Unfortunately, we missed the Zegyo Market in Mandalay. Call it what you will – over tiredness, too many beers or lost in translation – we just didn’t get there. We did stumble across a small night market on 84th Street, however.
Whilst it is certainly not the same standard of night markets you’d find in Thailand, it did provide some interesting stalls and great people watching (I could win gold for Australia if people watching was an Olympic sport).
Markets in Myanmar are a little different to those you’ll come across in Thailand. You still have to duck and weave out of the way of scooters and motorbikes as they come zipping through. What you won’t find is swarms of drunken tourists, arguing over the price of dodgy Fred Perry knock offs. Just as the Shwedagon Pagoda still operates as a tradition place of worship, markets in Myanmar are run by locals, for locals. The fact that they can make money from tourists is a bonus – although you will find with some markets that vendors are setting up typical kitschy tourist stalls.
This night market was small, but stocked a wide and bizarre array of items. Need a Hawaiian shirt for Thingyan (Burmese New Year, like Songkran)? Got it. How about a watch? Would you like some crazy knock off Burmese Army gear with your silk longyi? Among the stalls selling Buddhism amulets and the leather flat shoes that all the locals seem to wear in Myanmar, you’ll find a couple of tables and chairs where a street vendor has set up, selling beers, water and a curious dish that looked like slow cooked pork. Locals zig zagged through the stalls, chattering amongst themselves and weaving through the speeding motorbikes and scooters with ease. I, on the other hand, was busy trying not to get run over, take photos and look at everything all at the same time (I only nearly died under the wheel of a 1970’s model Harley once).
My absolute favourite part of these markets were the book stalls. Big sheets or tarps were spread out on the ground and piles of books were arranged on them. Some stalls laid them out neatly in rows and divided into English and Burmese sections. Others simply tipped the books out of the cart into a pile for people to sort through.
It is definitely worth stopping for a look at these stalls. There are wonderful books to be found, and cheap! I picked up a 1946 copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, still with its original cover, for less than $AUD2. John bought a few books including a collection of Burmese folk tales that had been translated to English.
Two books I looked at for a long time and now wish I had bought were copies of the Fundamental Rules of the Union of Burma, dated 1958 and 1960. For less than $AUD5 each, they’d have made great additions to my already overflowing bookcase. If anyone is in Mandalay and finds them, send them to me!
The streetlights didn’t work the whole time we were in Myanmar, due to power shortages, so stall holders string up little fluoro lights that they run from car batteries. The light isn’t the best so if you want to be able to have a good look at what you’re buying, take a torch with you. Remember to take your patience as well – the true gems are buried beneath piles of other books. Quite often, if you spend a long time looking at one stall, the owner will begin unearthing books they think you may be interested in.