January 5, 2014
I borrowed a bicycle and joined U Thant Zin for a tour of the Victorian Village in Mawlaik.
Let me take you back to 1916.
To support the teak trade along the Chindwin, the British imported their way of life from back home. So Mawlaik has a golf course, although the grass is not always cut these days.
And where there’s a golf course there’s a club house.
The club house appears to have been the center of social gatherings during the British occupation.
I suggest that you read Burmese Days to get an understanding of how important the club house was to those wanting to keep a link to the mother land which was at least a month long journey back home.
I’m not sure what they would be showing at a parade ground. The terrain is not conducive to raising horses and Mawlaik was not a big military site. Maybe they used the grounds to play croquet or futball.
The teak trade must have been brisk for the British to have built such a large government building in such a remote area. My question is: what kind of work would the government employees do?
What struck me about the current use of the government offices was that the Burmese appear to be temporary tenants, ready to pick up and move. Nothing seems permanent.
Some offices remain empty, like the court room.
When U Thant Zin and I passed by the jail, he just shook his head. I guess that was statement enough.
There’s a new hospital in Mawlaik built adjacent to the old one. Surprisingly, the old one is not being used. The old brick building is not seismically stable and Mawlaik has seen a number of earthquakes.
U Thant Zin sounded bitter when we walked around what he called the “white section” of the hospital. They have torn down the Burmese section of the hospital.
What would any Victorian Village be without a Christian church?
It even had a bell tower. Imagine hearing it every Sunday or maybe there were even weddings. I heard Caucasian women were imported from Britain for just such purposes.
Since Mawlik was ruled by the British, they needed a Government Commissioner and he needed lodging.
Currently, the Myanmar government is investing some funds into the restoration of the old British buildings.
But I didn’t see any work being done while I was there.
I was surprised the flooring was not teak but either tile or linoleum. Maintaining buildings and in particular the wood is expensive in the hot humid climate along the Chindwin. It was phenomenal that these buildings were still standing. They’d be perfect as a back drop in some BBC movie.
The bedrooms appeared to serve as housing for Burmese employees. Again, there was a sense of temporary use.
Wherever there are government officials, there are government officers to protect them. Their homes were not as elaborate as the superintendents.
But, they were fancy enough to have a western style crapper.
U Thant Zin said only British buildings had fireplaces.
There hasn’t been much entertaining in the officer’s salon in recent years, so the current landlords have converted it into a Buddhist shrine.
All British kitchens were kept separate from the rest of the house. As noted in Kalewa, fires are not unusual and rebuilding the kitchen is much easier than the whole house.
Today, they caretakers have moved the kitchen into the main building. Yet notice how temporary it looks.
I can’t imagine them using these “two-man” saws today. But if they still use oxen to haul the logs to the river, then maybe they don’t have chainsaws large enough to cut the teak lumber.
British staff were needed to manage the locals.
And the British Forester must have been as important as the Commissioner. You can tell by the size of the house.
But all that remains from the Victorian era are the buildings. In 1942 the Japanese invaded Burma and the British fled to India. The Raj has not returned. It is up to you to use your imagination and fill these buildings in with the people who lived and died there.
I really appreciate you visiting my web page. It means a lot to me. In the comments box, I’d like to hear what you think about my posts – tell similar stories – share other blog forums.