The mortality of empires

A TRIP to Yangon has set me thinking about what endures in a culture, and what we want to save. I wrote a post for Hi, that starts: . . . This weekend I’m staying at the Strand Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar, a classic British colonial hotel (1901) once connected with Raffles in Singapore. Dark wood, cream walls, stone trim, a gentle staff. Restored but not Dorchestered.

When it was built, this was Rangoon, Burma. Here in the oldest part the British city, right on the river, you get an idea of what it was like 100 years ago when their empire was heading toward its zenith and the port was one of the biggest in Southern Asia.

British Secretariat, Yangon

The hotel is on Strand Road, and the grid of streets around it, superimposed on the ancient city, are lined with colonial buildings, most in a terrible state of repair. A block north on Merchant Road, I saw a big crumbling blue building with corner turrets that I found out had been the tax office. Walking up Bo Ang Kyaw Street (formerly Sparks Street) I came to the giant Secretariat (1902), the colony’s administrative complex, occupying a large city block. It was the site of the first parliament where Aung San, father of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was assassinated in 1947.

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