National Geographic : 2011 Aug
• By Brook Larmer Photographs by Chien-Chi Chang "Welcome to the Hotel California," calls out a voice from the shadows in perfect English. ree young men sit on plastic stools in the street, laughing at the greeting. e DVD ven- dor, a skinny 29-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and a pink button-down shirt, leaps up with a smile. ough his schooling ended in fourth grade, he speaks English in an eruption of phrases gleaned from Hollywood movies and 1950s grammar books. Meeting an American, he says, makes him feel "over the moon, on cloud nine, pleased as punch." e three "bosom buddies"---Tom, Dick, and Harry, as they call themselves---meet almost It's the magic hour in Yangon, when the last rays of sunlight, so er, cool- er now, bathe the crumbling downtown in a golden glow, beckoning residents out into the streets. Giggling children race to buy fresh sugarcane juice. Wom- en with cheeks daubed with a paste made of bark---the alluring Burmese sunblock---haggle with a shmonger. In the street, bare-chested teenage boys in a circle play a rowdy game of chinlon, a sort of acrobatic Hacky Sack, while potbellied men in T-shirts and longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, sit on the side- walk chewing red wads of betel nut. The carnival-like atmosphere doesn't last. Night falls fast in the tropics, and the power shortages that plague Myanmar give the sud- den transition a spooky edge. A decaying colo- nial-era government building goes black. e alleyway next door emits the bluish glow of television sets powered by portable generators. Under the trees the vendors are invisible, but candles illuminate their wares: circles of silvery sh, clusters of purple banana owers, stacks of betel leaves. And lined up in a blue wooden case, pirated DVDs of American movies and music.