When entering Myaungmya by road, the first notable site is an enormous brick church at the edge of town. The scenery at this early entry point is leafy and green, giving said church an out sized, almost medieval look against the sparse surroundings.
Moving further into the urban core, modest, mostly two story residences and shop houses unfurl on both sides of the contoured street. When town center is reached, the architectural sobriety gives way to the recherche ornamentation of Myaungmya's waterfront shop houses. These bejeweled trophies of plaster and brick, built in the middle decades of last century by the town's wealthy merchants, form the low-rise pinnacle of one of Myanmar's most enamoring cities.
Like many towns in the Irrawaddy Delta, Myaungmya has a waterfront buzzing with activity. Squadrons of dockworkers still unload small and medium sized vessels by hand into low slung godowns just next to the river. And among the industries still found along the water's edge is boat building, a sign that riparian trade continues to play a major role in this low lying corner of the country.
So long as poor road infrastructure in the Delta keeps trucking from being a cost-effective form of transport, it's likely that Myaungmya's busy port will stay busy.
As for its movie theaters, that's another story.
The Aung Theit Hti Cinema - the oldest standing cinema structure in Myaungmya
While not on par aesthetically with the opulent structures that inhabit Myaungmya's commercial core, the Aung Theit Hti (Hti is pronounced Tee) Cinema blends perfectly in with its surrounding residential neighborhood. Set back from the street side building line and a few steps below street level, the modest former movie hall occupies a nearly anonymous nook of the city. If it were not pointed out to me by a local shop-keeper, it would have gone altogether unnoticed.
The name and year constructed are faintly visible on the upper edifice of the Aung Theit Hti
A poster board sits slatternly among the debris of the open air lobby
30 years have gone by since the Aung Theit Hti was operational. Three decades worth of neglect have likely wreaked havoc on the place. But besides the exterior, with its brick patio now leased out to a tea shop, I wasn't able to see for myself, nor share my findings with you, thanks to a kernel of fear planted in my head by the shop-keeper who led me there. After taking me to meet the owners, a frail, elderly couple who live in one of the ornate shop-houses in town center, I was offered the chance to photograph the Aung Theit Hti's interior. Victory, I thought, especially after learning that the theater's components - the seats and screen and curtain - apparently stood as they had been left when it closed. For an architectural photographer, particularly one who specializes in modern day ruins, this was music to my ears.
Just as we departed the theater owners home, the shop keeper said to me, "You're young and strong. It would be no problem for you to deal with the giant snake that lives there. But I'm too old. You can go in alone."
He said "giant snake." In my mind's eye, I saw the world's largest cobra curled up in the filth of the theater. I imagined it lurching at me as I accidentally kick it while setting up my tripod. The headlines splashed across the Myanmar Times: American Photographer Bitten by Cobra, Dies in Abandoned Cinema.
He was bluffing, of course, to keep me from going in. And I'm a fool for buying it. But hindsight is 20/20, and the thought of a painful death by snake bite in putrid cinema hall caused me enough doubt to halt the survey.