Makeshift football fields, old loudspeakers and kids playing barefoot gave a festive atmosphere to the streets of Yangon this 4th of January, as the city celebrated the 70th anniversary of its independence from colonial rule.
During the holiday, traffic was cut off in many of Yangon’s streets, allowing neighbours to organize all kind of activities for children, transforming the roads into colourful playgrounds.
“It’s a very happy opportunity for us,” said said Kyaw Linn Thein, a neighbour of 41st street, where locals held racing and bowling competitions.
In many places, organizers set up loudspeakers blasting Myanmar and international hits as the kids ran amok, while many parents took shelter from the sun sitting in plastic chairs on the sides of the street.
Others decided to play Chinlone, one of the national sports of Myanmar. In groups of six, they could be seen kicking the traditional rattan ball, trying to keep it constantly in the air.
But football remained the sport-to-go for a clear majority of children, signalling another outcome of Myanmar’s growing ties with the rest of the world.
“My favourite sport is football,” said Kyaw Zayar Soe, a 14-year-old fan of Spain’s Football Club Barcelona, who was on his way to play with friends.
In downtown Yangon, young couples and families strolled in the area close to Sule Pagoda, spending the day off eating snacks, shopping in some of the open malls and shops and enjoying the warm weather.
“We have fairs and games in our neighbourhood, but this year I decided to go out with my boyfriend,” said Aye Thadaw Oo, an 18-year-old student from the University of Yangon. While talking, her boyfriend dutifully recorded the interview with his smartphone – yet another sign of the times.
During Independence Day, Myanmar celebrates the official Declaration of Independence from Britain on the 4th of January 1948. The official celebration in the city started with a military parade held in front of the city council, in Maha Bandoola Park.
Aye Thadaw Oo said that for her and many of her friends the 70th celebration was just a “normal holiday,” without much of a special meaning attached to it.
On the other hand, Honey Chit Swe, another Yangon girl, stressed that the festival was “very important” as it celebrated the “freedom” of the Burmese people.