A full four hours at Thiri Mingalar Zay (Market) just outside of Yangon’s downtown grid, and I had yet to cross paths with another tourist. It would have been a surprise to find a fellow traveler in this musty maze of long hallways and rotting wood. I felt so out of place upon arrival that I sat against a damp back wall, watching the bustle and flow of people streaming in and out of the dilapidated market, formerly a parking garage. With only a few fluorescent bulbs brightening the central hallways, most of the market was lit by the weak stream of light from the open walls of the building’s outer skeleton. The overall effect was both eerie and dreamlike, casting a beautiful greenish glow over its packed five floors.

Inside Thiri Mingalar Zay, in Yangon.

While the bottom floor was devoted to an assortment of fruits and vegetables, the second floor was partitioned by popular products, loosely arranged into a banana section and a papaya section and a tomato section, among others. I wandered through the banana part of the floor, a bewildering hodgepodge of narrow hallways stacked with green bananas on the vine from floor to ceiling. Interspersed within the verdant banana piles were young coconuts, hanging from the crumbling wooden rafters in slings of complicated knots. I drifted into the papaya section where the vendors stared at me unabashedly and proffered their fruit for a quick sniff, all the while turning to their neighbours and pointing at the random tourist in a whirlwind of busy locals. Some ventured to ask why I was there, and – of course – why I was alone. Others merely thrust their babies at me and were content to watch me interact with the tiny, thanaka-smeared faces.

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  • Jodi Ettenberg

    Born in Montreal, Canada, Jodi Ettenberg is a former new media and technology lawyer who quit her job after 5+ years of working…

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