A woman tends her shop in Mandalay’s Zegyo market (phobus/Flickr).
Thet Tun Oo, a resident of Mandalay’s Chan Aye Tharzan Township, woke up on Monday morning to news of Germany’s spectacular victory in the World Cup final. “I read about it in a news journal,” he said.
He and thousands of other football fans around the city had been unable to watch live World Cup matches at teashops and sports bars for the past week and a half, following two nights of inter-religious clashes that left two dead and more than a dozen injured. A curfew – imposed under Article 144 of Burma’s penal code – went into effect on 3 July, relegating the city’s residents to their homes from nine in the evening to five in the morning.
With the city under strict lockdown at night, businesses throughout the city have been impacted. The Shwe Oh teashop, located north of the city centre, is usually open 24 hours a day – which, during World Cup season – should mean a windfall for its owner, Tin Wai.
Before the curfew was imposed, his shop was routinely packed with neighbourhood sports fans well into the early morning, as the satellite television subscriptions needed to watch the games live from home are unaffordable for many. But re-runs air during working hours, and Tin Wai’s regulars haven’t been showing up.
“During the day, we’re basically breaking even. Because of the curfew, I am losing two lakhs (US$200) every night,” he said. “My employees work in two shifts – one daytime, one nighttime. Now, both are working during the day, and of course I still have to pay their salaries.”
Despite this, he feels that the curfew serves a purpose. “Because of the curfew, the problems have been getting better. But from my perspective, it’s having a really bad impact,” he said.
Tourist arrivals to Burma have skyrocketed over the past few years, and Mandalay –with its plethora of religious and royal sites and its central location between Bagan and the Shan Hills – has been at the epicentre of the tourist boom. The riots and curfew haven’t dented demand, claims Richard Mayhew, general-manager of the Mandalay Hill Resort, one of the city’s top hotels. “It was really a one-day event, and it hasn’t impacted tourist arrivals,” Mayhew said. “We’ve had to adjust our staffing because of the curfew, but foreign visitors are still coming, and local guests are still eating at the restaurant.”
Mandalay’s night markets are a crucial node in the supply chains that keep the city’s restaurants and groceries stocked with fresh produce. Commodity merchants interviewed by DVB claim that while rice prices have remained stable, some customers have begun to stockpile supplies, fearing that the situation may deteriorate once again.
Nge Nge, a produce wholesaler, normally sells long beans and mustard greens at a night market along Mandalay’s riverfront. Since the curfew went into effect, the market has opened earlier, but the vendors only have five hours every day to conduct business. The shorter opening hours have also forced farmers who sell to the wholesalers – who would normally conduct business in the afternoon – to meet their customers in the morning, condensing the business day and making it difficult for them to leave the city before it shuts down.
But the curfew hasn’t had a significant impact on Nge Nge’s bottom line. “We have regular customers, so our business hasn’t been affected that much,” she said.
Robbed of the luxury of time, she began to pre-package vegetables into weighed, plastic packages at home, in a bid to shave precious seconds off of each transaction. “We need to be fast: as soon as the customers come, we have to be able to sell them what they need,” she said. Some customers, unable to make it to the market during its modified opening hours, opt to have their purchases delivered by motorcycle.
Taxi drivers, too, are feeling the strain. “Because of the curfew, drivers that usually work the night shift have to work during the day, which makes it difficult for day-shift drivers to get passengers,” said Ngwe Soe, who can usually be found parked outside Mandalay’s central train station when he’s not ferrying around customers. “Usually, I’d make 6,000 kyat ($6) in the morning, but the other day, I only made 500 kyat for the whole day.”
The city’s trishaw drivers have seen increasingly difficult times over the past few years, as an increase in motorcycle taxis on the city’s streets has provided them with new competition. The curfew has made their lives more difficult than usual, but few are feeling the effects of the clashes as hard as Maung Aye.
For the past few years, he has waited for customers most mornings at the corner of 82nd and 27th streets in the heart of Mandalay’s Muslim quarter – directly across from the tea shop at the epicentre of last week’s riots.
“Most of my customers are Muslims, and they are not moving around so much these days,” he says. “Many of the shops are not open at all.”
A Muslim business owner, who did not want to be named, said that while the neighbourhood still felt tense, calm has mostly been restored and he felt the risk of further violence was low.