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This report is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

City of Tolerance
James Jennings
Tolerance is not a word you would immediately associate with today’s Myanmar. The 2017 Rohingya killings shocked the world. The outlook for this new democracy remains deeply discouraging. While opinion-makers continue to conjecture about the true motivations of the government, the one thing everybody here agrees on about the National League for Democracy is its incompetence.

Living in the capital, Yangon, the news can be disheartening. What is to be done? I have found that one of the best tonics to ward off the despondency is a stroll around the old city, which seems to tell a happier story about people’s ability to put up with each other.

Still known to many as Rangoon, the city of Yangon does not reveal its charms easily. I have been here for over five years, yet I cannot say I know it well. It is certainly not an easy place to live. After all, the British built it in a swamp, their only interest being the adjacent river, which was suitable for a port. After its trading heyday, Rangoon was hit hard by World War II, and then even harder by bad government. In 1942 the Japanese began their blitzkrieg, and two decades later General Ne Win seized power. Rangoon went into long-term decline. Nowadays the city is still in a state of decay, despite some efforts to polish the place up. Edifices that the British Raj bequeathed to Burma skulk like half-sunken battleships, and blots of mould blacken the tightly packed buildings.

In other words, we are ...

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