The sign pinned to the metal gates says “Closed until May 1st”. Although if it opens on Friday, it would be one of the few shops to do so. Lockdown isn’t lifting quite yet in Yangon. If anything, it’s getting stricter.
Behind those lilac wooden doors is a watch repair shop, and cabinets full of stopped-watches, waiting to get their tick back. U Aung Kyi, the owner and son of the founder who opened the shop in 1966, is keen to get back to work too. This is the first time Mya Min Maw,Yangon’s longest-running shop, has been closed out of holiday season in 54 years.
As a child in the 60s, U Aung Kyi was the keen tutee of the 15 professional white-coated watchmakers who hunched over their workbenches on the second floor while his father ran the shop on the ground floor. In those days, before the economy started to slide under military rule, a Swiss watch was a popular status symbol, and the watch repairers esteemed like doctors. And even now, while his bread and butter may be replacing batteries in $10 Casio watches, the odd 60s Rolex still crosses the city to be tended to by the only man who can.
I have a Gucci watch from the 80s that my Grandmother gave me. It stopped about 6 years ago in London, but having stumped the revered repair booth in Piccadilly Tube (“it’s an old fitting love - can’t get the bits for that anymore”), and been in a drawer since I moved to Yangon, U Aung Kyi had it ticking again in minutes (“easy one”…with a shy smile).
He’s a true master of his craft, something close to our hearts at Kalinko. While we don’t sell watches, I love that a byproduct of living in Yangon is discovering passionate family businesses that survive on expertise and knowledge.
The shutters are closing for good on companies all over the world at the moment, but I’m hopeful for U Aung Kyi. While they probably won’t open on Friday, I feel sure they’ll open again. They have to, don’t they?