(3rd week of Feb 2013)
The Yangon Photo Festival is in its final stretch, and skilled photographers and journalists still roam the streets, chasing storys and photographing during the day, drinking and storytelling at night over mounds of BBQ and empty beer mugs. Local restaurants leave the empty glasses on the table to keep track of your bill. Once again I find myself inspired at the talent and energy from the people that form a ring around our empty mug fortress.
Matt Grace from Witness Burma, Min Zayar Oo from Reuters, Martin Spaak the Sweedish Journalist, Nick McGrath, BKK based photographer and David Walker from Painted Roads are among the empty mug contributors. Each serves their daily debrief of work, events and leads – multitasking as a way for processing, inspiring and feedback for the others. Each debrief, is a story in itself, coming from an individual that is worthy of a human interest article, himself. There’s an underlying energy that crouches in their voice that is unfamiliar of them – similar to excitement, and new since we all last met in Chiang Mai. I assume it’s the same energy-charge from the Yangon air that I feel in myself, or the result of being in a catalytic country in transition.
Myanmar (formally named Burma) is currently undergoing an evolution that has earned it the hot-spot in the photojournalist, N.G.O and international business world. The country “opened” two years ago when the Military Junta uncharacteristically started to appeal to the world’s demands by putting on a democratic voting show for the leaders of the Western world and Western sanctions.
This transition, growth, opening to the world… it’s blatantly obvious. Within one week of being in Myanmar, we see Visa ATMs being used for the first time and hear rumors that the land boarder crossing into Thailand through Mae Sot is possibly opening up with special permission. So far, you must fly into the country to be allowed to be a “tourist.”
I think back to when I watched BurmaVJ and try to comprehend that the Saffron Revolution (led by monks) happened only 5 years ago, and that it hasn’t been that long since a Burmese friend of mine had been tortured and force-fed mercury for being apart of the protests. The vibe and smiles of the streets reveal nothing of such a struggle. At least from what I can read during my limited time here.