In a quiet lane off Yangon’s Pyay Road is a square of lush green grass dotted with trees and flowers that belie the crazy traffic just a few metres away. Few people go there. Taxi drivers wonder why you would want to get off at that strange place.
That strange, quiet, manicured place is Rangoon War Cemetery, with graves of hundreds of soldiers who died in action in Burma during the Second World War. Maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the cemetery is a space where race and nationality don’t matter. Indian and African soldiers lie next to their colleagues from Britain, bound together by war.
This piece of history is not on any tourist map of Yangon. But this place is important. Because it reminds me of the damage that war has caused over the centuries. And the consequences of war affect all of us, no matter where or when we are born.
Location: Rangoon War Cemetery, Yangon (Myanmar)
Date: December 16, 2016
Device: Xiaomi Mi 5
Tall columns, a neatly-designed façade, delicately ornate with a smooth finish, this beautiful colonial-era building in downtown Yangon is a stunner. Obscured from view by a cluster of trees, I barely noticed it though I’ve passed it several times while in a taxi.
But last week, I finally saw it up close. It’s just one of a handful of well-preserved Yangon buildings, and reminds me of Mumbai’s RBI building on Mint Road. Turns out this one is the Yangon Stock Exchange.
The stock exchange began operations only last December and the first company listed this March. With all the rapid changes happening in Myanmar, there’s so much interest in investing here and hopefully the stock exchange paves the way for a robust financial sector.
While potential investors are looking for business opportunities, I’m trying to figure out if I can go inside.
Device: Google Nexus 5
Date: May 15, 2016
Location: Downtown Yangon, Myanmar
When I visited Berlin a year and a half ago, I headed to Kurfurstendamm to shop. As the stores’ window displays tempted me, my eyes fell on a strange church across the street. It looked around a century old and the spire seemed ripped off.
Despite the construction work going on, there were no signs of fixing the spire. I wondered, why would the technically-perfect Germans allow a church to stay in its damaged state?
It took me some time to find the answer. This church (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), built in the 1890s was partly destroyed by an air bombing in 1943. In the 1950s, restoration plans were developed but the public and powers that be decided to keep the ruined tower as a reminder of the futility of war. Instead, a new building was constructed near the original. The result: this hexagonal building by architect Egon Eiermann.
Pictures taken on: June 1, 2014
Location: Berlin, Germany
Device: Google Nexus 5
Mumbai’s food vendors are an innovative lot. Their street-side inventions and adaptations of local dishes would perhaps put MasterChef contestants to shame. The latest surprise they’ve sprung is the chocolate sandwich.
This vendor at Nariman Point tried hard to sell me a chocolate sandwich. Besides putting the chocolate-y condiments on display, he tried to entice me by rattling off the ingredients in the sandwich- Nutella spread, chocolate flakes and Hershey’s syrup. Very, very tempting but I had to give this one a skip. Too sinful for me!
Location: Nariman Point, Mumbai
Date: November 16, 2015
Device: Nexus 5
Mumbai, like most Asian cities is a contrasting picture of heritage structures and modern high-rises. Very often, these lie adjacent to each other and people pass by hurriedly without marvelling at the interesting juxtaposition.
While waiting at a traffic light in south Mumbai, these two buildings struck my eye. A three-storeyed stone tires building barely conceals the tall giant behind. The latter may be tucked away in a tiny lane, but it sure catches the attention of people passing by.
Location: Kemp’s Corner, Mumbai, India
Date: November 14, 2015
Device: Nexus 5 phone camera
Yesterday a street seller appeared on Yangon’s Pyay Road while I was headed downtown, selling calendars featuring large pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi (aka The Lady). I was surprised since this is one of the most open displays of her support I’ve seen in Myanmar since I landed here in June.
Till a few years ago, even speaking about The Lady privately could get you thrown in jail. The few who dared mention her did so in whispers and never in public (you never who was eavesdropping or was a spy). Since the country is slowly moving toward a full democracy with nation-wide elections scheduled for early November, Myanmar folk are now free to support Aung San Suu Kyi and her party NLD (National League for Democracy).
Here’s to peaceful and fair elections in Myanmar!
Picture taken on: September 19, 2015
Location: Pyay Road, Yangon, Myanmar
Device: Nexus 5
Sunday Street Stories is a series of images recording street signs from my travels. They could be significant in some way, funny, or have an interesting story behind them.
Walking by Inya Lake is among the most wonderful experiences in Yangon. There’s usually a gentle breeze blowing from the lake, you’re surrounded by a large expanse of water and lush green trees, and the traffic noise is a bare minimum.
Needless to say, like everything in Myanmar, some rules need to be followed. So there’s a list of rules for the park as well, written in Myanmar and English to make sure locals and tourists “get” them. Written with the most serious of intentions, some of these rules state the obvious but I guess they need to be mentioned anyways, especially since couples and aspiring musicians with their friends flock the park every evening.
Almost all these rules are flouted, including the “no sex” one (ahem!). Amateur fishers, bicyclists, (extremely) amorous couples, guitarists, singers, snack vendors– they’re all there! But I haven’t seen any swimmers in the lake yet.
Picture taken on: August 24, 2015
Location: Inya Lake (west side), Yangon, Myanmar
Device: Nexus 5
Sunday Street Signs is a series of images recording street signs from my travels. They could be significant in some way, funny, or have an interesting story behind them.
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For the fashion world, the word shocking is usually reserved for an anorexic model or heavily photoshopped images. But Vogue Italia recently gave shocking a new meaning when it published a fashion photospread inspired by the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s the cover:
What you see inside are some stark images, some close to being very disturbing. The photos (shot by Steven Meisel) project a poisonous atmosphere, and in one picture, model Kristen McMenamy is seen regurgitating contaminated water. Not for the faint-hearted.
Speaking Chic tracked down a friend in the US who feels passionately about the oil spill and its cover-up. “The images are truly haunting,” she said over email. “But it’s a good thing, because this is going to put the oil spill on a world stage for everyone to see. Some of the pictures make you feel the anger that most of us environment-lovers felt in the aftermath of the spill.”
We also also asked Mumbai-based photography buff Pradnya for her reactions. “Most of the pictures are in low key which well describe the mood. Unfortunately, the repetitive long shots sometimes lose focus. Yet, some of the photos do justice to the seriousness of the issue. The close-up picture of the model is a great capture, with a nice blend of fear and shock. I think some of the pictures hit hard, but all of them capture the essence of the disaster.”
For those who still want to know about the fashion in the shoot, check out the Vogue Italia site or watch this behind-the-scenes video.
Speaking Chic says: The next time someone says “fashion is frivolous”, please show them this photo feature. While these photographs will not reverse the damage caused, they make a poignant statement on the environmental and human impact of the spill. By showing a human in such a toxic setting, the magazine has brought to the fore what several upper-class people (Vogue readers) may have brushed under the carpet. We wonder what Tony Hayward would have to say about this one.
What do you think of Vogue Italia’s BP oil spill-inspired photo shoot? Tell us!