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 clubhouse there’s a story.
The clubhouse appears to have been the center of social gatherings during the Victorian era.
I suggest that you read Burmese Days to get an understanding of how important the clubhouse was to those wanting to keep a link to the motherland which was at least a month-long journey back home.
The terrain is not conducive to raising horses and Mawlaik was not a big military site. Maybe they used the grounds to play polo or cricket.
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.
Prisoners were Burmese only. When U Thant Zin and I passed by the jail, he just shook his head. That was statement enough.
There’s a new hospital in Mawlaik built adjacent to the old one. The old brick building is not seismically stable and Mawlaik has seen a number of earthquakes. The new hospital serves all.
U Thant Zin sounded bitter when we walked around what he called the “white section” of the hospital. They have torn down the old Burmese section of the hospital.
What would any Victorian Village be without a Christian church?
It even had a bell tower. Imagine being a Buddhist and hearing the bell every Sunday and maybe for weddings, too. I heard Caucasian women from Britain were enticed to visit for just such purposes.
Since Mawlik was ruled by the British, they needed a Government Commissioner and he needed lodging with the finest teak woodwork.
Currently, the Myanmar government is investing some funds into the restoration of the old British buildings.
These abandoned buildings just sit there. 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, 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 backdrop in some BBC movie.
Hidden in the back, the bedrooms appeared to serve as housing for the landlord’s family. Again, there was a sense of willingly 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 their cooking 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. with the harvest of the Teak being paramount. You can tell his importance 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 never returned. It is up to you to use your imagination and fill these buildings in with the people who lived and died there.
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