Smart and Mookerdum: Hunting for Myanmar’s Lost Bookshop

Smart and Mookerdum: Hunting for Myanmar’s Lost Bookshop

It’s the second week of our self-isolation in Yangon.  Having spent the last five days digitally scanning the front covers of my Burma Book collection (just in case the worst happens and we are forced to leave them behind) and doing everything I can to distract myself from finishing the novel, I decided to solve a mystery that has irritated me for years.

continue reading

Where the Burmese Sherlock Holmes Lived

Where the Burmese Sherlock Holmes Lived

The emergence of a ‘Burmese’ literature in the 1910’s and 1920’s was influenced by the import and translation of western literary forms, in novels and short stories.  Though this influence has arguably been exaggerated, the first true Burmese language novel by James Hla Gyaw has been often called an adaption of Duma’s Count of Monte Cristo, in reality the two share only a peripheral resemblance …

continue reading

Discovering the British Council’s Library

Discovering the British Council’s Library

The British Council might be a strange place to put on a list of prominent literary landmarks in Myanmar, but its library has played an influential role in the fight against decades of literary censorship in Yangon. The British Council’s original location was in Rander House on Pansodan Street, lower block, in the 1950’s. 

continue reading

Finding Nobel Laureates at Gandhi Hall

Finding Nobel Laureates at Gandhi Hall

Nothing about this squat, grey, block of a building would have it marked as a venue that has graced not one, but two Nobel laureates.  Once the home of the Rangoon Times, the first all-English language newspaper in Myanmar that ran from 1856 to 1942, it was also visited by the great writer Rabindranath Tagore in 1932, during his third and last visit to the city.  Apparently, he spoke and read from his work …

continue reading

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: OS 2

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: OS 2

A sister shop to the larger OS store on 37th Street.  This iteration opened in 2017 to take advantage of the busy foot traffic on Pansodan.  The manager, U Han Myint, often seen from the main street with a book in his hand through the open shutter space, has complete control over the shop, including purchases and sales …

continue reading

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: Book Street

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: Book Street

As if Yangon needed to cement itself even further as a city of books, in 2017, a street of books opened on Theinbyu road on the east side of the Secretariat.  The initiative of short story specialist and current Minister of Information, U Pe Myint to encourage the city’s residents to embrace their literary heritage and love for literature …

continue reading

Praying at the Siangbawi Than

Praying at the Siangbawi Than

For centuries, the Chin people, who now live in the hills that border Bangladesh and India, were animist, tracing their own oral histories that began when they left their original ‘chinram’, or homeland, a dark cave. When the Christian missionaries came, following the British imperial invasion of the Chin Hills in the last decade of the 19th Century, their first mission took root in Hakha, now the capital town of the Chin Hills.

continue reading

Finding Siyin Literature in Chin State

Finding Siyin Literature in Chin State

The Chin, who live in the hills that border Bangladesh and India, like to say that Burmese literature was born from peace, while Chin literature was born from war. The first known Burmese text is the 12th Century Myazedi stone in Bagan, which lists the deeds and donations of a prince in memory of the love he held for his father and mother …

continue reading

Searching for Tagore at the Guardian Press Building

Searching for Tagore at the Guardian Press Building

With such a high concentration of colonial era buildings it can be so easy to walk pass a building and be utterly unaware of its former significance to the city.  The Guardian Press Building is made even more anonymous by relatively recent cladding which hides most of its prominent architectural structures making it appear as if it was only built in the 1990’s.

continue reading

The Standing Stones of Thuklai Village

The Standing Stones of Thuklai Village

Travel in Chin State and you are most likely heading towards the major towns, Falam and Hakha in the north, Mindat in the south (and if you are fortunate, Matupi in the centre).  But these are mostly imperial constructions, enlarged by Christian missions and colonial trade with the valleys in Burma Proper below.  The original clusters of the first chin communities are often found beyond the road.

continue reading

Pitaka Taik

Pitaka Taik

Though there are many libraries in Yangon, the Pitaka Taik – three basket – library ranks as one of the most ornate.

