MILLIONS of emails are sent across the world every day – they’re intuitive, straightforward, cost basically nothing and arrive at their destinations instantaneously. The role of email in Myanmar has exploded over the last decade with the widespread introduction of internet and the freedom to use it, and so traditional means of post have suffered as everyone clambers to join the 21st century. But as it is said wistfully of the old days of mainline telephone – there’s something wholesome missing in our flashy new modes of life. Something tangible and textured and warm. Something you can hold in your hands and touch and appreciate. U Kyaw Myint Maung is one of those aesthetic retrogrades who, in the pursuit of analog authenticity, is an avid stamp collector. Something, he says, saves the past while still having something to teach us.
“It’s not just a hobby, it can be lucrative. The stamps increase in value over time,” U Kyaw Myint Maung says. “Errors can be even more valuable. In 2004, the 4th World Buddhist Summit was commemorated with a stamp in Myanmar, but the event ultimately never took place. The stamps were issued, though. The price of that commemorative stamp skyrocketed.”
The collector’s interest in stamps began when he was a youth in Mawlamyaing in the early 1960s. 20-yearold neighbourhood resident ‘Andrew Balthazar’ was known to U Kyaw Myint Maung and his friends as a keen collector who would share some of his less valuable finds with the boys, encouraging them to cherish, study and trade in stamps as well. A collecting culture developed with Andrew providing interesting new items and even hosting competitions to see who had collected the most interesting items. All time spent in the library was dedicated to reading about the art of collecting and U Kyaw Myint Maung was soon engaging in international mail correspondence to access stamps from far and wide. Once a month the letters would flow back into Myanmar, met with great excitement.
In 1970, the Burma Stamp Society was formed and U Kyaw Myint Maung immediately became a member. It was a step up from personal collecting. Being a member of the club meant access to the collective knowledge of all the members and a chance to exchange books. In 1979, U Kyaw Myint Maung joined his second collecting club, the Manawatu Philatelic Association, but this time in New Zealand, where he was working in academia. “When I told them there was only one stamp club for the whole of Myanmar, they seemed surprised,” U Kyaw Myint Maung noted.
These days, U Kyaw Myint Maung is working towards re-invigorating the art of collecting by writing books and trying to find celebrities who share his interest and want to go public. There are very few children collecting stamps, he says with a hint of sadness.
U Kyaw Myint Maung has, to date, published five books about stamp collecting, the first going to print in 2009. That first work, A Handbook for (the) Myanmar Stamp Collector, won a bronze prize at the 2014 World Stamp Exhibition. There is a sixth book in production at the moment.
Nobel peace winners on stamp.
Stamp expert U Kyaw Myint Maung.
U Kyaw Myint Maung’s collection.