Elicitations

The researcher plan: use the method “photo-elicitation”.

Way before I get ready to do so, many of the people I talk to ‘self-elicit’ their lifeworlds, showing me pictures on their phones and explaining without me even asking. I learn a lot about the idea of privacy, I reach regions that I cannot access physically as Foreigner at the moment, and understand where new design ideas come from.

I did so similarly with some photographs from Germany at times for the general interpersonal exchange. Now,  I want to use the method in a structured and thought-through way. Finally, I found all locations that are part of the production process, document them and print the pictures. With these images I plan some questions for conversations. I would like to learn, which associations come up about other places and learn more about the relations of their own businesses/families.
In reality it didn’t go the way I expected – of course.

Location 1

The whole family was present, the two ladies that also work here were not.
With the ladies who run the business I went through these images. They recognized some of the production sites and then went to the back of their house to show me their samples – which we talked about before, but suddenly it seemed more clear that I am honestly interested in these. It turns out that they have a sample collection in perfect condition. I was able to document everything and in the end I even received one as a present (which I refused vehemently but they insisted) so that I am the happy owner of a fantastic piece of work now.

Location 2

This workshop is bigger and only one of the sisters has the time to talk to me today. Usually they are very talkative and I have slight problems following our conversations due to amount and speed of input – so also today I put on the record first thing, so I can go through it again afterwards. The parts I still don’t understand I will have to ask for help. I could review some of my information with the help of the pictures as well as finally find that silk colouring workshop that I have been looking for quite a while. It is not that I didn’t ask about it before but the answers I received from different people were not clear enough to find it yet.

image

All in all, the method is definitely very useful in breaking with the one-sided concentration on my questions – which for this context proves a repeating pattern although I am trying to not open up this kind of interview situation it often happens that people stop working and expect me to ask questions. As a result, I will definitely continue to bring pictures but probably less in quantity so single processes receive more attention.

Elicitations

From Field to Field

Kengtung (also written Kyaing Dong) lies in the Eastern Shan State within the area that is also called the Golden Triangle. Only recently one of the land borders nearby has been opened (Tachileik, Myanmar – Mae Sai, Thailand). From within Myanmar it is still only accessible by plane. Thus, the number of visitors is still relatively low and accomodation options for tourists/Foreigners pose a central problem for me here as well.

image

Flashback

Turning up last year in Kengtung as my critical, sceptical, ever-asking self (this did not change much) I was lucky enough to run into someone who adopted me as his sister right from the start. He was super patient and helped me with whatever he could. His talent for taking care of people and organizing so well made me call him “brother/a-ko” during the first days. It is the term with which you would adress a male person around the same age. Only days later I randomly asked his age (learned from this experience to do it earlier now) and it turns out he is much younger than I thought (and he never said anything of course). As addresses solely refer to the age the proper term is “little brother/maung lay”. In general it is very helpful to always be able to address everyone in a very friendly and familiar way, an absolute door-opener.

Together we tried to find villages in the surrounding area  where frame-loom and  back-loom weaving is done. As we succeeded in that, Kengtung was set as part 2 of this ongoing research.

The Reunion

So, now I am here again. Thanks to mobile technologies my little brother and me were able to keep in touch during the past year. Nonetheless it is not a matter of course that he managed to organize a house for rent already and between his two jobs makes space in his life for my popping-up, too. We see familiar faces in the villages and monastery, check out the house and meet old friends in town.

This time the preparation is very different from field site 1. With the Myanmar I speak by now I can get along in Kengtung, but in the villages around several languages are spoken. This is also the reason why I chose this to be the second part – my hope is that I can find someone who can translate from Myanmar to one of the languages, as I cannot assume that English is an option here and as much as I would love to speak all of those languages myself I have to be realistic. Also, the fundament I could lay in terms of literature research is very sparse. But the organizational stuff that cost me quite some time in Mandalay is already taken care of and compensates it a little I hope.

Big thank you to my little brother!

image

 

 

From Field to Field

Savory and Sweet Streetfood

Of course – one has to eat to live and as some people told me that they don’t really know what there is, I  I will put a little bit of easy-to-get and easy-to-eat together.

