by Daw Aung San Mue Sli
Hledan Market. A squat concrete Myanmar-modernism shell of a government building, coloured in peeling light-blue paint and crammed with smallholder stalls, the small and medium enterprises of development practitioners’ dreams. This is the Socialist-era Myanmar, where the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) controls market access and items are weighed using antiquated balances and viss weights.
The stalls spill out onto the neighbouring side alleys. Opposite the market, promising good times ahead, there is a Sein Gay Har shopping centre. This caters for the moderately well heeled, with a Moon Bakery on the first floor which sells plastic cakes and plastic pizza and has to be reached by navigating the jumbled racks of the women’s clothing section. This is the new Myanmar circa 2000, pre the banking boom and bust and after eight years of an open economy.
And on the corner of Hledan junction itself, nestling under the new overpass of one of the worst junctions to try and pass through in a motor vehicle, where you can be stuck at the lights a good half hour, the Hledan Centre, a new shiny mega building that houses the offices of the European Union and is owned by a top crony named inter alia Tun Myint Naing and Steven Law (see Wikileaks
for the full list of his names).
Thus are represented three stages of Myanmar’s promised development. For the best breakfast, I vote the Socialist era. Down one of the side alleys that skirts the market, next to the stall selling sticky rice and sweets and opposite the yoghurt seller with his sweaty pots of yoghurt and slumped plastic bags of unpasteurised milk, two ladies cook and sell fresh sweet bein mohn, ‘wheel snack’, thus named because it is the shape of a wheel. It has a texture halfway between a pancake and a crumpet, is made (I think) with rice flour and a dash of liquid jaggery, is topped with shavings of coconut and peanut, and leaves a slight shine of oil on your fingers.
The YCDC wants to move all the streetside snack sellers into designated multi-storey market buildings. They are unfairly copping the blame for the sudden (last two years') traffic. An explosion in the number of cars, a lack of viable public transport options, and a city-wide ban on bicycles and motorbikes are probably greater culprits. The proposed move represents a serious threat to breakfast in Hledan.
One of the ladies sliced up my bein mohn with scissors, into a plastic bag, and then I took it into the cool semi-darkness of the market building, and ate the chunks of mohn sitting on a plastic stool at the teastall, with a cup of strong thick sweet ‘po cha’ tea.
Often when I go out for a teashop or street breakfast, one of my fellow breakfast eaters will pay for my meal. I was seated at this same teastall in Hledan once when a chatty lady explained to me that it was part of the Buddhist way of gaining merit, and I felt momentarily a bit used, but actually what better way of dispensing merit than eating breakfast and being treated to it.