Prime Minister U Nu, a devout Buddhist, convened the Sixth Great Buddhist Synod between 1954 and 1956 (the 5th was held in Mandalay a century earlier and resulted in the ‘world’s largest book’ at Kuthodaw Pagoda). 

continue reading

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: Hin Lai O

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: Hin Lai O

With publishing power centres in Yangon and Mandalay, there are very few bookshops to be found in the smaller towns across the country.  Kalaymyo, a former Shan town on the northern edge of the hills that mark the beginning of Chin State and only a couple of hours drive from Tamu on the Indian border is probably the last place you would expect to find a bookshop to rival any in Yangon.

continue reading

Dancing in the Manau Park in Kachin State

Dancing in the Manau Park in Kachin State

The Kachin, an umbrella term for the six ethnic communities who live in Myanmar’s most northerly state, were once led by Duwas or clan chiefs.  As well as governing their lands and the villages on it, the Duwa’s were also cultural guardians, commissioning Jaiwa’s – storytellers – to recount the epic oral myths and authorising the Manau celebrations.

continue reading

Reading George Orwell at the Strand Hotel

Reading George Orwell at the Strand Hotel

This iconic hotel was built as a wooden boarding house by an Englishman and in 1901 sold to the Sarkie brothers, the famous Armenian hoteliers, who renovated it to the structure more or less how it is seen today.  It soon became ‘the’ top hotel in the country and the first port of call for many writers who visited Burma, including George Orwell, Somerset Maugham, H.G.Wells, Noel Coward and Rudyard Kipling.

continue reading

Printing with the Government Press Building

Printing with the Government Press Building

Sitting in the shadow of the much larger and imposing Secretariat, it is easy to dismiss this two storey, red brick building as just another of the many abandoned and unloved heritage structures so common in Yangon.  And yet (as is true for so many of these buildings) for over a century the Government Press has a long and important history …

continue reading

Turning the Pages at Kuthodaw Pagoda

Turning the Pages at Kuthodaw Pagoda

With so many pagodas in Myanmar, it is easy to dismiss them all as alike.  Yet, Kuthodaw pagoda is something special. Off a quiet road from the former palace walls, the Kuthodaw Pagoda, like all pagodas, is best visited at dusk, when the tiles are no too hot to walk on and when the bats start to come out the nearby banyan trees … 

continue reading

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: OS

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: OS

Named after its owner, Ohn Saw, OS was a pallet stall on Pansodan Street for 30 years, until opening at its present location at the turn of the transition in 2012.  Despite the sheer amount of books in the shop, the majority of the 100,000 stock is kept in various places, including in bundle sacks in alleyways, and the 1st floor of empty buildings on Pansodan Street …

continue reading

Touring the Tourist Burma Building

Touring the Tourist Burma Building

Complete a circuit of Sule Pagoda in the heart of Yangon and it’s impossible to miss the three buildings that dominate the roundabout: the Sunni Jamae Mosque, City Hall and the Tourist Burma Building.  The last of the three, on Sule Pagoda’s south side and taking up an entire city block, is emblematic of the twisting histories of the city’s grand colonial era buildings: from riches to rags to restoration …

continue reading

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: Yar Pyae

Exploring Burma’s Bookshops: Yar Pyae

The last bookshop to be found on Pansodan Street, just before the bridge rises to cross the train tracks and to the left of its more famous competitor Innwa Books, is Yar Pyae. Founded and owned by Daw Khin Swe Win, Yar Pyae opened on January 1st 1999 and is still going strong boasting nearly 100,000 books in stock and averaging 150 customers a day … 

continue reading

Delving through the Mandalay Cultural Museum

Delving through the Mandalay Cultural Museum

Though many of the museums in Myanmar have suffered from decades of neglect and underfunding, Mandalay Cultural Museum does hold a few literary gems. The Yadanabon Gazette: In 1854 Mandalay, King Mindon, a reformer of sorts and fully aware of the technological superiority of the invading British Forces to the south, commissioned the first Burmese language newspaper, the Yadanabon Gazette … 

continue reading

Admiring the Sorrento Villa

Admiring the Sorrento Villa

I’ve always admired this building.  Perhaps because it stands so out of place in the curve of one of the city’s largest roundabouts, far from the downtown townships, where the crush of so many colonial era buildings can often minimise their grandeur. Though the exact date of its construction is unknown, as is the original owner, the Sorrento Villa seems to have a century long connection to literature …

continue reading