The International Steam Pages

Managing decline, Dakhondaing 2010

A Burmese Rice Mill
and its Village.
26th March 2013

This is the sixth part of our 2010 Burma Crusade. Click here for the index.

The agenda for 2010 trip was quite simple, we just had to complete our filming of the village of Dakhondaing, south of Moulmein in Mon State. On our first visit in 2005, Yuehong took one look at the rice mill and everything around it and said, "This is THE place." and we have been back on every one of our visits to the country since. There are numerous reports about it on this website:

For those of us who have been in the overseas steam hobby for many years, there has always been a feeling that we that we are visiting 'just in time'. Grabbing one 'last chance' after another undoubtedly led to the collapse of many marriages, it certainly contributed to my own divorce. Even when things would apparently continue as we saw them for ever, we knew that modernisation, decline or even closure were most likely just around the corner, 99.9%+ of my extensive 'real steam' slide collection could not be repeated today. Of the subjects of our video releases, just the narrow gauge line at Shibanxi bears any resemblance to what we filmed and even there irreversible changes mean that we could not begin to reproduce what our viewers see. Some people think we are 'obsessive' about steam, I would rather use the word 'passionate'. The world is full of dull but no doubt worthy people letting life slip away in plain routine, leave them be with their daily commuting, gazing at screens while surreptitiously using social networks in the office and evenings in front of their TVs, they do nobody any direct harm. Unlike the passionate war mongering politicians, I would like to think that our passion is benign. Anyone who has travelled as we have off the beaten track will know that it's not patronising to say that we bring more than a little happiness to the lives of the ordinary (and usually very poor) people we meet along our way. Sometimes, as at Weihe, we know we are watching the passing of an old friend, at other times, like Tipong in India or Olean in Java, we hope there will be one chance before the inevitable happens. As it happens, we never got back to Tipong and our later visits to Olean were never the same. Overall, even though we know it's totally irrational, we can't just help the occasional feeling that our filming delivers the 'kiss of death' to our subjects.

We've had a great run in Burma, in fact, in the next few years until the inevitable political changes come, there will be a fair amount of stationary steam on offer, even occasional new steam mills, but there will be increasingly rapid decline and casualties and some of our favourite operations like the 'Magnificent Marshall' in Thaton are already gone. It could just be that Dakhondaing is among them. Before our arrival, we had heard that the husband of Daw Ei Ma had suffered a minor stroke some five months back. But since we had only asked about the prospects for harvesting, we didn't realise that the mill had not operated since then. When we arrived, the gates were closed and the old gentleman was sitting quietly alone by the rice store. Already the engine was dusty instead of gleaming and the line shaft wheels had lost their shine, the old lady spending each day in retreat at the nearby monastery. When we found her, we were naturally made as welcome as ever and we made plans to come back in a couple of days after the full moon to follow her daughter to the fields to record the harvest. However, a few days later he had a second minor stroke which necessitated his transfer to the other family residence in Moulmein with better medical attention nearby and our lady disappeared with him.

We had always assumed that said daughter and her husband would take over the mill in due course (she's now the same age as her mother was when she took it on), but there's no signs of that happening yet and it seems that the boiler also needs a major repair estimated at around USD 1000. The pictures show the smokebox end with rivets to be replaced marked in chalk, worse is the firebox where the boiler inspector requires numerous stays to be drilled out and replaced (I hope my terminology is correct). The only good news is that barrel is sound even if some of the tubes are in need of replacement:

Maybe they are quietly waiting for the old queen to die, but for the time being I'm pleased to report she at least still appears to be in good shape... Which is more than could be said for me as I was still suffering from a dose of the generals' revenge delivered by the previous day's lunch.

And as for the village, there's not a great deal of change either, except that the electricity actually seemed to work for most of the time we were there and they've got a brand new primary school. Compared to the classic but gloomy teakwood original it's bright and airy. I just hope there was some money left over for some books for the children. It seems our Anglicisation has been slightly incorrect, but it's too late to change it now, everyone seems to understand our version, Dakhondaing.

One consequence of the more reliable electricity is that one enterprising villager has bought a small chest freezer which is now stocked with cold beers. While I would like to think that this was done entirely for my benefit, somehow I doubt it. While everyone knows the foreigner is rich, it's a very strange feeling watching locals downing 'Double Strong Myanmar Beer', 9.9% ABV at Ky 1500 each when there are contract labourers out in the fields doing the harvest on Ky 4000 a day. You can read about that on a separate page. Just for the record, having fully recovered, I was drinking the regular strength stuff as I needed to go filming afterwards.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson