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Category: North Yangon

Boundary Road

c.1900

2018

“In Kokine there was not a single house until about 1874, when Mr. Alexander Watson of the Chartered Bank built a small bungalow there, though his action in living ‘so far out in a thick jungle’ was viewed with astonishment by his friends”
– B.R. Pearn, A History of Rangoon, 1939

Dhammazedi Road was originally known as Boundary Road, because it defined the upper limit of the city. Past this point was jungle, with just tracks leading to other nearby villages and towns. Through the 20th century new developments expanded the city past Boundary Road, eventually filling the gaps between these various urban centres, and making them part of the present day sprawl of Yangon.

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Arthur Phayre statue and Rangoon Zoological Gardens

c.1910

2018

“He never really bit anybody, but the engineer felt it was safest to get rid of Lala. He got off one day at the village near the defile and took the bear a mile and a half away into the jungle and “lost” him. Soon after the villagers petitioned the engineer to take the bear on board again. It seemed that Lala was haunting the village and stole chickens persistently. So there was nothing for it but to take him on to the steamer again. Then he gave him to the Rangoon Zoo.”
– Alfred Hugh Fisher, Through India and Burmah with pen and brush, 1911

The statue visible in the older image is Sir Arthur Phayre, the first Chief Commissioner of Burma. In this article we’ll trace the journey of the statue across Yangon, from Myanmar’s first museum to its first zoo, and then its current home today.

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Dalhousie Park Memorial Garden

c.1910

2018

Located on the north side of Kandawgyi lake is a park that has held a statue of King Edward VII, a mound of ‘victory earth’, and now a statue of General Aung San.

Edward was the first son of Queen Victoria. Given the length of her reign, he spent 59 years as heir to the throne. Edward did his best to enjoy it: he was notorious for his drinking, gambling and general social carousing, as well as for a string of affairs. One of these was with the wife of Lord Randolph Churchill, the man who brought about the end of Burmese independence. We previously discussed this and admired the legendary beauty of his wife here.

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Tiger Alley

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1855
1938
2018
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“A tiger presents greater difficulties. If he doesn’t run away when you wave your arms and shout, you should poke your stick through his eye into his brain, or get on his back, out of reach of his claws, and throttle him. If that fails, pretend to be dead; if that even fails, you must die.”
– Beth Ellis, An English Girl’s First Impression of Burmah, 1899

In his 1939 History of Rangoon, B R Pearn included the two original photographs above as a before and after, so thanks to his foresight we have our first ever set of three images. Though the location of the first two is unlikely to be exactly the same, the area that became Doopley Street (and today Myaynigone Zay Street) will have looked identical – thick with jungle, with only small paths leading through the green towards the town of Kemmedine and the western river.

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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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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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Wingaba Lake

c.1900

2017

“In the middle of the village is a sacred tank or lake, three sides of which are surrounded by forest trees and creepers; on the fourth is the bazaar, which lined the road, with which it is level, though the rear of the buildings, supported on piles, overhung the water of the lake.”
– Robert Talbot Kelly, ‘Burma, painted and described’, 1905

The years have not been especially kind to the small lake of Wingaba. Its original, roughly horseshoe shape, is still just visible from above. Now mostly dry and grown over with green, a small patch of permanent water remains in the bottom right corner. Information on the lake is scant, but one possible explanation is that the lake would likely have been a water source for the village, but as the city grew and centralised water sources came online there would have been less pressure to maintain it. Given the amount of change, this was a pretty challenging shot to try to line up – so please forgive any discrepancy!

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“Extract digit”

Disclaimer: ‘Jap’ in a lot of the world, including where I’m from, is a pretty racist term now. It’s included here because of its historical nature.

“For Christmas the Japs gave us a holiday and extra rations, and the cooks excelled themselves and gave us a really good feed. In the morning we had a carol service, conducted by Lieutenant Brian Horncastle, and then a sports meeting. In the evening there was a concert with alternate turns by British and Americans. The Americans had assured us for some months that their General Stilwell, or “Uncle Joe” as they called him, had announced his intention of spending Christmas in Rangoon, so that when one of them appeared in the middle of the concert dressed as “Uncle Joe” with a “Sorry I’m late, you fellows”, he received an uproarious welcome.”
– Philip Stibbe, from an account of his final Christmas in Japanese captivity in 1944, ‘Return via Rangoon’

On the 1st of May, one day after Hitler committed suicide, Operation Dracula was launched. It was a joint operation of British, Indian and American forces, intended to finally retake Rangoon from the Japanese. The majority of Japanese troops had already left Yangon, and the operation was a success.

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