Security Concerns Dampen Chinese New Year Festivities in Rangoon

Source: Irrawaddy news, 13th Feb 2010

RANGOON—As the Chinese New Year approaches, Rangoon’s Chinatown and Maha Bandoola Rd are full of dark red signs welcoming the coming Year of the Tiger.
In almost every department store, mini-mart and beer store, more signs offers special discounts and lotteries to mark the most important occasion on the traditional Chinese lunar calendar.

Despite the crowds in Rangoon’s Chinatown, this year’s New Year’s festivities have done little to boost sales. (Photo: Aung Thet Wine)

Full of people and smoke from noisy diesel-powered generators, Chinatown, in Rangoon’s Latha Township, is almost awash in a sea of red, the most auspicious color in Chinese culture.
But at the same time, there is a streak of white running down the street—painted iron barriers to separate pedestrians and sidewalk vendors from the flow of traffic along the busy road.
It is past 6 pm, and on Maha Bandoola Rd, vendors are trying to position themselves for what they hope will be a night of brisk sales, using wooden boxes, plastic chairs and umbrellas to stake their claim to the best spots on the sidewalk.
At the same time, municipal policemen in their faded blue uniforms are watching them closely. The vendors, who have been waiting all year for this opportunity to make a quick profit during the New Year’s festivities, look disappointed by the heavy security presence.
Normally, shops and vendors selling traditional Chinese goods would have many customers right now. But this year, the mood is very different, because the authorities have banned the three-day festival that usually takes place the week before the Chinese New Year due to concerns that Union Day, which happened to fall in the same week this year, could spark protests and even bombings.

Many shops selling traditional Chinese New Year’s items are in the red this year because of poor sales. (Photo: Aung Thet Wine)

The festival, which is held on Maha Bandoola Rd from Latha Township to Lanmadaw Rd, features numerous stalls that remain open 24 hours a day. It is especially popular with Burmese of Chinese descent, who come here to buy everything they need to celebrate the New Year.
“We always purchase incense, meat, fish and traditional Chinese goods at this festival,” said one 50-year-old Chinese man living on Rangoon’s 29th Street. “It’s very disappointing that we can’t do that this year.”
Street vendors also feel frustrated by the festival ban, because they are only allowed to sell goods along the sidewalks on Maha Bandoola Rd only after 6 pm.
A Rangoon-based Chinese businessman told The Irrawaddy that the ban on the Chinese New Year festival was religious persecution.
“This festival is not like a promotional event organized by companies. It is a place for selling various Chinese New Year-related items and is thus important for every Chinese. It’s unfair that it has been banned..”
Daw Tin Wai, a fruit seller in her 50s, sighs as she complains that she has not been able to recoup the money she spent setting up a stall to sell to New Year’s shoppers.
“The New Year is just two days away, but I still haven’t recovered my capital. There have been fewer customers than usual, and they just aren’t buying as much,” she said.
She said she invested around 800,000 kyat (US $800) for her stall, where she sells a variety of fruits, including durian, oranges and watermelons.. So far, she said, has made just over half that amount and was worried that she would end up losing money.
“During the New Year’s festival last year, I sold 1,700,000 kyat ($1,700) worth of fruit in three days. But since there has been no festival this year, I doubt I will be able to break even,” she said.
She was not alone. Many street vendors and shop owners in Chinatown had the same experience.
“Sales are not very good this year,” said a Chinese garment shop owner.

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