The Literary Sky Over Pansodan Street
As for a Yangonite, what is the best thing he can expect in a city like Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, apart from its burgeoning gorgeous restaurants, and splendid bars? It seems that Yangon is never devoid of fun and excitement any city dweller is looking for. In downtown area, there are several colonial buildings which still maintain their grandeur and significance to visitors and viewers alike. Most of those buildings such as former red-brick High Court, yellow colour painted Sofaer building, whitewash Rander House building, massive Port Authority building lie along Pansodan Street as well as some other buildings at a stretch of Merchant Road.
The city itself gives its dwellers to enjoy their lives living in it because it has become an architectural museum blessed with various designs and architectures. If someone strolls along Pansodan street, definitely he will see some old books or second hand book selling vendor shops on the curb. They surely display some good quality of old books ranging from English pulp fictions, non-fiction history books, magazines to old English grammar books and several others.
A young literature enthusiast looks at them, and he is engrossed in them. That time, a tall, brown-skinned, curly hair man aged about 40 is trying to show him the best books he has got in his vender display stand to a potential buyer who shows interest in a certain book. The buyer looks at the book, and scans it with much attention. He does not seem to notice other passers-by who cast a glance at him.
Figure 1 Old Book Vendor Shops on Pansodan Street
Among the books, he sees a a wide range of good English novels of George Orwell, Amy Tan, Amitav Gosh, Wendy LawYone and many others. At a time, he has found a book he is looking for. It is a book titled "Saving Fish From Drowning" written by Amy Tan. Then, a bargain between them has settled, and the book buyer happily leaves the besmiling book seller, who holds some notes in his hand.
Then, the book seller looks up at the blaring sky, and tries to swipe his sweat from his forehead which is glistening with the reflection of the sunray. This is his pure earning he contemplates. He also knows how hard his life is, but, he shows any unfliching attitude for this kind of business. He strives to afford his family in this meager income. He knows that selling books is his passion, and he is ascertained that it is the pure profession according to the religion he believes in.
Figure 2 Old Book Vendor Shops on Pansodan Street
Someone will be rich, but not experienced of the satisfaction and complacency he has got now. This thought makes him rejuvenating. At this time, his young child tries to tug the fringe of his longyi to warn him that it is the time to have lunch which has been brought by his lovely wife. He usually tells an interesting philosophy on books: "If you know about books, you don't want to sell them. Selling them out means you sell your own children." Now, he is satisfied with this deal because his patron shows much generosity while he is trying to buy the book from him.
It is a common view a person can see in this street and its environs. A visitor can see several lines of book sellers on Pansodan street. But, they lie up to the corner of Pansodan Street and Merchant Road. When the book enthusiast turns left into Merchant Road, he will see other book vendors selling their books too.
Again, he follows other vendor's shops which lies again in 37th street on which he needs to turn his left again at the corner. In 37th street, apart from vendor shops, he will see another book shop named Moe Kyaw Book House, beside which Ohn Saw(O.S) Book Shop lies.
The Ohn Saw (O.S) book shop collects old books ranging from English books to Myanmar books. Old Myanmar novels, magazines, periodicals are also available in this shop. A little plump man in his 50s sells his book well. One thing he feels satisfied with seling old books is that his shop is frequently visited by scholars, researchers, literature enthusiats, as well as students, local and abroad alike.
Figure 3 Photo of Ohn Saw(O.S) Book Shop on 37 th Street
He also seems to believe in selling books in this way. He surely understands that selling old books alone cannot make him affluent. But, this is his passion and he believes that people need education, and he wants to fulfill this mission. That may be why he sells his books with reasonable prices. One can say that he is friendly and amiable to some extent.
Finding old books in this street becomes a habit or tradition which one can get from older generation. Possibily, a father, an uncle, or a brother trie to breed this trait in children who will later enjoy literary pleasure. People, actually, can read books in the public library or school library. But, it is more enjoyable to look for books in this street. There is another reason for it, because some good teashops lie in this street.
Figure 4 Book Stacks inside O.S Book Shop
After buying books, one can relax at the teashop, just turning over the pages of the book over a cup of tea along with a pot of green tea. It is also a habit almost every book lover does after a visit to second hand book shops in this street.
More famous, and prestigious than the two previous book shops in 37th street is Bagan book shop which is renowned for its availability of English books. The owner U Htay Aung, a man of smile, is willing to welcome any visitor to his shop. His shop was once patronized by Thai Princess Siridon. This becomes incessant pride for the shop. Whenever he relates the story to the visitor, his excitement and enthusiasm never lax. Irrevocably, he is sociable and an avid book collector, too.
Sometimes, upon asking on business, he mumbles and grumbles about not selling well of the books when less visitors come to his shop. Selling books is his only income, and he has got his regular foreign patrons when the tour season is high. Steadily, he continues doing this business because his late father established this book shop when he was alive.
The owner told the interviewer that he wanted to hand down this shop to his graduated daughter because it is his family legacy, and business. When he talks this, the interviewer can discern his eagerness, and hope in his business.
Figure 5 Bagan Book Shop on 37th Street
He told thus: "My father teaches me how to sell and collect books. I've learned quite a number of things from him. My father starts it by the encouragement of his friends who supported him to do it. Later, he has successfully established the leading English book selling shop in downtown Yangon."
It is true that a viewer can see many books lie neatly on the book shelves. He can feel wonderful of the availability of old books. He picks up a book titled "Burmese Folktales" which author is late Dr Htin Aung, a well-respected Burmese scholar, and educator. When he turns some pages over, he sees interesting tales of Myanmar. Then, he decides he should buy it, and he pays the cash and takes the book with him.
When he gets out of the shop, luckily he sees a teashop, above which a big tin kettle is hanged to represent the symbol of the teashop. He has got a few time to linger on in this street because he is not in a hurry to go back. He sits down at a plastic stool which is arranged outside of the teashop. As quick as possible, a young waiter comes up to him, and asks him what he wants to order.
He just says that he will drink "Pot Seint" which is less sweet, and less strong type of tea. A few seconds later, a cup of tea is put forward to him. He turns over the pages and reads a story out of the book. He knows it is such an enjoyable experience, and a very much relaxing time for him. He feels like he is embraced warmly and tenderly by an affectionate city called Yangon.
A while later, he leaves the teashop, and directs his steps again towards Pansodan Street. Promptly, he looks up at the sky and, surprisingly, he has realized that it is bright with literature.■
Photos and Texts by San Lin Tun
About the Author
He was born in Yangon, and educated at Yangon Technological University (YTU), International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU), and edX HarvardX. He is a 2011 NAW contributor, a short story instructor and literary translator of H2 project, and a first prize winner of poetry for 2015 Wales National Day. One can reach him at writersanlintun.blogspot.com.