Typewriters, telegrams cling to life in Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar — Perched on a stool on a bustling sidewalk in Myanmar’s biggest city, an elderly gentleman pecks away on a clunky manual typewriter. It’s a will, Aung Myint says, barely looking up as his fingers rise high over the keys and hammer down with a steady sense of purpose.

He points with his chin to the stack of papers he still needs to get through before he heads home, 30 or more, many of them legal papers hastily delivered by lawyers who work at the courthouse down the street.

Reminders of a bygone era cling stubbornly and quaintly in Myanmar, a country that was in many ways frozen in time during a half-century of dictatorship and self-imposed isolation. Now, three years into the Southeast Asian country’s bumpy transition to democracy, smartphones and computer shops are common, but so are phone stands and typists. Even telegrams have not quite made their exit.

Aung Myint says his work is steady enough, but a far cry from the days of military rule, when he spent most of his time typing up authors’ novels for submission to the now-defunct censorship board. He rarely broke for lunch back then, often working by candlelight well after shops were shuttered and businessmen had long gone home.

How does the 67-year-old manage to keep going as his country belatedly joins the computer age? He says there are still those who feel a document lacks an authentic air unless it’s pulled from the roll of a manual typewriter.

Plus, he adds, there are several benefits to typing.


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