A four hour ferry ride north of Myeik deposits us at the Dawei passenger port. Here the coastline is pristine, unspoiled by industry of any kind. From the looks of it there is scarcely any human activity whatsoever along the banks. Only mangrove swamp and other riparian vegetation.
The vessel docks at the mouth of the Dawei River, but it's yet another hour by bus to the city proper. As bus rides in developing countries go, this was easily the most horrifying I've ever experienced. Indeed, the trans-mountain roads of northern Laos or western Shan State, with their amateur engineering around hair-pin curves, sheer cliffs below, made for joy rides compared to a drive through the low-lying paddies of northern Thanintharyi.
A mound of dirt, barely one car lane wide, raised up several meters from the flanking paddy, comprises the road. No shoulder or retaining wall to speak of. The bus, an act of benevolence from Japan circa the early 1990's, used and worn down, has a suspension system akin to a trampoline. That is, every divot along this long neglected highway causes the bus to spring skywards, seemingly out of control. There is no way the tires can possibly grip the brittle asphalt when this occurs. Our driver, moreover, has a penchant for speeding. If we are not flung from the road into the dry paddy fields below, then certainly we will maim an innocent farmer walking along our same path. Maybe a child on a bicycle. An ox crossing between fields. Near town we come inches from rolling over a motorbike carrying three dare-devil teens who are smoking cigarettes and carrying on without a clue. Aside from that close call, no calamities.
Within an hour of dismounting the bus, shaken but unharmed, the first of Dawei's two movie theaters stood before me.
Tea shops flank both sides of the Aung Mingala's foreground - recessed, as it is, from the street-side building-line. The shops might obscure a clear view of the cinema from street-level, but they also attract a steady flow of traffic to the theater grounds. In years past, the tea shops and the theater shared a symbiotic relationship with each other, as patrons made a day out of the two leisure activities. Apparently that relationship is much less so today. Movie-going in Dawei seems to be dying out. Tea drinking, at least, has not waned as a shared pleasure among the locals.
A swell idea gone awry: electrical wires interfere with an elevated shot of the Aung Mingala Cinema and its environs.
Up close with the facade. The number 2000 on the cornice represents the year the Aung Mingala was rehabbed, not the year it was built.The Art Deco facade of brick and cement - along with a small, concrete lobby area, mask an auditorium built almost completely of wood. The floor of the balcony - wood through and through - generates creaks and groans when walked upon. The wooden proscenium around the screen, which - for lack of tripod - I carelessly neglected to photograph, has the year 1952 painted on it. Next year the Aung Mingala will be 60 years old.
Check back in a few days for a glimpse inside Dawei's Aung Mingala Cinema, courtesy of its devoted - to say the least - staff.