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 MOGOK'S HTAR PWE THRIVES ON HANGGLING


 
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FOR the inhabitants of Mogok, the htar pwe, or gem market, has a marked influence on day-to-day living.

The prominence of gem trading in the town led to the establishment in the middle of the 20th century of htar pwe gone, or gem market hill, a quarter where traders buy and sell gems on small copper trays.

This daily gem ritual attracts speculators from throughout the surrounding area traders show their gemstones, give a starting price, haggle and finally strike a deal.

The day starts early for those doing business at the gem market. Most Traders move from lae oo htar pwe (an area in east Mogok) to pan chan htar pwe (gem market garden) at 9:30 in the morning - the biggest and most famous gem market in Mogok.

Cars, bicycles and motorbikes line up inside the crowded compound at pan chan htar pwe, where the traders sit under big umbrellas, analysing precious stones with microscopes before negotiating a price. They chat about gems, eating snacks and salads on sale nearby.

Opinions differ as to the current state of htar pwe, but many people agree that good quality gems are becoming rarer.

"We don't seethe best quality stones in htar pwe anymore. Most of the best stones go directly to Yangon and Mandalay," a trader said.

"Most of the stones traded here are semiprecious. Gemstones ranging in quality, type and size are traded. Normally, the gemstones go to border areas such as Tachileik, Kengtong and Tamu," said a woman at the market.

Although most agree that business at htar pwe is not as healthy as before, the place is still crowded and alive with gem traders.

An old man in his 70s said he could not pass a day without going to htar pwe.

"1 am not here for business, but I love to see the gems and hear the latest news on the gem market," he said.

Bargaining is all important at htar pwe. A trader who wants to sell a gemstone worth at most K10,000 may ask for K100,000.

But as one trader says: "Don't hesitate to bargain - you might get that stone for K8000 sometimes. There is no need to feel intimidated by the high prices being asked at htar pwe; buyers just need to judge the real value of a gem and then dare to bargain."

These rules, although not made explicit, are widely used in the Mogok trading business. There is no legally binding contract. The oral agreement between the buyer and seller is deemed to be enough.

"In Mogok, a good reputation is the most important thing. Without a good reputation, nobody will trust you. With a good reputation, gem trading will go well although you might not get rich," said a ruby merchant.

Although many of the gem traders in Mogok do not hold diplomas in gemology, they rely on their long, rich experience as experts in their field. Rapidly examining the precious stones, traders decide how they can best be cut, how much they might be worth and to which export market they should be sent. To have a 'good eye', as they say in Mogok is essential.

The instinct for gem trading in Mogok is even apparent in the younger generation, who trade less precious stones within their limited means.

"I just started gem tradirding at htar pwe with K10,000 after passing .my BEHS (Basic Education High School) exam - I've made about K100,000 in one year," said a young girl, beaming with pride.

Htar pwe becomes busy at 10 o'clock until the crowds begin to disperse at about one o'clock. For these three hours the people of Mogok are filled with hope and the dream that, one day, they might be rich.

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Copyright © 2006 by Myanmar Gems.
Prepared by DPS. Last Modified: 23 May, 2008 (slm)

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