YANGON, Myanmar — For years they poured out their hearts on the broken pavements of Myanmar’s cities and towns, young lovers desperate for privacy yet with no choice but to use what the Burmese call roadside phone shops. Daw Myint Myint Than, who rents out her two phone lines in central Yangon, has heard it all: the sobbing, heartbroken women; the angry spouses; the duplicitous boyfriends who gush sweet nothings to one girlfriend, hang up and repeat the same sweet nothings to another.
“I have lost all faith in men,” said Ms. Myint Myint Than, who sat on a plastic stool impatiently wiggling her silver-painted toenails as her customers chatted away.
Roadside phone shops — actually no more than a tiny table on the sidewalk and a few push-button phones — flourished in Myanmar when the former military junta set the price of obtaining a cellphone at thousands of dollars.
But as this country opens to the world, the phone rental business is losing customers quickly, one of a number of antiquated trades that are disappearing from a rapidly modernizing country. Who needs a roadside phone shop when you can now buy a cheap cellphone and call from anywhere you want?
The list of soon-to-be obsolete professions is growing: The typewriter clerks who sit outside courthouses and government offices are losing ground to computers and email. The mimeograph machines and a whole neighborhood of men who manually carve rubber stamps are being replaced by laser printers, scanners and photocopiers.
In every society, professions disappear in the name of progress. But the pace of change in Myanmar, where army generals introduced a form of democracy two years ago, has been compressed into months, not decades.(more)