Ear cleaners, roadside clerks: antiquated jobs thrive in Yangon

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This photo taken on December 4, 2018 shows manicurist Khin Ohn Myint cleaning the nails of a customer under a bridge along Pansodan Street in Yangon. (AFP)
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This photo taken on November 23, 2018 shows plumber Min Aung waiting for customers along Pansodan Street in Yangon. (AFP)
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This photo taken on December 3, 2018 shows gallery owner Aung Soe Min (R) showing an art book to a customer at the Pansodan Gallery on Pansodan Street in Yangon. (AFP)
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This photo taken on December 5, 2018 shows typist Aung Min working on a customer's document with his old typewriter along Pansodan Street in Yangon. (AFP)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Ear cleaners, roadside clerks: antiquated jobs thrive in Yangon

  • Yangon’s growth — statistics show the population has nearly doubled since 1983 to reach 7.3 million — has left city services struggling to catch up

YANGON: Ear cleaners, roadside plumbers and typewriters for hire: just a sample of the antiquated jobs found on the pavements of Yangon’s Pansodan Street, where old-world businesses still find customers.
For years, tourists have been fascinated by odd trades in Yangon, from cycle trishaws swerving through traffic to roadside clerks going clickety-clack on typewriters.
Some professions have become victims of the political and economic reforms that started in earnest in 2011.
Iced water sellers melted away as improved power supplies made fridges viable; bus conductors lost out in the revamp of the city’s transportation network; and landline phone stalls are a relic in the mobile era.
But Pansodan, the beating heart of Myanmar’s biggest city, remains home to obscure professions and evokes nostalgia among those who have plied their trade for decades along the potholed pavements below aging colonial architecture.
“This is the street for the books, for the writers, for the poets. Everyone comes, everyone learns here,” Aung Soe Min, a long-time gallery owner on Pansodan, tells AFP.
“Everything you need to know, you can come to Pansodan.”
Built by the British and once called Phayre Street, the downtown artery runs south from the train station to the river, where traders arrive by morning ferry.

Yangon’s growth — statistics show the population has nearly doubled since 1983 to reach 7.3 million — has left city services struggling to catch up.
The annual monsoon season clogs decades-old plumbing networks and that is when Min Aung is busiest.
Sitting among plungers, pipes and a spare toilet lid serving as an advertisement for his services, the 58-year-old is a veteran of Yangon’s small army of streetside plumbers who still find work in the rapidly modernizing commercial capital.
“As long as there are toilets, there is work for us,” Min Aung tells AFP, puffing a cheroot as morning traffic whooshes by.
Close by is Khin Ohn Myint, 47, who provides quick manicures, fixes ingrown toenails and syringes ears to remove wax build-up.
“I didn’t have money to invest in other businesses, so I did this for a living,” she says, smiling.
Earning around $10 a day, she has put her children through university so they can pursue other careers.
She says she enjoys helping relieve people’s suffering and has even had to remove the occasional cockroach from a customer’s ear.
“Pansodan is a historic street for us,” she says as she digs out a piece of dirt from under a customer’s toenail.

The street is also famous for its pavement booksellers whose offerings include everything from 19th-century literary classics to tomes on Myanmar’s real estate laws and taboo subjects like the Rohingya crisis.
Its reputation as a place to read and access ideas gave it the nickname Pansodan University.
Tin Than has sold books here since 1980, but most of his competitors have shut shop.
“Now I only have around two or three customers each month,” he says.
The prime location has given him a front-row seat to historic events such as the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” when Buddhist monks staged a rare protest against the junta.
“When others started packing their books and closing their shops, I also had to close and run away. The riots happened right before my eyes.”
Aung Min was trained to use a typewriter in the military.
But he retired in 1980 and the 72-year-old has been working on Pansodan ever since.
“Computers were not so popular in the old days, so people had to rely on typewriters,” he said.
Based outside the High Court, Aung Min specializes in legal documents, from marriage certificates to notarised letters.
Although living costs have increased in the intervening years, he struggles to make more than 5,000 kyat ($3) a day — a sign that Myanmar’s transition is passing some people by.
He intends to keep working until he is 80 at least. “There were two or three typewriters on this street; we had our own customers,” he said.
“I am the only typewriter left here nowadays.”


