Monday, March 28, 2011

The Mingala Thiri Cinema - Dawei, Thanintharyi Division, Myanmar

Under the crisp, cool season sun, Dawei calls to mind a set from a Spaghetti Western. Broad, dusty streets, as straight as can be, stretching out as far as the eye can see, are corralled by low-rise, low-density buildings of various tones. It's a sleepy town. By mid-day it grows listless, silent, smothered under a heat-inspired languor. A gentle breeze accompanies you wherever you go, creating a constant hum as it flutes past your ears. All that's needed to complete the Spaghetti Western illusion is dueling gun-slingers backed up by a Morricone score.

Had you been a visitor Dawei in the late 1960's, you might have caught a Spaghetti Western at one of its two movie theaters.

The Mingala Thiri Cinema

The Mingala Thiri Cinema defies architectural categorization (at least by my amateur standards). Five squared columns rising to a central peak comprise the most noteworthy element of its facade. Like its fraternal twin, the Aung Mingala Cinema, situated just a few blocks to the north, the Mingala Thiri is set back from the building-line and partially obscured behind tea shops. Both theaters were built in 1952, likely the product of the same proprietor. But maybe, just maybe, they were each owned separately, by dueling exhibitors, who added a little Spaghetti Western-style competition to this sleepy southern town. Cinema showdown, you could call it.

Ticket window

Concessions being sold outside, in front of the theater.

Long-employed usher.

In Dawei, the cinema business has eroded to the point of near nothingness. At least so it seems from a guest's perspective. Much like its counterpart a few blocks to the north, the Mingala Thiri Cinema has an aura of slow decline surrounding it. You can feel it in the air, see in the eyes of its aging staff.

Asleep on the job.

The Mingala Thiri Entertainment Group

There's some great text painted above the two theater entrances. This one says: "May you prosper with auspicious and noble companions."

This one says: "May our friend's be happy in body and mind."

Dawei was memorable for its colorful tag-alongs, like this guy, who prided himself in resembling Mr. Bean.

Light beam pierces through a window.

Balcony view

Proscenium marked with the year 1952.

Satisfied customers

Five peaks and signage. Mingala Thiri translates to "Auspicious Glory"

Dawei's molasses-slow pace and Wild West aesthetic might soon become a thing of the past. Change is in the air, to the tune of a 10-billion dollar investment. As of November, 2010, an MoU has been signed between Myanmar's military junta and Thailand's largest construction firm, Italian-Thai Development, to build a seaport and industrial complex at Dawei. Most of the facilities will be located along the Andaman Sea coast, thus not abutting the town proper. But a project of this scale, with the potential to rearrange the geo-politics of the entire region, will inevitably have some affects on Dawei itself. For example, boat traffic destined for China from the Indian ocean and points west will no longer have to pass through the Straits of Malacca - long the most important shipping lanes in Southeast Asia - to reach their destination. Instead ships will be able to bypass thousands of miles of sea travel by making Dawei the new port of call. The same logic will accompany exports from southern and western China, as overland transport routes through the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS), reaching as far as the Andaman Sea, continue to be developed. Dawei, then, is likely to see change unlike anything its experienced since the colonial times. With potential investments pouring into the city, will the Aung Mingala and Mingala Thiri cinemas find new life, or quick death? One way or another, Dawei is a place to watch in the coming years.

Read more about the "Dawei Development Project", as it's known, by clicking here.

(Special thanks to San San Pway for her auspicious and noble translation work)

1 comment:

  1. Great post - it's been a while since I visited your site. Hope you'll consider turning your stories and images into a book. Thanks