I’ve been in Myanmar for 3 days now, after just a short stop in Bangkok (just enough time to get, in a blink of a eye, a sense of innumerable crowds and hectic traffic), and I should (and will eventually) try to gather all my thoughts and experiences into an article, but as today we went on a idle walk all around the center, without any sense of purpose, just to discover small streets and corner stalls, I couldn’t wait to share a few glimpses into some of Yangon’s bookstores.
There are many, ranging from open air stalls (that is, a plastic cover with piles of books arranged in a way that clearly defines gravity) appearing and disappearing just as quickly with each rain shower, to two storey bookshops in ancient, crumbling colonial houses. In one of those, (Yangon book house) the owner was idly scratching on a guitar when we came in, giving to the small, peaceful place an Cuban atmosphere, and we talked for a long time about Myanmar History, its various (and numerous) ethnic tribes and about Burmese colonial days.He had everything, from old reader’s digests to “Burmese Pamphlet”, my favourite of those, dated 1937, was a collection of “up to date basic statistics on Burma”, where you could read, under telecommunication: ” the number of telephone exchanges for the year 1936 was 9″.
In a other one a bit further down the same road (I love the organizing system of markets in Asia:everything grouped by articles, that road was apparently only books+tea stalls, a perfect combination) we found another second hand book store, dusty and dark just as we like it, with a various collection of bookish gems, old penguins, and half destroyed books on Buddhist history and culture. To note, “how to improve your golf”, written in Burmese language, with a handful of schematic drawings picturing a very English gentleman golfing (very wrongly, under a big red cross, and then the right way, with a satisfactory smile), a book on numerology for the years 1968 to 1970 (useful, to predict the past) and a scientific book on sexual anatomy, complete with detailed measurement of the “median size of Sexual appendages”, but not one picture inside, despite the cover saying it’s “illustrated” (probably the term they were looking for is graphic).
In the end, amongst all these treasures, I managed (with the help of my friend, who kept showing me my backpack as a warning) to restrain myself, and only bought a battered orange penguin, collective short stories and radio plays by Muriel spark, from 1966.
I now don’t want to leave Yangon before I’ve been through all those small bookshops, but it appears we must travel on (at the risk of me using my food budget on outdated books),so I’ll jump in the public bus with Muriel Spark. It’s a worthy company for a stunning country.