Here are some of the vegetarian options (have no clue about correct English phonetic spelling…)

 

Bae Bau Si

Steamed bread with red or yellow bean filling (little sweet), mostly transported in a big aluminum box on the back of a motorbike with a loudspeaker.

image

Mon Baun

Steamed (white or black) rice pancake mostly served with salt, oil and crushed peanuts and sometimes in the sweet version with jaggery filling. Spotted them often in front of pagodas, steamer made from pottery ware or aluminum.

image

Parati and Nan Pyar

Either savoury with a small portion of curry or beanpaste as a side or with sugar e.g. Most likely to find in Teashops or at their front. Parati is baked in some oil, Nan Pyar without.

image

 Beijn Hmo

Sweet thick fluffy pancakes topped with white poppy seeds (don’t have a picture at hand but will add it later). Various places: markets, pagodas and along the street.

 

Always good: Fresh Coconut!

Also good: fresh coconuts are always somewhere around, they will ask you whether you want to drink or also to eat them.

image

Do I miss something you would like to add? Please feel free to comment below!

Savory and Sweet Streetfood

A No Go in Professional Life: Bringing your Mom to Work

Usually, it is a strange thing to do. In general, you don’t bring your parents – or any relatives for that matter – to work. But dwelling in the in-between of my professional and private life everything is different. Ever since the first mentioning of my mother’s upcoming visit to the people around me I am asked frequently when exactly she is coming. Everyone wants to meet her and “shake hands”.

Finally, she is here now. The first day in Mandalay we said hi at the anthropological department and the next day we toured most of the weaving sites that I frequently visit. For my mother everything was new, for me it was new to explain the different sites (a good chance for reflection) and everyone seemed very delighted that – as promised – we actually came visiting.
Some conversations and a lot of pictures taken later, we ended the day at the pagoda hill in Sagaing with Z.’s family. A very typical thing to do, whoever tells me about a special day or event – visiting a pagoda is always part of it and I felt very happy that for us it was the same now, too.

The pagoda area reflects this idea: It is not only a spiritual place that you visit in solitude and quiet for devotion, but it is also a lively place full of families, friends and couples. Street stalls are all around, selling flowers to offer to the Buddha or one of the shrines, snacks, handicraft articles and shiny Chinoiseries to take home as a souvenir.

Already in the past year, pagodas were always my first resort when I arrived at a new place. Because it is right in the middle of life, so that it is easy to connect here – which I feel is one of the strongest differences to the Christian churches I am used to, where silence is the most important thing to obey to and the holy area is not made to show it’s ties to the profane.

Thus, after showing respect to the Buddha there is also time to enjoy the view and take selfies.

DSC01340.JPG

A No Go in Professional Life: Bringing your Mom to Work

Innovations at the Hub

Research focus on handweaving does not mean a neglection of the current developments in the use of textiles. Thus here is an example how Myanmar entrepreneurs create new products with existing fabrics.

image

I think Soe Maung Aungs shoes are an interesting case for understanding how a variety of relations are negotiated, in a very simplified version these are relevant elements:

A) Keeping together past and present: Using known patterns as a means to present and continue the traditional/culturally known
B) Ethnicity: Taking up different ethnic group ascribed designs, allowing for identification and a broad representation
C) Adapting the material to a new context: ballerina shoes
D) Economic participation: Creating a connection to the international market, where ballerinas are a standard shoe form, thus targeting expats and travellers as well
E) At the same time presenting an innovative model for the local shoe consumption (usually flip flops and their more fancy version Ka Lee Ba as well as shoe imports from abroad).

Concerned how to give back to the community I will use this post also to share the contact information with you.

Different designs and sizes are always available. And the economic strategy also includes a customization service: bring the fabric you like and the shoes are made in 2-3 weeks! Can’t get any more special I think.

Find the nice team around entrepreneur Soe Maung Aung at the Bogyoke Market. When standing in front of it it is the first inner-row building from the left, outer row quite in the back.

image
Ma Pan Ei will find the perfect shoe for you

Don’t hesitate to show the pictures on the phone to someone at the market, they will help you find it!

Innovations at the Hub

Same Procedure as Every Day. How to find Routines and Ways of Participation

Every beginning is troublesome and every day was different. As you could read, several people helped me to find research sites and introduced me there. At that point structuring days or weeks was hopeless. Sudden appointments and unexpected discoveries were the daily normal.

