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The Burmese Spring
2012


Nap Pyi Taw, the new capital is still under construction and is also one of the top ten fastest growing cities in the world. It is more centrally and strategically located than the old capital, Rangoon. Nap Pyi Taw is desolate, a vast area carved out of a rural existence, a political relocation of the seat of power as a safeguard against the possibility of an overthrow. Indian journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, who visited Nap Pyi Taw in January 2007, described the vastness of the new capital as "the ultimate insurance against regime change, a masterpiece of urban planning designed to defeat any putative "colour revolution" – not by tanks and water cannons, but by geometry and cartography".

In contrast, Rangoon, which was so alive with diversity and immigration is today a place of deprivation and haunting beauty. The banyan trees reach out from the mouldering remains of villas and colonial offices. Ancient buses, cast off by Japan decades ago, now absurdly overloaded with bodies, wheeze through canyons in the broken macadam. Outside the law courts, men in crisp white shirts and longyis, Burma’s traditional ankle-length sarong, hunch over ancient typewriters, feeding the maw of the bureaucracy. Gaping sinkholes in the sidewalk reveal the sewer beneath, exhaling into the tropical air.

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