Two years after Myanmar military coup, Yangon is a changed city


SINGAPORE — In Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, soldiers patrol the streets all the time. Police officers randomly block pedestrians, sending them to jail if they show signs of sympathy for the opposition. Poverty rate in the city has tripledaccording to the United Nations, and crime is rife.

It has been two years since Myanmar’s military overthrew its democratic government in a coup, engulfing swaths of the Southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma, in violent conflict. The military junta has cracked down on freedom of expression, jailed journalists, revoked the licenses of independent news agencies, and found every other way to limit visibility into the realities of life under military rule. team.

To document the difficulties of everyday life, The Washington Post asked three Yangon residents to share their experiences on a single day late last month, each recounting in a series of voice messages a their day. All three were members of a younger generation that grew up when democracy arrived in Myanmar in the early 2010s and was subsequently extinguished.

Willion, one of the few journalists in the city, tried to avoid clashes with the authorities. Sam, a small business owner, has struggled with the disdain he feels for the soldiers flooding his city. South of downtown, a power outage left Hannway, a young activist, struggling to connect with the revolutionary movement for which she had halted her studies. Surnames are being identified by English names instead of Burmese names to limit the likelihood of being affected.

Willion, 30, sat up straight when he heard a commotion from his neighbors. He was awake in case the police came to check randomly. Opening his laptop, he blinked at the clock in the bottom right corner: 7:13 a.m. He made it through another night.

The authorities have been hunting journalists like him since the coup. A few weeks ago, police arrested one of Willion’s colleagues, seizing his phone, which contained photos and messages related to Willion. As a precaution, he moved every few days, he said, traveling with a backpack with only a laptop, hard drive, and a few clothes.

Willion sat with his back against the wall, his face lit up by the laptop screen. He is preparing a presentation on citizen journalism, showing people in conflict zones of the country how they can document military atrocities. But he was tired, and there were many things on his mind.

He hasn’t seen his parents in almost a year, and his mother was recently hospitalized with a heart condition, he said. He wants to visit, but that means charting a safe route through town. The army has spies all over the city and a Surveillance system made in China Equipped with advanced facial recognition technology. As he weighed the risks, Willion felt a heavy head.

Farther east, across a river, Sam, 36, is driving to work.

A fire broke out in his middle-class neighborhood overnight, consuming a house and its occupants. On his morning walk, neighbors told him that the police never responded. Sam wasn’t surprised. Every day, he read reports about bank was robbed in broad daylight, and everyone was murdered in their house. Authorities almost never catch the perpetrators.

He glanced out the window. Traffic has slowed around a government building guarded by a garrison. Sam looked at the uniformed soldiers, mostly young men, and thought the same thing he always did at this point on his way to work.

“I hope they get sent to the front lines and die.”

As a Buddhist, he knows he shouldn’t have such thoughts, he said. But seeing soldiers holding guns reminded him of young activists shot dead on the streets of Yangon.

Sam’s office was dark when he arrived. He groaned. He also blames them for this.

Energy suppliers have withdrawn from Myanmar after the coup, and in recent months insurgents have begun attacking power lines to hurt the government. At the Hannway family home, a power outage shut off the water supply.

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Hannway, in his early 20s, heard his parents’ voices in the kitchen figuring out what to do. She rolled around in bed and looked at her phone – 10:30 a.m. Two years ago, she recalls, she is now in class to become a doctor. But when the military came to power, she chose to join the civil disobedience movement (CDM) aimed at crippling the health care system.

She scrolled through the messages that came in the night.

“They are investigating CDM students,” one friend read. “Be careful.”

Hannway paced back and forth in the kitchen. Four hours have passed, and the electricity is still cut off. Her mother tried to reassure her, but text messages from her friend worried her.

Recently, news began to spread that the military was planning to punish boycott students like her. She said for her own safety, she rarely leaves the house. She kills time by taking online language classes and working remotely on projects that support the resistance movement. But without electricity, she couldn’t even do it. How long can she go on like this?

Hannway checked the time — 2:27 p.m. There’s a virtual meeting with some CDM doctors in three minutes. WiFi is still not working.

Sam also feels the military has made many aspects of life more difficult.

He was at a teahouse north of the Hannway house, meeting a friend who was wondering if he should re-enroll his child in public schools. Sam didn’t know what to say. He had his own frustrations: He was forced to spend money on generators and solar batteries because of a power outage; he is facing rising food and gas costs; the local currency will not stop depreciating so his small business must continue to appreciate.

Passing the soldiers on the way back to the office, he felt honey rise again in his body. Why, he asked, are they everywhere?

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5:30 p.m., after a few hours of napping, Willion was finally getting ready to leave his apartment. On his phone, he signed out of his usual social media accounts and logged into fake profiles with no links to the press. He checks private messages and contacts, then scans Telegram groups where people share sightings of soldiers in the city. Nothing too alarming.

He hailed a taxi to the hospital. But minutes after leaving his compound, he saw a group of soldiers outside a nearby hotel. He glanced out the window – the authorities had handcuffed the three men, he said. Soldiers are interrogating passersby.

Willion fought his instincts to pull out his phone to film what was happening. There are too many of them.

Protecting his mask, he sat deeper into his seat. He has to go to the hospital.

Before the coup, Sam liked to explore the different neighborhoods of Yangon on foot. But these days, he’s wary of appearing suspicious so he continues to walk to public parks. Surrounded by palm trees and often empty, they were one of the only places left after the army took the city, he said.

Strolling as the sun went down, Sam relaxed.

He didn’t want to keep praying for those soldiers to die. Every time he did so, he heard his mother’s voice telling him to “keep kindness in your heart”. But it’s hard when I wake up every morning with videos about the village burn and ‘s account rape and torture. Where should he find humanity?

He saw three elderly men walking briskly in the park. As they drew closer, Sam could hear them talking loudly about General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the military junta. One joked, turning the general’s name into a curse word, and the other two giggled, their bellies rumbling.

Sam smiled as he listened. He said for a moment it was like old Yangon. He wondered if he should strike up a conversation. But perhaps they would think of him as an informant. You keep walking.

Back in the bedroom, after dinner, Hannway sat in front of his laptop. Electricity is finally back. She opened a “click to donate” website where people could ask advertisers to send a few cents per click to a cause. The money raised by this website will go to rebel groups.

Hannway tapped his index finger repeatedly. She felt deflated, she said. She misses attending lectures and visiting second-hand bookstores; she missed the rigor of having an ambition. She thought, as she often did at night, about a friend – a woman serving 20 years in prison after being arrested at an activist safe house.

Hannway felt something spin inside her. She couldn’t give up, she told herself. She has no rights.

As the world moves on, Myanmar faces a large number of hidden,

It was already dark by the time Willion arrived at the hospital. His mother looks better than he expected, but it still makes him sad that he can’t take care of the family. A relative passed away recently, his mother said. He told her that it was probably safer for everyone if he hadn’t attended the funeral.

After returning home, Willion logged back into his real social media account. There has been new fighting in the country downtown Sagaing, and citizen journalists had sent him reports earlier in the day that soldiers had set fire to seven houses. After gathering more information, he will distribute it to other stores. But his sources suddenly went dark. Maybe the government jammed the signal. He hopes so.

Just after midnight, Willion warmed up dinner. He will have to find another place to stay in a few days, when people in the neighborhood start to recognize his face.

But, for now, he will stay up one more night, waiting for morning.

Diamond reports from Yangon.


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