Fruit vendors share more than downtown pavement
share more than downtown pavement
JUST next to Bogyoke Market and in front of FMI Centre, a cadre of about 40 street vendors sell local snacks, fruits, vegetables, clothes and paintings. Most tourists and Yangonites have squeezed through their ranks on the way to the market or a cup of joe at Bar Boon.
But if you peer closely into the faces behind the pomelos and mangoes, you might notice some resemblances from stall to stall. It’s no coincidence – most of these vendors are family.
“My mother and her younger sister have been selling fruits around Bogyoke
zay since they were teenagers,” said fruit-seller Ma Yin Yin Nwe, 24. “Now, my mom is 60 years old.”
According to Mya Yin Yin New, around 12 of her fellow vendors are related in some way to her mom – who she asked not be named – and her aunt. She sells rambutans next to cousins selling mangoes and an older sister selling mote own nout, a Myanmar snack of steamed rice and sugar.
“When I was young, I started out helping my mom,” Ma Yin Yin Nwe said. “Eventually I started selling in a blank spot when I got older.”
Now it feels as if there are no blank spots left. Since Myanmar Railways closed its headquarters for good in 1994, a lot has changed on the stretch of pavement between Sule Pagoda Road and Bogyoke Market. Parkson and FMI Centre went up; a compound for Myanmar railway employees came down.
That compound used to house the patriarch of another vendor family. Daw Thidar Nwe, 37, has been selling vegetables since she was a little girl – whose father worked as a typewriter clerk for the railroad.
“We had a room at the compound [since replaced by FMI Centre],” she said. “His salary wasn’t enough for the whole family, so my mom and other staff families began selling goods outside the building.”
She says that, back then, there were other vendors hawking their wares along Bogyoke Road. But many were forced out to Insein township when the railroad housing compound was demolished 22 years ago.
“We had to move, but I still come and sell because I’ve been selling here since I was young, with my mom,” she said. “This place is like my own place.”
And though Nwe Daw Thidar Nwe’s other family members no longer return to where they got their start, she still manages to enjoy a familial atmosphere. Nobody encroaches on her territory or undercuts her prices.
“Some of us are truly related, but that doesn’t mean the rest are strangers,” said Yin Yin Nwe’s older sister, who like her mother asked not to be named. “Because we’ve all been here for so long, we are like one big vendor family.”
She added that, if she has to miss a day of selling, her fellow vendors will sell her snacks for her and give her the money she missed.
What will the future hold?
The family has decisions to make soon, however. Yangon’s quickly rising skyline is likely to displace the vendors, with Yoma Strategic Holdings set to build Landmark Development on a 10-acre block that spans from Bogyoke to the old Railway Headquarters – running right through their customary spots.
Management at FMI Centre and Parkson have long allowed the vendors to work in front of the building because they recognise that the vendors were there first, even if Yangon City Development Committee has occasionally arrested unlicensed vendors as recently as April.
But the privilege to sell without complication may run out in January 2017, when Yoma’s massive development breaks ground.
“Some officials told us recently that we have to move when they start, but they told us we could apply for jobs at their stores when they finish their project – or something like that,” Ma Yin Yin Nwe said. “I think we will have to move, because it’s dangerous to sell so close to a construction site.”
Larger families, with many children in school, are concerned about finding a new, equally lucrative location from which to sell their wares; Ma Yin Yin New said she thinks she can find a place if she has to.
“All of us are thinking about it now,” she said.
Apples for sale next to Bogyoke Market provide a livelihood to a handful of large families, who have hawked their wares on that stretch of pavement for decades.
Ma Yin Yin Nwe (far right) waits for passersby to buy her rambutans.
Daw Thidar Nwe (centre in grey) remembers when the families of Myanmar Railway workers hawked goods to make extra money, back before their housing compound was destroyed in 1994 to make way for Parkson and FMI Center.
Daw San San Myint, an aunt to Ma Yin Yin Nwe, offers samples to some hungry backpackers.
Ma Yin Yin New says at least 12 of the 40 vendors stretching along the sidewalk in front of FMI Centre are her direct relatives, with several other families making up the rest of the street merchants in the area.