Later that night, a former student, the son of a wealthy businessman, drove us and a few others home in his SUV. There was breaking news: Riots between Buddhists and Muslims were spreading across a region north of Yangon known as Bago, one friend read from his phone as we passed through Yangon’s darkened streets. Another journalist opened her tablet and read a statement by US Ambassador Derek Mitchell pledging aid to Meiktila, where dozens have been killed and thousands displaced in widespread violence. Then she spent several minutes on the phone relaying Bago updates to her newsroom.

None of that would have—could have—happened four years ago.

Jerry and I left early the next morning, the city’s streets nearly empty as our taxi retraced our path to the airport. On the far horizon, I saw it again: that bright red ball of a sun. But this time, it was rising.


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Karen Coates , author of Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War, is a senior fellow at Brandeis University's Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Her next book, Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos, co-authored with photojournalist Jerry Redfern, is due out this fall.