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.”


Philippines’ Duterte pestered again as gecko stalls speech

Updated 20 September 2019

Philippines’ Duterte pestered again as gecko stalls speech

  • In a previous speech lambasting the Catholic clergy, a fly kept buzzing around him and landed on his forehead
  • While attacking the political opposiion during an election campaign, a big cockroach crawled up his shoulder and down his shirt

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte just keeps getting bugged during his public speeches.
A noisy gecko was the latest wildlife contributor to an address by Duterte, interrupting the leader on Thursday evening just as he launched another tirade at human rights groups critical of his bloody war on drugs.
The reptile’s persistence caused laugher in the crowd of mostly soldiers, causing Duterte stop mid-sentence, turn to his left and pause for a while to see what the off-camera commotion was.
“You brought a gecko here?” he asked an official sitting behind him, drawing laughs.
Geckos are common across Southeast Asia. The small lizard-like reptiles are known for their ability to produce various loud sounds, from barks to chirps, to communicate or when threatened.
While activists accuse Duterte of cowing his opponents into silence, reptiles and insects have no qualms about pestering him during his often hours-long, televised addresses.
A big cockroach crawled up his shoulder and down his shirt during a speech in May when he was lambasting an opposition party ahead of a national election. He joked the cockroach was its supporter.
Two months later, a fly kept buzzing around him and landing on his forehead, just as he was berating his rivals in the Catholic clergy. He said in jest that the fly was acting on their orders.