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.”


No politics please for Baghdad bikers aiming to unite Iraq

Updated 20 January 2019
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No politics please for Baghdad bikers aiming to unite Iraq

  • That is why the first rule of his bikers club is: you do not talk about politics
  • The Iraq Bikers — who now number 380 — are men of all ages, social classes and various faiths

BAGHDAD: Roaring along Baghdad’s highways, the “Iraq Bikers” are doing more than showing off their love of outsized motorcycles and black leather: they want their shared enthusiasm to help heal Iraq’s deep sectarian rifts.
Weaving in and out of traffic, only the lucky few ride Harley Davidsons — a rare and expensive brand in Iraq — while others make do with bikes pimped-up to look something like the “Easy Rider” dream machines.
“Our goal is to build a brotherhood,” said Bilal Al-Bayati, 42, a government employee who founded the club in 2012 with the aim of improving the image of biker gangs and to promote unity after years of sectarian conflict.
That is why the first rule of his bikers club is: you do not talk about politics.
“It is absolutely prohibited to talk politics among members,” Bayati told Reuters as he sat with fellow bikers in a shisha cafe, a regular hangout for members.
“Whenever politics is mentioned, the members are warned once or twice and then expelled. We no longer have the strength to endure these tragedies or to repeat them,” he said, referring to sectarian violence.
With his black bandana and goatee, the leader of the Baghdad pack, known as “Captain,” looks the epitome of the American biker-outlaw.
But while their style is unmistakably US-inspired — at least one of Bayati’s cohorts wears a helmet emblazoned with the stars and stripes — these bikers fly the Iraqi flag from the panniers of their machines.
The Iraq Bikers — who now number 380 — are men of all ages, social classes and various faiths. One of their most recent events was taking party in Army Day celebrations.
Some are in the military, the police and even the Popular Mobilization Forces, a grouping of mostly Shiite militias which have taken part in the fight to oust Islamic State from Iraq in the last three years.
“It is a miniature Iraq,” said member Ahmed Haidar, 36, who works with an international relief agency.
But riding a chopper through Baghdad is quite different from Route 101. The bikers have to slow down at the many military checkpoints set up around the city to deter suicide and car bomb attacks.
And very few can afford a top bike.
“We don’t have a Harley Davidson franchise here,” said Kadhim Naji, a mechanic who specializes in turning ordinary motorbikes into something special.
“So what we do is we alter the motorbike, so it looks similar ... and it is cheaper.”