Un­der the Pan­so­dan fly­over: per­sonal groom­ing in a pub­lic place

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NYO ME

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

Pho­tos: Nyo Me

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.

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