Thiri Mingalar Fish Market

Markets are one of my favorite places to shoot but I’ve never shot a fish market before, let alone a fish market in a third world country. Most tourists visit the fruit and vegetable portion of the Thiri Mingalar market but I went to the fish market. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Just ten minutes after my arrival I was already standing in fish guts, my pants were beginning to soak up indescribably foul liquids, and I nearly slipped and fell on fish guts multiple times… and the sun still hadn’t come up yet. I had to hand wash my pants four times before they didn’t reek of rotten fish and the socks from that day are currently in some garbage dump in Myanmar. I was definitely not at all prepared for the chaos that I saw. Afterwards I had to regroup, collect my thoughts, and visit a second morning with a more serious camera setup (two DSLRs with different lenses). I felt like a photojournalist for the first time in my life.

I arrived before the sun rose and watched as people wandered through the dark streets.

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A vendor who spoke no english tried to offer me breakfast composed of a single egg.

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A child rode up on this funky rusty bike, ditched it, and ran into the market.

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These children seemed as confused as I was at the pre-dawn chaos around them.

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Fish (catfish?) head piles were everywhere. I thought it was some sort of rotten fish waste but people were actually perusing them. The smell was almost unbearable.

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As the sun started to come up, people started to notice the white boy with two cameras. This man showed me some of his fish heads.

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Huge trucks carrying blocks of ice the size of people arrived regularly. These blocks were brought to a number of diesel powered ice crushing machines that resembled industrial wood chippers. The noise was nearly unbearable and even standing 30 feet away I was still not far enough away to avoid being hit by stray pieces of ice.

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Three men getting ready for their shift.

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A shop keeper shows me a giant blue lobster, something I’ve never seen before.

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Another man shows me one of his fish.

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There were buckets full of fish everywhere.

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This grumpy man was at least wearing a nice fragrant frangipani in his ear while he sorted fish guts into bins.

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A man tries to buy some small fish while the shop keeper cuts off their heads and sorts bodies into one basket, heads in another.

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Men were constantly rushing back and forth with hand woven baskets full of fish on their backs. To prevent the fishy baskets from dripping all over them they all wore plastic capes. These fish couriers would sometimes run through the slippery streets and they looked like bizarre super heros.

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A man holds a basket of strange fish with large antennae.

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Oops, I seem to have wandered away from the fish market and I found some produce. At least it doesn’t smell so bad over here.

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Back to the fish market. This pickup truck was loaded up with fish and ice and drove away.

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A man carries a tub of dead chickens on his head.

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This Burmese monk was collecting alms barefoot in the fish market.

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A man takes a nap amid the stink and chaos.

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Big smiles all around!

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This boy was eager to show me his tattoo.

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A man takes a break from cutting fish to pose for the camera.

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A slightly wider view. This is what the fish market looked like.

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Oops, found more produce again. I wanted to buy some bananas as a snack but all I could smell was the fish market just around the corner and lost my appetite.

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I saw this girl a few times and she always had an amazingly pained look on her face. I eventually decided to snap a few shots of her and she just sat there looking sad. I wish I could know her story.

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Behind the fish market were tons of empty crates.

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The shore didn’t look much nicer either. Boats arrived every few minutes with barrels of just-caught fish to be sold. The banks of the river were covered in trash for as far as I could see in each direction. I watched as people threw fish remains, broken crates, paper refuse, and plastic bags onto the shore… presumably for the high tide to take away.

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Another boy takes off his shoes and naps.

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As I left I saw this girl being chauffeured in a very fancy looking older model car and she was giving the fish market disapproving disgusting looks. Perhaps she is the daughter or wife of a general.

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I definitely recommend visiting the insanity that is the Thiri Mingalar fish market if you are feeling adventurous and really want to see how people live in Myanmar day to day. Do not wear flip flops or pants that are long enough to touch the ground and be prepared for some incredibly powerful smells. I promise you will not be disappointed.