Under the Pansodan flyover: personal grooming in a public place
AT first, some customers were shy. They didn’t like to think the passers-by and the motorists thronging around this busy intersection were looking at them, or could see them getting what they had come for.
After all, their business was kind of personal. Down below the Pansodan flyover, across from Ruby Mart, more than 30 of the service providers come together among the parked cars. They offer massages, ear cleaning and the cutting and shaping of nails (finger and toe, male and female). It’s a true day job: They work office hours, from 9am to 5pm.
Every morning, they bring plastic chairs for their clients, stools for themselves, their instruments – clippers, knives, ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, the tools of the personal grooming trade.
Among them, some are family but some are not. Prices vary. You can pay K1500 to get your nails trimmed or your ears swabbed out and K3000 for shaping long nails. Some ask K5000 for a whole-body massage and K3000 for foot massage. Others masseurs charge only K3000 for the whole body, K2000 for the feet.
Sometimes emergencies arise. Treatment for an ingrowing toenail or earache caused by excess wax will cost more. These practitioners also offer home service.
It all started with four Chinese men who offered ear cleaning and nail cutting in front of the now-demolished Shwe Gone Cinema around 1980, according to U Aung Win, 57, himself a 30-year veteran of the trade.
“At that time, I sold ice-water and my brother-in-law who sold snacks there learned from them by watching. Then he started working like them, except that he also added massage,” he said. U Aung Win learned from his brother-in-law, starting work in 1986. “When I started, there was no Pansodan flyover. We were doing business in front of other people’s houses. There were only four or five of us, but now,” he said, gesturing at the small army of personal groomers, “there are a lot.”
One of the car park practitioners is Ma Sint, the daughter of U Aung Win’s brother-in-law. She was something of a pioneer.
“Of course, my father didn’t want me to do this job. But when he saw me clipping my nails, holding the clippers all wrong, he had to teach me how to do it properly. And one day I realised that girls would come to the site to get their toenails cut, but would go away disappointed because all the cutters were men. That’s how I got into the business,” said Ma Sint.
“My husband [now retired] and I worked together, supporting our four children. Three have already graduated, and the youngest is in Grade 11. Unlike other street shops, this kind of trade doesn’t require much investment – only skills,” she said.
Ko Steve (not his real name) once worked in a massage room, but now plies his trade under the flyover.
“This is really a kind of market. The masseurs here are more professional than the ones you find in a massage room. This way I can be my own boss, not working for someone else. I can also make more money, about K300,000 a month on average,” he said.
Ko Steve’s customer Ko Nyi said, “When I first used to come here for a massage and to get my nails trimmed I was a bit shy, thinking passers-by were looking at me. But we’re not doing anything wrong, so I learned not to mind what people think. I’ve been coming here for 15 years.
“Of course, I worry about bacteria. That’s why I made my own knife for cutting my nails and I bring it whenever I come here. They use a lot of ethanol, so I think I’m safe,” he said.
Daw Cho Cho Myint from Insein township was impelled by emergency. “I came here to get an ingrowing toenail cut. My sister had the same thing, and she’s also diabetic. She was treated at Sakura Hospital, and it cost about K300,000. She had to pay that every time her toenail grows in. But then she came here and found it only cost about K30,000. That’s how I came to hear about this place. But I also bring my own knife.”
‘When I first used to come here for a massage and to get my nails trimmed I was a bit shy, thinking passers-by were looking at me. But we’re not doing anything wrong, so I learned not to mind what people think. I’ve been coming here for 15 years.’ Ko Nyi customer
A personal groomer massages a client’s foot under the Pansodan flyover, a service which can up to make K300,000 (US$240) per month.
Clippers, knives, ethanol and hydrogen peroxide round out a typical groomer’s toolkit.
One customer gets an earful.
U Aung Win (centre) clips a customer’s toenails. He has been in the business for more than 30 years.