Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Yadana Win Cinema - Thonze, Bago Region, Myanmar

Welcome to the "midlands" of Myanmar. Myay Latt, as the locals call it. This verdant section of the country spans the immediate northwest of Yangon, following the Yangon-Pyay train line up to its terminus in Pyay. Dotting the railroad, between emerald paddy fields and patches of scruffy forest, are a series of typical Myanmar towns. Low-rise, low-tech, quaint and human scaled. Products, mostly, of said British colonial-built railroad and the mercantile economy it spawned.

Welcome to Thonze, my first stop along the midlands trail after an early morning departure from Yangon. It was February 5th, which is noteworthy only because back in America it was the evening of the 4th and my hometown Philadelphia Eagles were playing the New England Patriots in the Superbowl. Philly is famous for its losing sports teams, so when any of them make it to the championship, I take note, no matter where I am. It's a simple matter of culture, what little of it we possess.

The bus pulled to the side of road so myself and a young Myanmar couple could squeeze out. Like most local buses in Myanmar, this one was packed to the gills with passengers and their baggage. Disembarking required a contortion act involving a bit of rolling and snaking.

After I had collected myself I reached for my phone to check the Superbowl score. Victory Eagles! I was overcome with a nebulous pride over this fickle civic achievement, followed by a brief desire to be among my friends and family, drunk, joyously celebrating in the Philadelphia cold. But as quickly as it had come, the feeling faded, as I turned to more immediate concerns.

"Hello my brother," I said to a middle aged man on the street. "Does Thonze have an old movie theater?"

"Yes," he said, pointing in the direction I could find it.

In a sense, it's more the typology and placement of the stand-alone variety of movie theater that interests me than anything else. Architecture, while always important, is secondary to how the theater interfaces with the town itself.

The Yadana Win Cinema wasn't exactly what I would consider a stellar find aesthetically. From the looks of it, I guessed it was a relatively recent build, maybe dating only from the 1980's or so. There was nobody around who could let me inside, nor anybody in the vicinity with a good enough command of English to impart me with a Yadana Win history lesson. So I decided that I would be satisfied with a few exterior shots and move on.

Cornice of The Yadana Win Cinema

As I was taking aim at the theater, offhandedly wishing that I was back in Philadelphia reveling a Superbowl victory, I started to notice something strange. The Yadana Win Cinema started to vaguely take on the appearance of a bird. The awnings above the windows had a striking resemblance to avian wings. The pillars were like legs. The ugly glass panels up the center of the building reminded me of a bird's neck. And with a little imagination, the peak of the cornice was like a bird's head.

Adding to the weird coincidence that you might, by now, be starting to piece together, is the theater's name. Yadana in Burmese has to do with royalty. Win is simply a common name. But in English we all know what win means.

Think about it for a moment! The Royal Win Cinema; the Superbowl champion Eagles; a theater with a bird-like visage; a wayward Philadelphian looking for movie theaters. 

Does anybody else see the bird?

If there's a god above, it's one cryptic mother.

(Disclaimer: to be honest,  I could really care less about football, professional or otherwise, but particularly so in the wake the NFL's announcement that it would fine players for taking part in non-violent protests, such as kneeling during the National Anthem).