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Yangon Time Machine Posts

Strand Road, west

c.1920

2018

As with many major cities of the world, access to a river was the engine of Yangon’s economic development. Strand Road, running alongside that river, has been host to various important buildings during that development – though many have also been lost to earthquakes and damage from World War II. We’ll look at three such buildings here: the Imperial Bank of India, which survives to this day, the old Post Office building, and Trinity Church, both of which have disappeared in the last century.

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Rowe and Co. Department Store

c.1920

2018

“..the man being totally ignorant of the shop I wanted, and quite incapable of confessing himself to be so, took me to Rowe at a venture, that place being a large general emporium much frequented by Europeans.”
– Geraldine Mitton, A Bachelor Girl in Burma, 1907

Completed in 1910, this building was the third incarnation of the Rowe and Co. department store in Rangoon. The first had been on Moghul Street (now Shwe Bon Thar), around 1866. The building was a modern marvel, with a steel frame, ceiling fans, and a basement – an unusual feature given the swampy foundations of the city.

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Churchill Road

c.1910

2018

Churchill Road was initially named for Lord Randolph Churchill, British politician and father of Winston Churchill. In his brief tenure as Secretary of State for India, Churchill brought about the final invasion of the then kingdom of Burma. His primary motivation was commercial – the oil, ruby mines and teak forests of Burma, and through it, access to the markets of China. Developments in the relationship between France and Burma were also a source of concern, with Vietnam already under their control.

Churchill’s political star rose quickly, but burnt out equally fast. Secretary of State for seven months, he then became Chancellor of the Exchequer (the British equivalent to finance minister) aged only 37, before ending his career through political miscalculation. He died at 46 of suspected syphilis, and by then was more concerned with horse racing and Irish politics than the fate of the distant country he had forever changed the course of.

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Mapping Rangoon: Bogyoke Market and the Aung San Thuriya

As mentioned in this week’s article on Scott’s Market, just as the market is now named for Bogyoke Aung San, its internal streets are named for winners of the Aung San Thuriya medal – the highest military honour in Myanmar, itself named to honour Aung San. It’s the equivalent to the Victoria Cross in Britain, or the Medal of Honour in the USA.

Click here or the main image above to learn more about the medal and its winners, with an interactive map of the market.

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Scott’s Market

c.1926

2018

The original tenants of Scott’s Market had previously held stalls in the Municipal Bazaar on Strand Road, between what are now Shwe Bon Thar and Shwedagon Pagoda road. In 1904 the Port Commissioners decided they wanted to connect the various new wharves and jetties along the river-front, which meant relocating the market. Heavily disputed negotiations held up the project, but after 16 years and one world war, eventually an agreement was reached. The Commissioners bought the land from the municipality, but rather than actually pay out any money, it would be used to establish a new, permanent market area.

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Rangoon University: Convocation Hall

c.1930

2018

“There’s no friend like wisdom”
– Yangon University motto (clearly someone never owned a dog)

Rangoon College was first founded by the British in 1878, became Rangoon University in 1920, and finally Yangon University when the city’s name was changed in 1989. Its style of instruction was modeled on old-world British universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and aimed to instill their values and attitudes into young Burmese elites – but instead became a hotbed of anti-colonialism, and an engine of protest.

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Mapping Rangoon: 1914 and 2018

This (slightly experimental) interactive map allows you to see how a 1914 map of Rangoon compares with Yangon today in Open Street Map.

Desktop users can change the size of the spy glass with the up and down keys, and move it with the mouse. Mobile users move the map underneath the the spy glass, and can tap to move it around. Please do let me know if you encounter any malfunction. Enjoy!

Click here or the image below

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Burma Athletic Association Grounds

c.1900

2018

“I am convinced that the entire secret of the English for keeping well in tropical countries is summed up in the word ‘exercise’.”
– Joseph Dautremer, Burma Under British Rule, 1913

Football and boxing were the two most popular sports amongst British soldiers, and the first organised football league took place in 1894, won by the West Yorkshire Regiment. Games were generally played on teams own fields, or at the local parade grounds. One member of the Burmese Athletic Association suggested that a water tank north of the railway station could be reclaimed and used as a permanent athletic field. Apparently the idea was ridiculed by his fellow members, asking what he thought would be possible beyond swimming or water polo – but he pressed ahead with the plan. By 1909 the reclamation had progressed enough that football games could be held on it, along with cricket and tennis.

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Shwedagon Pagoda

c.1890

2018

“Its spire of gold, touched by the flaming sun, is the first object upon which the eyes of the world traveller rest as he approaches Rangoon, and it is the last of the city he looks upon when his steamer is bearing him away; and the memory of it never fades from the eyes of one who has once looked upon it.”
– The Silken East, V. C. Scott O’Conner, 1904

According to legend, two Mon brothers found Gautama Buddha in contemplation under a tree. Gautama gave them eight strands of hair, and a mission that took them far away from the peace and quiet of his tree: to bury the hairs on a distant hill where those of two previous Buddhas had been buried. They did this in about 600 BC and Shwedagon was built to mark the spot. Other historical sources date the original pagoda somewhere between the 6th and 10th centuries, but either way, the pagoda was added to and extended by various monarchs eager for merit over the centuries, and was first covered in gold by the famous widow queen, Shin Saw Pu.

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The High Court

c.1915

2017

One of the most iconic downtown buildings, the High Court building was completed in 1911. It was built on what had been the site of the dramatically titled Death Gate. This was the north-west entrance to the small town of Rangoon, which at the time sat on an island surrounded by swampy marsh. Dead bodies left the town through this gate, and so did convicted criminals being taken to the execution grounds. Those grounds are now buried somewhere under the middle block of 25th and 26th street. Originally the court had a lake in front of it, taking up part of what is now Mahabandoola Park.

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