By Yadana Htun & Aye Lei Tun @Myanmar Times
AFTER working as a domestic and international seaman for nearly two decades, U Khin Maung Htwe decided to give up his money making career and switch to another one.
“As a seaman I earned a lot, but seeking money is a never-ending story,” the 45-year-old said. “If you are rich, it is only your family and relatives who benefit from your wealth. What meaningful inheritance shall you pass down to your children?”
Ending his seafaring ways in 2002 he did not yet know what he would do. Visiting popular tourist sites in Thailand and Singapore with his wife just before he retired, he came to notice that cultural shows in those countries gained widespread interest from the tourist sector with their colourful performances.
“In our country, cultural shows are just complimentary with dinners at big restaurants,” U Khin Maung Htwe said. “And those shows can’t present to the foreign visitors the Myanmar culture to the full extent. That’s why I decided to help promote my mother country the best way I could.”
Renting an apartment on the 11th floor at FJV Commercial Centre on Yangon’s Strand Road, he began running the Htwe Oo Myanmar Theatre to host puppet shows employing five professional and other promising puppeteers to put on daily shows.
“I chose to use the puppet because the art form is almost extinct today,” he said. “In the past, puppet shows were like today’s media. Puppeteers conveyed the public voice through their shows to the royal family and other senior people.”
But not all has work out as U Khin Maung Htwe expected. Tickets for his theatre — capacity 50 people — have never sold out. And when he paused his business at the end of last travel season he had recovered only 2 percent of his invested money.
“Sometimes we had to wait for a week to get only one audience,” he said. “Most of the time, the theatre is empty.”
Most local tour companies he contacted were not interested in his shows, despite rave reviews from many foreign guests.
“Out of satisfaction some foreign tourists paid more than the ticket price (K5000). In fact, the art we present here is beyond pricing.”
“I saw the show recently and I was blown away. It was much better than the puppet shows in Bagan and Mandalay, more exciting and incredibly tight,” exclaimed a recent vistor from the United States.
“I would like to introduce new puppets that reflect the contemporary period such as wearing modern dress,” U Khin Maung Htwe said. “I hope to send my puppet troupe to international competitions.”
U Khin Maung Htwe is determined to continue until he has nothing left over.
“I had to sell my car to keep hiring the apartment for the second year and to pay for all other costs,” he said. “If I can’t succeed this year, I’ll sell my own house and continue. I believe I will get the thumbs up one day.”