Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ananda Festival Market

The Ananda Festival draws hundreds of monks. People from villages all over travel in for the event. For most, this is the biggest gathering of people all year and they make a real event of the festival. Whole families pile into ox carts and move in for the week. Villages travel together and set up makeshift camps all around the Ananda temple. The place has a medieval feel to it.

This huge influx of people attracts business, of course, and a temporary market becomes the center of attention for the week. A large boulevard extends from the temple entrance. Shops set up on either side and the center is filled with mats upon which vendors lay their goods.

Branching from the central boulevard are several corridors of vendors neatly lined up on the parched grass and sandy soil. The stalls are made almost entirely of bamboo. Poles support woven mat walls and roofing. By mutual consent, the vendors extend their roofs over the center of the corridors to provide a shady walk for shoppers.
On the east side of the market, carnival rides and theatrical performances provide entertainment for all ages. Restaurants line the south side of the market, but food stalls are scattered here and there all around. There are numerous fruit and vegetable vendors on the west side, closest to the road.

All day, and well into the evening, villagers walked between their encampments and the market hauling water, purchases or supplies. The women typically carried their items balance on their heads.

The most popular category of mercantile goods is clothing. Everything from coats to underwear, from hats to sandals are on sale in scores of vendor stalls throughout the market. Many of the products are recognizable brands. They're mostly knockoffs but I suspect some are imperfect goods sent over from Thai, Chinese and Malaysian factories. Most of the t-shirts were emblazoned with English phrases; something I saw all over South East Asia.

The second most popular is manufactured goods, mostly kitchenware and farming implementation. Pots and pans and kitchen knives shared space with shovels and watering cans and oil lamps. The quality of the metallurgy was poor, but it got the job done for a price the locals could afford. I was quite surprised to have encountered one very large stall selling large electric appliances including air conditioners, generators and refrigerators.

Fabric vendors displayed assortments of brilliant cloth bolts and ever-popular terrycloth towels. Burmese women tend toward the more colorful patterns while the men stick with subdued earth tones. A few of the more entrepreneurial vendors had set up tailoring services beside the fabric stalls. Buy your cloth and have a longyi sewed while you wait. This enterprising young woman was kept busy all day at work on her sewing machine.

It was the locally produced items that interested me the most. Woven basket goods were the most predominant. Although labor intensive, the raw material is abundant. Whole sections of the market were packed with baskets, trays and boxes. The boxes were my favorite, although crude in comparison to the more elaborate items, I appreciated their simplicity and functionality.

Woven mats took up the most space. These were arranged by size and style, laid out in several vendor stalls.

The villagers took their time choosing the one appropriate to their needs. They'd roll them up and carry them off to their camp. They'd end up as flooring, walls or roofs.

There were also plenty of ceramic products. While I liked crude animal figurines and vases, the most spectacular sight was located in the north west section of the market. Hundreds of huge water cisterns were laid out on the ground. Each one was large enough to conceal a large man. I watched many men wander through the selection and taping the gigantic pots to identify the best one.

In addition to the "official" stalls located in the market, there were numerous freelance merchants hawking easily moved items. I noticed this young woman in several locations one day. She would lay out a small worn piece of nylon tarpaulin and lay out her supply of tanaka wood and patiently wait for a customer. After a while she'd pack everything into her little bag and move on to a different spot.

There were some rather curious things for sale in the market. Some I quite expected, like a couple of music shops - except they were selling cassette tapes. I had seen poster shops quite frequently and these prove a fascinating cultural window. To add some color into the homes of the locals, they buy posters of various sizes. They are typically portraits of Burmese movie stars or singers, but there are some curious anomalies.For some reason, tennis star Maria Sharapova and pop star Avril Lavigne posters were everywhere.

Of course the whole purpose of the Ananda gathering is to support the temple and the monks, so it's not surprising to see monks wandering among the stalls during the day. Occasionally I'd see older men with their heads bowed as they walked, and sometimes young monks in tow behind a solemn master. More often it was just boys being boys. I don't recall ever seeing any of them in the evening but they frequently visited the movie theater to escape the heat of the sun. I suspect that most of them had never seen a movie before.

Of course the festival attracts plenty of tourists, but not nearly as many as you'd expect. Most tourists explore the temples and pagodas and don't spend much time in the market. Tour groups do come in but they're usually led by a hotel guide. It was fun to watch some of the younger locals practising their English with the foreign visitors.

At the end of the festival, the villagers pack up their belongings and make their way home.

See more photos here!

1 comment:

Henk said...

Great story and slidshow over here: