Chair roles


In the foreground the old-school rotary phone makes up the centerpiece of this microenterprise, often preferred on account of not needing electricity to operate. This phone stand is likely positioned within a cellphone-dense area, as opposed to other more “communal” phone stands. Communal style stands are often less formal enterprises, positioned out on the sidewalk and having at least two phones in order to serve both residents/passerby making outgoing calls and also a volume of incoming calls for the non-cellphone owning occupants of the adjacent buildings (for whom the phones at the stand are their main (land)line of communication to those wanting to reach them at home).

The placement of the phone stand’s chairs conveys several pieces of information. One is the expectation of customers’ seating preferences (lower than the phone – around eye-level to the dial when seated and with back facing the interior of the shop-house to somewhat muffle voices and afford a modicum of privacy. Another is the pair of chairs set outside that are likely not intended to accommodate two individuals queueing up, as the uncertainly of how long a phone conversation would last, coupled with the relative commonality of phone stands such as this on Yangon’s streets mean that it would almost certainly be better worth one’s time continuing the search for an open phone stand further down the road (plus the emphasis Myanmar’s culture places upon not wanting to make someone feel bad, done in this case perhaps by multiple people sitting next to them and glaring/tapping their feet impatiently).

The mirrored tall chair + short chair setup is more likely meant to accommodate a single waiting individual (in taller stool) and any belongings they may be carrying.

What will this be replaced by when cellphone ownership has reached a particular level? How would you define such a “level”?

Shift gears to the background microenterprise of the watermelon vendor. The owner makes generous use of the ubiquitous plastic stools seen on the streets of Myanmar, but only one of the three she owns is for sitting. Another stool holds her lunchbox, while a third keeps the bowl containing watermelon preparation/carrying implements off of the ground. This seating setup sends the message of “no waiting” – the owner does not want customers loitering in front of her table. The reasons for this vary, and can include anything from not wanting to limit the size of her goods display area to afford customers a space to consume watermelon, to simplifying the process of clearing away any traces that there was ever a business there in the event of an unscheduled crack-down on informal/unlicensed sidewalk enterprises. Having a bunch of seated customers sitting in front of your house eating watermelon could put a fatal dent in your case for plausible deniability. Unless, of course, you immediately go for the ol’ “These are all my relatives, and we’re having a picnic! Won’t you join us, Mr. Officer? Here, take some watermelon!” plan.

Getting back to the original point – in both enterprises, chairs function to “keep things off of the ground” – though it isn’t always people they are meant to be accommodating, and instead may be treated act as smaller, inexpensive tables when space or money is a constraint.

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