Rangoon’s Deserted Museums
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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CULTURE

Rangoon’s Deserted Museums


By Toby Hudson/Rangoon JULY, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.7


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Where guards shadow visitors and tout for tips

 

Washing hangs out to dry on the tailplanes of aircraft on display at the Defense Services Museum in Rangoon—an eye-opening new use for mothballed veterans of Burma’s air force. The laundry belongs to museum staff who live on the premises and appear to supplement their meager incomes by appealing for handouts from the few foreign visitors who call by. One female attendant trailing a reporter of The Irrawaddy said to the visitor: “I’m a government worker and I get paid 1,700 kyat (about US $1.90) a month. Why don’t you give me some money to buy medicine?”

 

A vintage Burmese air force plane on display at the Defense Service Museum

 

The Defense Services Museum on Shwedagon Pyay road is one of several in Rangoon displaying exhibits that range from the bizarre to the outrageous. The gloomy Soviet-style structure stands out from the old colonial buildings surrounding it not least because of the armed guards at the front.

 

Welcoming visitors from the high wall of the entrance hall are portraits of Burma’s generals, organized in a tree graph with Snr-Gen Than Shwe suitably at the top. Beyond the grand but musty entrance hall is a series of cavernous rooms housing exhibits ranging from armored cars and heavy artillery to photos of bridges and Burmese gas and oil plants.

 

The museum is usually devoid of people and the dim lighting can turn a visit into a creepy experience. The shadowy presence of guards doesn’t help. Nor does the menacing nature of some of the exhibits and the junta slogans that accompany them. “Without communications we cannot rule and command!” declares one of them, providing an insight into the military’s power politics.

 

Many must leave the museum wondering if the 3 FEC (about US $3) they paid for the experience was worth the hassle. Some probably flee the pestering attention of the questioning, suspicious staff.

 

A display at the Drug Elimination Museum

At least at Rangoon’s National Museum, on Pyay road, there’s no risk of being harassed by officious staff, who pay no attention to visitors at all. Again, staff outnumber visitors by far, and fill their time by sleeping and eating.



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