Back by popular demand – Bob Percival discovers Chinese family temples, locally made peanut oil, and goat guts salad on Bo Ywe Street.
We stop at Aung Mjin Mhu that serves excellent goat guts salad and steam goat gut intestine at only 50Ks a piece.
The rain continues to fall as the monsoon season sets in. I am walking the street with my good friend Khin Yadana Htun who does Special FX make-up for Myanmar movies specialising in the horror and zombie genre. Today Khin is dressed very goth but nobody seems to notice, and if they do, they are especially friendly. Downtown Yangon is a very warm and accepting place.
We start at the upper block, on the corner of Anawrahta Road, and in the heart of Chinatown. Here there are a plethora of stalls with every tool imaginable for sale. There are spanners, sockets, screwdrivers (1000Ks), wrenches (4000Ks), tape measures (1000Ks) nuts & bolts, hammers (2200Ks), spades and even axes if you need to do some occassional wood chopping at home. Win Kyit Kyaw has had his outdoor stall here for six years. His sister started up the shop sixteen years ago. The tools are nearly all imported from China. Business is fair and he loves his job, treating it mainly as a hobby. Opposite his stall you can buy any variety of sockets and adaptors (500Ks) at very cheap prices.
This upper block specialises in electrical goods. At No.169 you can buy an amplified big horn speaker for only 23,000Ks, a must for street parties and also good for funky decoration in the home. For those who care about the environment, solar panels are also available.
We are in Chinatown and Bo Ywe Street has a number of unique clan houses or kongsi. These clan houses were set up to support family communities that had immigrated from Mainland China last century, predominately Fujian and Hokkien. Under pressure from ruling governments these clan houses or associations were renamed as ‘family temples’ so as not to appear to be political.
On the right side of the street at No.149 you will find the entrance to the Wong Family Temple. Feel free to go upstairs and visit. U Moe Kyaw, the Secretary of the temple makes us feel very welcome. Only the generations of the Wong family can be members here. This kongsi has operated for over a hundred years, and the family was originally from Canton. They kongsi has nearly one-hundred members. If there is a special event or festival it is here that people come to celebrate. Help is also provided for weddings and funerals.
We have arrived at a time when silver and gold foil is being wrapped and prepared for future use. Silver foil is used for funerals and to commemorate the dead, and gold foil is a symbol of good luck and prosperity. The paper foil is burnt in conjunction with praying. We are told that apart from special celebrations, women rarely come here, as most activities are for men, but all are welcome. The Wong Family Temple is open from 7.30am to 12pm. Make sure you visit, it’s a rare opportunity to experience an aspect of local Chinese culture.
On the left side of the street you will find another kongsi at No.140, the Wu Family Temple. Wu is the Chinese word for five. This kongsi has also been here for over a hundred years, and has over a hundred members, forty of whom act as executives. Again we are made to fee very welcome. Things are a bit quiet here and members seem only too happy to chat and share their knowledge. This is the only Wu family temple in Myanmar, and it is the Wu Warrior who they worship. Three special festivals are held each year, including Chinese New Year and a Ghost Festival where prayers are said for the dead.
Further down the street, you can find the Yan Ling Buddhist Temple at No.141 and the Kyi Generation Temple at No.121. Other interesting buildings are an abandoned grocery store, the Thahan Swe at No.107, and the unique blue & green coloured headquarters of the Latha Township Immigration and Labor Office at No.107. At No.89-91 there is the Ma Taing, Temple that was built in 1852.
It’s now time to cross over Mahabandoola Road to the lower block. We stop at Aung Mjin Mhu that serves excellent goat guts salad and steam goat gut intestine at only 50Ks a piece. We decide to only look and maybe eat a little bit later on. In this block is the very affordable Hotel Grand United, which on the top floor has an excellent restaurant offering great views over downtown Yangon, including Sule Pagoda and Shwedagon Pagoda.
Further along on the right side the street is the Chein Hong Ko Buddhist Temple at No.77. At No.61 there is the War War Win Peanut Oil store. Khin buys some oil for her grandmother who is the main cook at home. The shop is situated in an old Chinese style building with star tiles and wood-carved doors. It’s a family home and we do our transaction through a locked gate. The locally-made peanut oil is only 6000Ks a viss (about 1.5 litres). The owner Aung Gyi, who is stern but acommodating, has been living there for fifty years. Further down the block, look for some funky 1960s verandah railings at No.47 and attractive old wooden shutters at No.45
Further down the street on the left is the abandoned Salt & Sea Products Trading Co. (No.30), whose upper floors are occupied by tenants afforded a cheap rent. Nearby is the Latha Township Middle School that at this moment issues forth the yelling sounds of enthusiastic students.
We are now quite hungry and the wind has picked up with a strong premonition of rain from the south across the Delta. At the bottom corner at Strand Road we stop at an outside Burmese buffet stall offering an excellent selection of local ingredients including prawns, fried pork, duck eggs, fish head soup (1000Ks), fried chicken, and delicious fish roe (3000Ks). Alongside the food stall, a local vendor, Hla Hla Win, offers fresh lime juice (300Ks) and flavoured yoghurt (400Ks). Here is a place to relax and savour some local products of downtown Yangon. Enjoy!
Bob Percival’s book, “Walking the Streets of Yangon: The people, stories & hidden treasures of downtown cosmopolitan Yangon (Rangoon)” is now available at Rangoon Teahouse, Pansuriya, Hla Day, Press Office cafe, Easy cafe, and large bookstores in Yangon. Percival is now planning to do a second book that covers more streets.