Cramped and damp, Yangon’s new night market disappoints
SEPARATED from traffic by highlighter-yellow concrete blocks, the Yangon City Development Committee’s newly opened night market on Strand Road is, in a word, cramped.
Vendors and shoppers jostle each other in the narrow spaces between steaming grills and plastic chairs. Drivers park cars haphazardly along the barrier, with the horns of idle taxis never out of earshot. It almost feels like one of Myanmar’s legendary full-moon festivals – except for the fact that not everyone is enjoying it.
“Frankly, I don’t like moving here,” said Mya Mya Win, a 55-year-old fruit-seller who used to operate her shop on Latha Street.
After 30 years on the same block, she has joined a total of 1600 vendors in the mass relocation toward the Yangon River. The YCDC hopes the move will alleviate the choked streets of Yangon’s colonial grid and improve traffic flow.
But the 1600 vendors who made the move represent just a fraction of the official streetvendor list, which numbers over 6000. Even more operate unofficially. And while many of those who did not receive spaces in the new market have complained about a questionable decision-making process, a The Myanmar Times investigation found plenty of rankled vendors inside the market itself.
“Sales are low and money is not circulating,” Mya Mya Win said. Though she added that business could be slow-going in the initial weeks after the move, the veteran saleswoman still expressed doubts for long-term improvement. “Sales have been really bad from the opening day.”
Part of that dip may be purely logistical: Located at the bottom block of downtown, the new market is an inconvenient trip for families living in downtown’s upper blocks and northerly townships. Mya Mya Win said the logistics are proving a pain for vendors too, and due to the market’s proximity to the river, expressed concerns over potential flooding when monsoon season hits.
“Now I pay more for transportation,” she said. “And at the old place I had a convenient place to keep the fruit when I packed up at the end of the night. I need a new one.”
According to Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, the market is the first of its kind to be arranged by the government. And with official planning comes at least a few convenient benefits. Lamp posts allow vendors to save the battery life of their own devices, and water pipes allow for washing and cleaning at the turn of a faucet.
But Yan Kyaw, a 32-year-old food vendor who serves Shan and Chinese foods, said the market’s perks do not quite make up for its shortcomings.
“More people are coming every day, but the sales rate is still not as good as the old place because we got such a small plot,” he said. “Our regular customers have come to us, but they end up finding other places because we don’t have seats for them.”
His new Lashio Shwe Mate Sat stall fits into less than 64 feet, or about half of the space he was used to working with. The new market plots are available in three sizes – 32 square feet, 48 square feet or 64 square feet – but none of them are as big as the traditionally sprawling arrangements that have stretched along Yangon’s major thoroughfares for years.
Despite size restrictions and a dearth in sales, some vendors reported relative satisfaction with their new digs – especially compared to the unfortunate majority, who will soon be forced down side streets and into expensive negotiations with home owners regarding sidewalk spaces.
U Aye Maung, 60, said that, generally speaking, his business selling ei kyar kwei (deep-fried dough) has only marginally changed since he moved from Latha Street’s lower block. His only concern, ironically, was about the effect the market’s location could have on Strand Road traffic.
“The big trucks from the harbour … They drive really fast. Some are carrying gas. If an accident happens and the trucks crash through the market, people will definitely die. I can’t even imagine,” he said.
Shopper Shwe Mhone Ei, a 17-year-old student, agreed.
“They opened the night market to reduce traffic, but now traffic on Strand Road is worse than ever,” she said.
Street vendors in Yangon’s new night market have expressed some concerns that the new location is hurting business.
Vendors enjoy the lamplight at the market, but said the logistics of travelling to and from their stalls are more complicated than ever. One vendor said he is worried about the market’s proximity to Strand Road’s heavy truck traffic.
Just 1600 of an estimated 6000-plus vendors in Yangon won spots in the new space on Strand Road.