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Yangon tea shops in hot water

Tea shops in Yangon are meeting points for many different types of people. Aside from locals and travelers, music composers, directors, authors and photographers like to meet in the city’s tea houses.

Like the cafes of Paris, the piazzas of Italy and the pubs of England, they are the place where people come together and chat, form social bonds and exchange information. Without these tea shops, Yangon city would be less vibrant.

It is sad walking the streets of Yangon during the coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, and seeing the signs on closed doors that read: “takeaways only”.

With these kinds of restrictions, and no possibility of people being able to enjoy their tea and flatbread inside the tea shop, it’s not surprising to find that revenue for these businesses has declined.

“As only takeaways are allowed, we don’t make as much on sales anymore. With a shop that used to make K1 million in sales, they only receive around K300,000 right now. Many are grateful to have any income at all during this time,” Ko Maung Maung (not his real name), a waiter from a famous tea shop in Yangon, said.

The number of confirmed cases in Myanmar has reached more than 160 during over the past two months. Nobody knows when this pandemic will end, and when the restrictions will fully ease.

“As we have many workers, it’s difficult to pay them all. We had to pay out the newly recruited staff early so that they could go back to their home towns. We’ll contact them when things return to normal. We’ve now hired only the essential workers,” said Ko Tun Tun Oo, manager of a Yangon tea shop.

As restrictions take hold around the city, people visit tea shops only for foods that are in high demand, such as rice and noodle dishes. Tea shops normally attract dozens of people throughout the day, but now they only receive passersby stopping to order the occasional takeaway meal.

“We sold more than 50 dishes every day before. Now, we’re lucky if we can only sell around 10 dishes. Sales have declined as people have stayed at homes, as they are not allowed to have dine-in at the shop. Our revenue is down by at least two-thirds,” a tea shop owner from Thaketa township said.

We’ve had to endure this situation as best as we can. – U Hla Tun, tea shop owner

Small tea shops often employ between 5 to 10 workers, and larger outlets like Seik Tain Kya, Lucky Seven and Shwepalin may employ between 20 and 40. Though some workers may keep their job, many have seen their wages cut as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve had to endure this situation as best we can. We’ve paid workers’ wages and food, the rental fees, electricity and water bill, as well as our taxes. It’s not going to be good for us if sales continue like this. We’ve only hire workers we actually need, and we paid some workers in advance for two months and let them leave,” said tea shop owner U Hla Tun.

A tea shop worker is paid from K60,000 to K150,000, which amounts to over K200,000 with food and costs for accommodation. Most come from rural areas in Myanmar, with an average age of around 20.

“As we only sell takeaway food, we’ve kept hiring only tea makers, cooks and others who can prepare the food,” said U Aung Myo Min, who has managed different tea shops in Yangon for the past 20 years.

Besides tea shops, many other businesses face similar problems during the COVID-19 restrictions. Despite some of the shops being able to reopen later this week, nobody is really sure what the long-term impact will be and whether the restrictions will return. – Translated

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Source : Myanmar Times

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