Boarding a train on the Circular Railway in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), feels like taking a journey into the city’s past. Morning passengers crowd into the train on their way to work as they have for years, with baskets, barrels, and bamboo farmers’ hats, ready to start a day in the markets, factories, and fields on the outskirts of the city. Fruit vendors balancing wide platters of sliced mango and men peddling large baskets of quail eggs spin on and off of the moving trains, shouting prices over the din of the clanking cars as they pace between rows of sandals kicked off by the cross-legged passengers reclining against the brightly painted metal walls.
Outside the windows, landscapes of green watercress fields, garbage-filled rivers, stilted bamboo houses, and a towering mountain of decades-old retired cars whirl by. Young juice vendors carrying red and blue plastic barrels and silver cups hang barefoot from the doorways of the moving train, grinning as they dodge the overgrown bushes that line the rails. Village children loiter by the tracks, and squinting workers squat by the empty rails and wait with their wares, the sun pouring down on large colorful umbrellas.
A ride on the Circular Railway 50 years ago might not have looked so different. However, with the opening of the country and rapid development that is changing the face of downtown Yangon, the railway is set for major renovations in the coming years. It seems the old train life and culture will soon be a piece of history.
[Note: This story was produced by the Glimpse Correspondents Program, in which writers and photographers develop in-depth narratives for Matador.]