In Burma’s capital the only thing missing is people

One half of a wide boulevard at Naypyidaw, by Hybernator via Wikimedia Commons
One half of a wide boulevard at Naypyidaw, by Hybernator via Wikimedia Commons

From Pulitzer Center, a report by Matt Kennard and Claire Provost on Naypyidaw:

Driving through Naypyidaw, the purpose-built capital of Burma, it could be easy to forget that you’re in the middle of one of south-east Asia’s poorest countries. On either side of the street, a seemingly endless series of giant detached buildings, villa-style hotels and shopping malls look like they have fallen from the sky, all painted in soft pastel colours: light pink, baby blue, beige. The roads are newly paved and lined with flowers and carefully pruned shrubbery. Meticulously landscaped roundabouts boast large sculptures of flowers.

The scale of this surreal city is difficult to describe: it extends an estimated 4,800 square kilometres, six times the size of New York City. Everything looks super-sized. The streets – clearly designed for cars and motorcades, not pedestrians nor leisurely strolls – have up to 20 lanes and stretch as far as the eye can see (the rumour is these grandiose boulevards were built to enable aircraft to land on them in the event of anti-government protests or other “disturbances”). There is a safari park, a zoo complete with air-conditioned penguin habitat, and at least four golf courses. Unlike in much of the country, there is reliable electricity here. Many of the restaurants have free, fast Wi-Fi.

The only thing Naypyidaw doesn’t have, it seems, is people. The vast highways are completely empty and there is a stillness to the air. Nothing moves. Officially, the city’s population is 1 million, but many doubt this is anywhere close to the true figure. On a bright Sunday afternoon, the streets are silent, restaurants and hotel lobbies empty. It looks like an eerie picture of post-apocalypse suburban America; like a David Lynch film on location in North Korea.

Read the rest here.

Advertisements
In Burma’s capital the only thing missing is people