After my pre-sunrise visit to the hectic and incredible Thiri Mingalar fish market in Yangon I moved on to something a bit more calm: Chinatown. The market is just off a main street and resembles no Chinatown I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’m not even sure why it’s called Chinatown as the only thing Chinese about it were the Burmese ethnic minorities that looked Chinese. While Thiri Mingalar had me inches deep in fish blood and guts and people frantically pushing me out of the way to deliver their smelly dripping baskets perched on their shoulders, Chinatown was mellow and smelled of local fruits, spices, and baked goods.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Photograph the Children
Asian street markets are probably my favorite places to photograph because they always have so many exotic, unexpected, and new things to see, smell, touch, and taste. For the first time, however, I found myself photographing people instead of dragon fruit. There were so many new faces and so many beautiful children to see. This set the tone for the rest of my stay in Myanmar and my shooting style has veered sharply towards portraits ever since. At first I felt apprehensive (and a bit creepy) photographing children but parents were holding them up for me and sending them off to play with me. The children also seemed very excited to be photographed and many even called their friends over to join. Other parents called me over to photograph their children and were thrilled to see photos of their kids on the back of my camera.
After photographing some the children, I wandered deeper into the market and was immediately impressed by the variety of eggs. I saw traditional white and brown chicken eggs laid out on a newspaper covered in beautiful Burmese script, a huge stack of what appeared to be quail eggs, beautifully textured white eggs with dragon stickers on them, and a pile of “muddy” brown eggs that I definitely kept my distance from. I tried to ask what the muddy eggs were but got prices in response.
One of these things is not like the other.
A shop owner called these “Millennium eggs” but they looked nothing like the century / hundred year / thousand year / millennium eggs I’ve seen in other parts of Asia.
I hope this is mud.
There was plenty of strange meaty goodness as one would expect to see in any Chinatown around the world. Of course, it was all vegetarian friendly – these animals are just going about their day.
Some chickens taking a nap…
A pleco fish stretching it’s fins out.
A few organs just hanging out, as organs do.
And finally some sort of mutant-lobster-sized-prawn-thing cooling off on a hot day.
Some of the older shop keepers and parents seemed to welcome the camera as a break from haggling and selling day.
This woman could hardly see me but called me over to practice English. She started to tell me about her hard life until she got close to criticizing the government then suddenly got quiet and acted like I wasn’t even there. Surreal.
This Burmese man did not speak English but seemed to be a very kind soul. He is a great example of the one of the 100+ ethnic minorities in Myanmar, many of which are extremely oppressed. The ethnic minorities fight the hardest against the military junta that strives to forcibly unite the country and as a result minorities are singled out by the government for unpaid forced labor, relocation programs, and find their villages devastated by scorched-earth tactics.
I’d love to know more about this woman but she spoke no English (or at least didn’t speak any to me). Things things she must have seen.
This guy surprisingly stopped and posed for a moment despite his huge load of Pop Soda and Coca-Cola.
A happy butcher smiles for me.
Obligatory Monks and Nuns
One of the groups the government dislikes the most seems to be the Burmese Buddhist monks. They are always involved in protests, criticizing the government for not living Buddhist lives, and apparently many Burmese generals go on to build many elaborate and expensive pagodas to make up for their misdeeds in the military. The people, however, absolutely love the monks from what I saw. Every morning monks and nuns walk the streets with a bowl to collect food for the monastery. Sometimes they’d come back for 4 or 5 bowls full before finishing. The poor and hungry are always welcome to come for free food and I’ve yet to see a single shop keeper not give the monks free food. In fact, they seem to give with a smile – very Buddhist of them.
When I saw this cute nun a second time she was totally hamming it up for the camera and posing. Her friend wanted no part in said shenanigans, however.
And The Rest
About a third of the workforce in the market appeared to be between the ages of 10 and 18. Some were helping their parents and others seemed to be the only people working their stalls.
This boy was rushing between shops, carrying food and drinks back and forth.
And this handsome fellow was preparing food all morning. He also posed for me every time I walked by.
It’s easy to forget about the poverty and life under the military junta when you see stuff like this everywhere…
… but this is also when and where I started to notice that I was always being watched everywhere I went. No matter how remote my location, there were always people following me and watching me from a distance. From reading Finding George Orwell in Burma, these people apparently report tourist (and possible seditionist) actions to Military Intelligence in return for favors and protection. I didn’t believe it when I read it in the book but I very quickly felt eyes on my back at all times once I landed in Myanmar.
I’d definitely recommend visiting the many street markets in Yangon but definitely make sure you don’t discuss politics with any of the locals unless you want to make their lives and yours more difficult.