Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Documenting the relics of a disappearing city




Documenting the relics of a disappearing city

Journalist Philip Heijmans’s book documents both the beautiful and the crumbling and depressing. Philip Heijmans
Journalist Philip Heijmans’s book documents both the beautiful and the crumbling and depressing. Philip Heijmans

Documenting the relics of a disappearing city

In many ways, Yangon and Phnom Penh are similar cities. They are both cultural and financial capitals. They both neighbour huge rivers. European powers once controlled and built large swathes of them and a bird’s-eye view of each sweaty city is a clash of the stained with the shiny, the old with the new.

Like Phnom Penh, Myanmar is undergoing rapid change, with much of its historic buildings being replaced by apartment complexes and malls. It was in a bid to document these disappearing reminders of the city’s past that US journalist Philip Heijmans embarked on his new book, Relics of Rangoon, which launches on Thursday at Meta House.

“At Meta House I am hoping to display about 25 pictures that aim to depict Yangon’s diverse colonial architecture: the well-maintained and the beautiful, to the crumbling and depressing,” Heijmans said this week. The first of the photos – there are about 800 displayed in his nearly 400-page, hardcover, 25x30 centimetre book – were taken three years ago, though most were shot after 2014.

For the project, Heijmans, a freelance journalist, focused on 200 historical buildings in Yangon. In the architecture, he found histories.

The skyline of Yangon is rapidly changing. Philip Heijmans
The skyline of Yangon is rapidly changing. Philip Heijmans

“What surprised me was how the stories of each of these buildings were so different and representative of such a wide array of diverse voices that existed [in Yangon] under British rule. From Muslims, to Catholics, Armenians, Persians, Europeans and Chinese, old Rangoon had them, and they all made their mark on this relatively small city,” he said.

Heijmans, who worked as a reporter in Phnom Penh prior to moving to Yangon, draws parallels between the two colonial capitals.

“In both, you see buildings disappearing,” he said. “Phnom Penh is basically unrecognizable compared to the golden years before the Khmer Rouge. It drives me nuts to see such carelessness for one’s own heritage, especially because the main driving force behind the destruction is corruption and money, and believe me, we are all too familiar with that concept in Myanmar.”

“I hope readers will use this book to see [Yangon’s heritage], beyond just the obvious iconic structures like the Secretariat,” he added.

The Phnom Penh book launch for Relics of Rangoon is at Meta House, #37 Sothearos Boulevard, on Thursday, May 12, at 7pm. The book will be available for purchase at the launch for $65 and at Monument Books for $75.

MOST VIEWED

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • ‘Bad news is an investor’s best friend’ – unlocking investment potential in Cambodia

    It is time to shop. Economic woes provide good pickings for investors if they know where to look The poem If, written by English Nobel laureate poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling for his son circa 1895, is widely perceived as fatherly advice for John who would

  • PM requests Russia’s Covid vaccine

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that Russia provide Cambodia with its Covid-19 vaccine after the former announced it planned on mass vaccinating its population next month. The request came on Thursday through the prime minister’s Facebook page as he met with Anatoly Borovik,

  • First ‘mobile kitchen’ in Cambodia enters service

    A catering company recently rolled out Cambodia’s first “mobile kitchen” – a $50,000 container capable of serving up to 200 people at a time. The kitchen is the brainchild of Seng Hok Heng Catering Services. At 4.4m-high, 6.8m-long and 2.4m-wide (expandable to 6.8m), the kitchen is equipped

  • Kingdom, China rebut basis for US sanctions

    The Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Tianjin Union Investment Development Group Co Ltd (Tianjin) have responded to US sanctions on Union Development Group Co Ltd (UDG), a Chinese-owned company currently developing the sprawling $3.8 billion Dara

  • Influenza breaks out in eight provinces

    Nearly 600 people have been infected with influenza in eight provinces in the past month, Ministry of Health spokesperson Or Vandine said. The ministry is advising extreme caution. A report released by Vandine on Saturday said the Ministry of Health observed transmissions of influenza between August 15