Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Yangon Book Plaza: A new literary hub

When Ko Myay Hmone Lwin and Sayar Min Lu wiled away evenings in a teashop, the pair of poets spoke often of their dream to establish a literary hub in Yangon. 

Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar TimesZarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times

“We talked about [Min Lu’s] short story called ‘Sar Nal Zin Supermarket’ (The Media Supermarket) … We imagined that it could happen one day,” Ko Myay Hmone Lwin said.

Sadly, when Myanmar’s largest book plaza opens its doors to the public on February 26, U Min Lu will be there only in spirit: the poet and author died of lung cancer in 2013.

“Now it is truly happening and it is thanks to Sayar,” says 31-year-old Myay Hmone Lwin.

Occupying a total of 20,000 square feet on the fifth floor of Lanmadaw’s Tan Zay, the Yangon Book Plaza is set to be a hive for all things literary.  

Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar TimesZarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times

It’s not Myay Hmone Lwin’s first venture into the literary realm. He founded publishing house Nga Doe Sar Pay in 2013. He lost his investment three times over.

“The books I published were bestsellers by famous writers. I didn’t know why I kept losing money,” he said. “I found out after I attended several workshops and discussion about our system of book publishing with experts from overseas!”

Armed with fresh knowledge, Myay Hmone Lwin founded We Distribution, a door-to-door book delivery service, in 2016.

Within three months of starting, he was distributing some 20,000 books around the country.

“I always try to find a book store when I visit a new place,” he said. He found Myanmar bookstores lacked some of the innovation and ambiance of their overseas counterparts.

“I found most of the bookstores in Myanmar only sell books – not like in overseas countries. I don’t want to compare with European countries, but in Singapore, Japan or Thailand, they offer their books in comfortable ways – like putting in a café.”

“Books are not cloth or goods,” he muses. “Selling cloth, it’s easy to make business. Books contain thoughts and feelings. You need to attract the customer to spend time inside the shop. I hope my book plaza will fill that gap.”

Book enthusiasts will be able to take the elevator to the 5th floor, where they will be able to sit in fully air-conditioned comfort. However, those looking for WiFi will need to try their luck elsewhere.

Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar TimesZarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times

“You can come and rest, even if you have no plan to buy a book,” Ko Myay Hmone Lwin explains. “We’ve not only opened this plaza for buying books – it’s a place for book enthusiasts to hang out with their friends.”

Myay Hmone Lwin says he hopes his new approach will shake things up.

“We voted for our new government because we wanted change,” he said “But we all should change our old mindsets, too! I want to change our old market – selling, publishing or distributing books in a successful way. I’ve tried my best and this can be my first step. I’ll make a new step forward.”