Burma Illuminated

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When photojournalist Sim Chi Yin traveled to Myanmar in the spring of 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi's smiling face was plastered on posters and stickers, hats and T-shirts. The air crackled with hope and expectation.

When Sim returned a year later, in 2013, she could see that change had indeed arrived, and very quickly. Now that restrictions on vehicle imports have been lifted, affordable cars have brought more traffic jams and honking horns to the streets of Yangon, embodying globalization's onslaught. There is a sense of trepidation, Sim says, intermingled with the enthusiasm for a new Myanmar (still called Burma by many). Some Burmese are vexed by the darker, nonnative influences. They see teenage girls dropping out of school to work in nightclubs so they can buy clothes and mobile phones, and they say it's as if some people have become obsessed with money overnight. Others worry that the Burmese are losing their sense of community as their world expands well beyond the country's borders.

How did it happen so fast? As one local tour guide told Sim: "We were like a spring kept totally compressed inside a box for a long, long time. And now, suddenly, the lid of the box has been taken off and the spring has jumped out."

Above, a young woman uses her cell phone on a ferry ride back from the villages to Lake Inle's main town of Nyaung Shwe.  


Advertisements of modern, Western-style clothes tower over food stalls selling traditional Burmese noodles in Yangon on the night of April 29.


Passengers crowd into a bus as dusk falls in downtown Yangon on April 23. As more cars fill the thoroughfares leading in and out of Yangon, traffic has become heavier, leading to much longer commute times. 


A man moves piles of firewood that will be loaded onto boats already waiting along the shore early in the morning in Inle on Dec. 12, 2012. Traditions still hold sway in the Burmese countryside, which remains relatively untouched by rapid changes elsewhere in the country. But with tourists flooding to the picturesque area, environmentalists and locals fear the impact the influx of visitors may have on the fragile lake.


Workers take a break outside a bakery in Yangon's Chinatown on April 23, 2012. This shop makes Chinese steamed buns and operates late into the night.


A dog with a brindle coat basks in the morning sun outside the home of a woman wearing a leopard print coat in Nyaung Shwe, on Lake Inle in central Myanmar, on April 12, 2012. The area is still relatively undisturbed by the changes sweeping the country.


A young girl stands on the docks along Yangon River feeding birds and watching ships go by in March 2012. The docks located near downtown Yangon are a popular spot for lovers and families taking strolls in the cool evenings. The docks are also where hundreds of local workers take ferry rides to poorer townships across the river from Yangon.


Women work alongside men at a construction site for a new office in downtown Yangon on March 20, 2012. As Myanmar has opened up its economy to the outside world over the last two years, construction of apartments, offices, and hotels has blossomed. 


At the end of the day, Burmese men and women climb onto a truck that serves as public transport in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, on March 15, 2012.   


Burmese youth at a concert by the country's hottest band, Iron Cross, at the Kandawgyi Lake in the heart of Yangon.


Children play in a water fountain at Junction Square, a brand new mall in Yangon, Myanmar, on March 24, 2012.

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