B Sides (Myanmar)

Some time around 2012/2013, I spent most of my time in Myanmar. The country was opening up: Aung San Suu Kyi was out, reform was in the air, Burmese students and exiles were coming home. There was a true spirit of hope and optimism. I was no longer a photographer or writer at that time, but I had developed a set of skills from my time in that world. I had become the person that tech companies sent to ‘figure stuff out in new markets’. It was also a lucrative and exciting gig while that lasted. I did that for a couple of years.

My time being a ‘fixer’ for photographers and journalists around Southeast Asia also meant that I already knew people everywhere. I was not only okay with bureaucracy, I celebrated it. They just seemed like interesting puzzles to solve. Getting a photographer access to a person in a Bangladeshi village was more complex than getting a multinational company access to the top ten people they could hire, or finding them an office space in a booming market.

a photo of two people in a Burmese restaurant, one wearing a hat and another wearing traditional Burmese attire and reading a newspaper

Somewhere in Mandalay.

a photo of the insides of a Burmese restaurant with blue pastel walls and wooden chairs and tables and a very old photo of Britney Spears on the wall

Britney was everywhere.

a photo of two senior Burmese Indian gentlemen sitting on very small chairs and talking to each other

Being close to Bengal, Myanmar and Kolkata always had strong links. Rangoon and Calcutta were, in the heyday, the Paris and London of the British empire in the east. Many Burmese people have Indian ancestry, and Burmese-Tamil, Burmese-Gujarati, Burmese-Bengali cultures are totally a thing. You see that in the people, food, language and historical landmarks too.

a photo of a menu item in Myanmar with fried food, and Burmese and English word that say TOTAL FRIED FOOD

Fried total food. I love Burmese food.

a photo of mohinga, a Burmese fish curry noodle soup usually eaten for breakfast

My routine was to get in to Yangon on the early morning Jetstar flight from Singapore. I would land at Yangon airport, and head straight for Tin Tin Aye in Sanchaung for their famous mohinga. No one was allowed to schedule any meetings for me until I’d had mohinga.

All photos: various iPhones through the years.

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Adrianna Tan @skinnylatte
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