded by barbed wire. Some had wonderful gardens in their heyday, but they are now all overgrown and neglected. Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham it is not. In those famous words of Bette Davis “What a dump”.