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Debts, Durian and the Decline of Strand Night Market

Author Tiffany Teng

It’s Sunday evening at Yangon’s night market on Strand Road and a durian vendor is playing a game of cat-and-mouse with a Chinese tourist who’s haggling with him. He asks to remain nameless, calling himself “Ta Yote Lay”, or “Little Chinese”. The durian stall is across from 18th Street, within the boundaries of the city’s Chinatown.

When he lets the Chinese tourist smell a durian, she says, “This durian is rotten!” in Chinese. Offended and willing to drive away a fussy customer, Ta Yote Lay slices off a piece of the “rotten” durian and shoves it in his mouth. He tells New Naratif, “I recommend the best of what I have. If they don’t listen, I tell them to get lost.”

Strand Night Market - Tiffany Teng

Contrary to his behaviour, Ta Yote Lay is one of many struggling vendors at Yangon’s Strand Night Market. Since the market moved from its original location on Mahabandula Road in November 2016, business has been lousy. For a fruit seller, Ta Yote Lay is doing better than most: he can sell 20 durians per day and make between one and three lakhs, a Myanmar counting unit of 100,000 kyats (US$65). He’s finally doing better after two years of losing money. During that time, he’d heard stories of over 20 people who abandoned their shops to run away from debt collectors.

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