Asian entertainment industries grappling with #MeToo issues

Updated 17 July 2019
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Asian entertainment industries grappling with #MeToo issues

  • Asia is having its own #MeToo moment, with its homegrown entertainment industries grappling with many of the issues
  • “Nina Wu,” is the story of an actress who, in pursuit of a role that will lead to stardom, is abused and psychologically scarred by a man in power

When Wu Ke-xi was looking for a frightening plotline for her latest film, she didn’t need to look further than her own industry.
The Taiwanese actress and screenwriter’s latest movie, “Nina Wu,” is the story of an actress who, in pursuit of a role that will lead to stardom, is abused and psychologically scarred by a man in power.
Wu found herself closely following the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, and decided to write something for women affected by sexual assaults in the entertainment industry. Directed by Midi Z, it was selected to show at the Cannes Film Festival.
“After 2017, after the year the Harvey Weinstein stuff occurred, I read a lot of documents and interviews. I was so purely curious about what happened,” said Wu. She said she has been threatened in her career, but never sexually assaulted. “It’s still a humiliating experience,” she said.
“So I felt really connected to those women.”
Asia is having its own #MeToo moment, with its homegrown entertainment industries grappling with many of the issues that have upended entertainment careers in the United States and beyond.
Earlier this year, the K-pop scene was shaken when two male stars were accused of sexual misconduct in South Korea. Solo singer Jung Joon-young faced allegations he secretly filmed himself having sex with women and shared the footage on a mobile messenger app; he apologized to the victims. And Seungri, the youngest member of the quintet Big Bang, was accused of trying to steer sex services to business investors. He denied the charges and retired from the group.
Last year, in India, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta came forward with details of a 2008 complaint she filed against actor Nana Parekar for alleged sexual harassment, which he denied. A flood of stories of sexual harassment and assault followed on social media from Indian actresses and writers.
Indian actor, singer and filmmaker Farhan Akhtar, a United Nations “He For She” ambassador with his own “Men Against Rape and Discrimination” initiative, says there is unease in the industry.
“Fear runs down the spine of everyone, thinking that, ‘Oh my God, maybe I’ve done something in the past that might come back to bite me,’” he said.
He encourages other women to come forward and speak out.
“Nobody can do it for her. Nobody can out her story and put her in a position that maybe she doesn’t want to be in,” he said. “But when she does, then it’s important that people rally around her so that she feels she’s done the right thing. And through her, through that conversation, and through her words she will hopefully inspire, motivate many more people to come out. And that’s the way the system will be cleaned.”
Screenwriter Zhou Xiaoxuan did speak out. She became a central figure in China’s #MeToo movement after an essay she wrote privately, claiming she was sexually assaulted by a TV star, went public on the social media platform Sina Weibo last summer. A prominent television host, Zhu Jun, sued her for defamation and Zhou followed with her own suit, for infringing on her personal rights. Women’s rights advocates in China are following the case.
Zhou says the movement has only reached so far in China, affecting mostly a group of high-profile, well-connected men.
“They were frightened by the #MeToo trend and they stopped. But most people in this society, they’ve never heard of #MeToo,” she said.
“I’ve actually been lucky because Zhu Jun is well-known,” Zhou said. “It’s extremely difficult for women who have been assaulted by their friends, colleagues or partners to seek legal recourse.”
Japanese TV journalist Shiori Ito said she experienced months of trolling and shaming after she revealed in May 2017 that she had been raped. That was before the #MeToo movement got under way in the United States.
“I’m very grateful to all the other women that have spoken up because I felt very lonely,” she said. She said she has felt a change in Japan and in her own family “who were really against me speaking up, and then they started saying, ‘You know what, maybe she’s right.’“
An emotional television interview with South Korean prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun in January 2018, in which she said she had been assaulted eight years earlier, is credited with starting the #MeToo movement there. Seo has since won a court case for abuse of power against her alleged assaulter. She said that watching women reveal their stories in Hollywood helped give her the courage to speak publicly. Supporters marched in the streets with candles and #WithYou banners.
“I told myself that, ‘Yes, this was not my fault and that I should not be ashamed at all,’” she said.
In Pakistan, dancer, theater director and activist Sheema Kermani is campaigning against sexual abuse, trying to make the movement there more than a moment.
“When actresses, big actresses, started calling out big names of actors for sexual harassment, I think it gave Pakistani women and women in media . the courage to speak out,” she said.
In Thailand, model and TV personality Cindy Sirinya Bishop launched the “Don’t Tell Me How To Dress” campaign after receiving a wave of support for a “social media rant” — her response to an article advising women not to wear sexy clothes for the Thai New Year in order to avoid sexual assault.
“It all started when that clip that I posted went viral overnight with the support of many, many women all over Thailand, chiming in, commenting, sharing and saying ‘Yes, this is exactly what we feel.’ Why are we always the ones that have to cover up, or why, when we are harassed or assaulted, is it somehow our fault?” she said.
Bishop also created an exhibition displaying clothing worn by sexual-assault victims. “We have university student outfits to toddler’s clothing to sweatpants and T-shirts,” she said.
She says her movement would have happened regardless of the stories arriving from America. But she adds: “In some way, the #MeToo movement has collectively empowered women without our knowing it, all over the world.”