First visits to sites often already included longer talks than I planned: because people were expecting me to ask questions. So my position at that moment seemed clear,  even if I didn’t really plan it to be like this. So first I explained a little what it is that I am doing and I was improvising on the questions then. But this situational conversation actually led to some relaxation after a while and we chatted more easy going and it was very informative for me.

Now we got to the point where we know each other a little and there are some behavioural routines. Not all available food in the area is brought and work/lectures go their way nearly without interruptions (sometimes things are explained to me in English to make sure I follow e.g.).

But to say I blend in would be said too much. Even if I feel not that visible in weaving class anymore – I am mistaken. My movements are registered,  as soon as I am about to sit down on the floor one of the girls brings a small stool.

Although I bring my own food it is stapled above with more food by the teacher at lunch break. I am treated like a guest, so not yet perfectly arrived at the social spot that I would like to be in. Also, there is a certain hierarchy between weavers, shop owners, employees, students and teachers. So it is not completely easy to position myself clearly,  as I wish to understand and include as many perspectives as possible.

And I face another problem: the Acheik weaving is too difficult to learn just randomly at some time in between and the fabric to precious to let me train on it. So to say: participating observation is not possible in the manufacturing process. I try to find different solutions to get as close to this standard as possible though:

1) I spend time with the weavers anyway. Mostly it is quiet or we listen to music, talking amongst each other works well, too. But me asking questions is too distracting in this highly concentrated surrounding. Only simple things like: this is really nice/difficult work.
2) At the weaving school I try to participate in the flying shuttle class – but also here it is problematic, and I don’t yet fully understand the teaching system. But I am here, bringing lunch to eat with the students and in the afternoon I visit the lecture like they do.

image

3) Be a photo object and take pictures for the everyone as well – at least a small social spot that I can take.

image

Another thing concerning the daily routine: all the motorbike riding in sun and dust and on bumpy streets in heavy traffic, thinking in English, speaking Myanma, trying to understand conversations and making all these small decisions during the day – I am used to it now, but when I arrive home in the afternoon I feel it is actually still quite exhausting. Writing down everything in the evening as I planned – impossible. So I scheduled myself like this now:

Day 1 Amarapura: Weaving School or workshop, sometimes one in the morning, the other one in the afternoon. The school is not open Saturdays, Sundays and on holidays, so there are some shifts in the schedule.

Day 2 Mandalay: Myanma lesson and chatting with Uzin Agga.
In the afternoon keeping track of research audio records, pictures taken, work with new information and plan the next day.
Repeating Myanma class & my vocabulary.

Day 3 Sagaing: Three weaving workshops and one designer to visit alternately. Enjoy family time with my guest family,  having lunch or afternoon snack together before returning to Mandalay (40 minute drive).

Back to Day 1.

In general it works well, but of course I still feel I cannot manage to do enough, see enough, learn enough…
Especially as the everyday life of my own person is also taking place to some extend: groceries need to be shopped, dinner prepared and cooked; presents organized, motorbike repaired etc. (this also takes longer as usual because everything works differently). And of course: communicating with friends in the field, colleagues and framily at home. And being present at the University of Mandalay every now and then to exchange and chat about what is going on.

And then Uzin Agga says:

image

Same Procedure as Every Day. How to find Routines and Ways of Participation

Self-Censorship and Secrets

To fulfill the idea of transparency, it needs to be added that some issues are excluded from being passed on absolutely transparent.

Myanmar is in a state of transition, which means the government has not yet been installed although the elections have been conducted in November and the legal situation has thus not significantly changed either. So I will not disclose related matters, neither facts that can sound too critical nor my own opinion on these. I also don’t think it is necessary for this blog, I just wish to be clear about its limitations in terms of transparency.

Another point is that it is professional business networks and competition between the weaving stores I visit. Several of these links I can understand now, but I am asked not to publish them (kind of clear anyway) – and I wouldn’t do any other place either.

image
And if you don't censor yourself - maybe your computer helps on that 🙂 still working on a solution how to save myanma font in Word

Self-Censorship and Secrets