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Published: September 21st 2013
I arrived in Yangon today, a big culture shock after months spent in much more developed places. At one point during my first night both the city's electricity and water supply cut out, and even when the electricity was on neither the internet nor the international phone exchange were working (according to the hotel staff, it rarely works well in the evenings).
I spent the day walking around the city, which is not a popular way to see Yangon - I got some strange and surprised looks from the locals, and countless offers of taxis - because it is noisy, very hot and polluted. The area around my hotel is very messy, with rubbish all over the streets (I guess there is little or no rubbish collection organised by the state), no pavements, some open sewers and shops and market stalls spilling out onto the road everywhere. The people are friendly, though, and my smiles are returned. Although there are some creeping signs of Westernisation - I spotted several Western Unions, and some (apparently wealthier) people using smartphones - it still feels like a different world. The majority of the Myanmese still wear traditional dress - longhis for both men
and women, long-sleeved shirts, and a dry, beige-coloured make-up wiped across the face, and there are no Western-style cafes, bars or shops that I saw, only market stalls, small shops crammed with hundreds of products each, and bare restaurants with plastic stools. There are many decrepit-looking colonial buildings and many more depressing tower blocks. The other surprise was the goods train running right through a suburban area, just a few yards from a large temple and market, and some makeshift shacks with families living in - everyone stops for a few minutes for it to pass, then everything carries on again.
After about half an hour's walking I came to a park around a large lake which offered some respite from the assault on my senses. You can't walk all the way around the lake, but there are cafes and a playground on one side, and a huge floating pagoda, which you couldn't go into, it seems to be used for some kind of office now.
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