A man, wearing a white vet and shabby longyi covered with white powder, is seen sitting on a pile of marble powder and attentively carving a marble rock.
He is surrounded by marble rocks, Buddha sculptures, and other statues.
Among other ten kinds of sculptors in Myanmar, he is one of them, the stone sculpture master.
A stone sculptor is someone who is carving rocks, sand rocks, marbles into a various kind of statues.
Stone sculpture business is most well-known in Mandalay, and not many is aware of the one existing in Mawkmai township.
Mawkmai is located in Langkho District, Southern Shan State. Even though agriculture is the main source of income, stone sculpture is a unique business in Mawkmai.
Due to recent Covid-19 pandemic and armed conflicts in Shan State, the stone sculpture business is very struggling.
“We receive less orders now, less people are buying it. This business has not been generating enough income nowadays. Therefore, we no longer rely on it and try to find better alternatives,” a man who used to rely on stone sculpture business told SHAN.
Some has completely quitted while others are still producing from time to time because of the current crisis and declining orders.
According to Sai Long, even though efforts are multiplied compared to last year, it is not enough to cover the family needs.
“Previous years income were just enough to cover our expenses. However, I have to try twice as hard as previous years, and it is very tiring. Still, it is not enough for my family,” Sai Long downheartedly expressed his situation to SHAN.
Sai Long obtained the stone sculpture expertise from his father, and his mother is responsible for the painting of the stone statues being produced. This is a family business, and everyone in the family plays a role.
Sai Long is trying very hard to preserve his family legacy business. However, it has been very challenging to earn a living from this career especially during this crisis.
“The sale has dropped about 80 percent, it is diving comparing this year and last year. It is no longer easy to make ends meet,” Sai Long added.
Although certain amount of sales were made during the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic, it has been hard after the coup in February 2021 because of the local armed conflicts, limited transportation, and the spread of Covid-19.
“There are some pending orders from last year. The products are ready, but it cannot be delivered yet because public transport is suspended. Additionally, check points are implemented at every township entries, making it difficult for customers to pick up their items. Therefore, customers are not making orders nowadays,” Sai Long is explaining the challenges he is facing to SHAN.
The stone sculptures from Mawkmai are distributing to Taunggyi, Langkho, Lai Kha, Mong Kung, Lashio, Keng Tung and other regional townships. Because of the political unrests and Covid-19 pandemic, some customers are reluctant to pick up their orders.
Last November 2021, the spike of Covid-19 infection in Mawkmai caused a profound impact to the locals including those working in the sculpture business, agriculture farmers, shopkeepers, and other businesses.
The fact that agriculture is the main job in Mawkmai, the increased in prices, such as fertilizers, transportation, seeds, and labors, makes the native lives harder.
“During this crisis, everyone is struggling. For instance, the increased in fertilizers’ price and the lack of demand for the crops make it so tough for farmers. It is getting worse and worse,” a local farmer, Sai Aung told SHAN.
Because of the struggling and challenging situation, most young people are going to Thailand for a better job opportunity.
“Some goes abroad for a better paid job; however, I am not going anywhere. The fact that I can be with my family during this hardship is a kind of reward for me. With that in mind, I am motivating myself to survive with my family,” Sai Aung told SHAN the reason he has chosen to remain with his family instead of going abroad for a better job.
Everyone is striving for survival during this pandemic and political chaos including those working in the stone sculpture and other agricultural businesses.
“As nothing is working out these days, many have chosen to go abroad for a better opportunity. It is quite a concern for our Shan State future when youngsters choose to go abroad,” Sai Aung disappointedly opened up his mind.
Like many others, the instability of Myanmar situation affected Mawkmai residents due to the fact that there is no market for the goods produced locally.
Additionally, the rise in inflation and the depreciation of Myanmar Kyat mounted the difficulties of Mawkmai residents while their incomes are decreasing.
“Whatever we do, we face a lost. If we do not do anything, we will have no income. Myanmar currency (Kyat) is also continuously depreciating. We do not know what to do in this difficult time,” the 35 years old Mawkmai native Nang Hseng told SHAN.
There is no solution to the current increased in fertilizers price and labor cost, consequently affecting accommodation of the families basic needs.
“Since sculpting work is no longer enough, I also do farming. I grow green peas. This cannot be liquidated easily, we have to wait at least three months to get paid. Since fertilizer is expensive, farming is not easy either,” Sai Long’s mother breath heavily while explaining the challenging situation to SHAN.