Sunday, January 10, 2010

Floating market of Ywama village

Inle, like many lakes, has numerous communities surrounding it. What makes it unusual, however, is that it also has communities on it. On the western side of the lake sits the Venice of Myanmar: Ywama. The local people have built their homes and buildings on wooden piles and bamboo poles driven into the lake bed. Some are, admittedly, rickety affairs, but there are also beautiful teak buildings of one and two floors.

One morning, on my way to Indein Pagoda, I had the good fortune to pass through when the village hosted the rotating market. Because no single village can realistically maintain a daily market, each community takes a turn. Ywama's market is particularly appealing to tourists because much of it takes place in boats on the water.

I was undoubtedly the first recognizable foreigner to arrive because the women in boats made a beeline for my craft. I was quickly surrounded by merchants presenting their various handicrafts. All hope of getting through was lost when I made the fatal mistake of mentioning that I was looking for a necklace. They were clambering over one another to present their best necklaces, one even climbed into my boat with a arm load of them. Eventually, I settled on two necklaces from two merchants.

During the haggling, a couple of other tourist-laden boats came through the channel and were quickly pounced upon. Their pilots, more comfortable in the situation than mine, pushed through the picket and put their boats ashore.

The Ywama community is not quite without land. Over the years, some villagers have piled up the soil from the bottom of the lake to make islands. Several of these are used for monastery and pagoda complexes. Ywama's market is held beside the land occupied by one of these.

People selling food items gather near the shore while durable goods (and tourist items) are found closer to the temple, away from the lake. The merchants near the water stake out their territory with bamboo mats or vinyl tarpaulins. They would then carefully arrange their produce and wait for customers.

In addition to carvings and other locally produced items, the market is also a good place to acquire exotic antiques. I was quite fascinated by the collection of ancient records. Some were clearly from India, but did Burma once have a major recording industry? It certainly does today, but it would have been interesting to hear the music on those platters.

My never-ending quest for interesting necklaces lead me to a woman with something unlike any of the others I'd seen. Most of the necklaces on the tables and in the boats were of the same styles. This one, however, was quite different. It consisted of heavy porcelain beads with primitive designs. My understanding was that it came not from Inle, but from the Chin people, far to the west. To this day, I'm still suspect of my understanding and wonder if it's not, in fact, from the nearby Shan people in the east.

We settled on a fair price and I acquired a new treasure. I put it around my neck and continued my walk through the market area. I immediately noticed a change in the people when they saw my necklace. I received approving smiles and nodes as they pointed to my new acquisition. "Ah, you Chin man!"

While the market was the typical frenzy one comes to expect, I was surprised at how quiet things near the monastery. Except for the Buddha in the middle, the building was vacant. The smoothly polished floor indicated that it was used frequently. In the grounds around the building, small groups of people lounged in the shade or ate their breakfast around the stupas. The most prevalent item in the picnic baskets, or on every tables, was a thermos of tea.

By the time I completed a second circuit of the market, more tourists had arrived. The sun was getting higher and it was time to explore more of the lake.

See more photos here.

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