Burma Precious StonesBurmese Gemstones
Approaching the front door of the store, I pass garages where teenager guys, smoking cigars hanging from their mouths, carving rough clumps of yade on vicious rotating bikes. It is a huge and amazing building, line by line for several dealers with their dazzling stones on blank tablets. More than half of the merchants are from China, and the votes over the clattering of the sort stones are mixing Mandarin and Burmese as they compete for businesses.
It is estimated that the value of Myanmar's trading in jadehandel exceeds $8 billion (£4.7 billion) per year. The majority of the Java goes to China, whose Myanmar footprint has increased significantly since the end of the 2011 war. Walking through one of the crowded streets of the square and avoiding a muddy bunch of walnut pulp, I see a Chinaman merchant, a lady in an emboidered coat and an Elton John T-shirt with a magnifying glass attached to her eyes to examine a small bunch of shiny little stones.
We call him Breng Mai, a pen name for obvious purposes. He comes from Kachin State, the semi-autonomous area in the far northern part of the state. Burma has an inseparable connection with the tumultuous past of Kachin, a once luxuriant land of gentle slopes and precipitous gorges bordering the outlawless Nagaland of India.
Kachin Independence Army (KIA) waged a long and bloodthirsty struggle against the Myanmar authorities, with an formal cease-fire in 1994, but tension and violent outbursts continue, with Myanmar's military forces maintaining a strong regional footprint. Whilst road closures and curfews can help maintain the restless truce, they also keep the regime in charge of the jetshop.
Later, I met Breng Mai in his aunt's grocer' shop in Mandalay city center. Brennand Mai takes me through a hallway, through a curtain door and into a back room, the center of his smuggle empire. 2. It' like the Kryptonian, big hills of joy that glow weakly. "It' s all Chinjalu," he says to me, a Kachin term for the highest level of clearness and qualitiy in jades - otherwise known as "imperialade.
It is a façade run by his granddaughter as a storage for Breng Mais' illegal business. Breng Mai, who slurps the heap of precious stones, told me that he went to the jet-mining at the age of 15. "In order to act lawfully, prisoners of war have to contribute a levy to the state.
"Trafficking makes my winnings much higher," says Breng Mai. Drums in the center of the wagon are full of it. Whilst the West has largely abolished penalties against Myanmar following the timid actions of the Thein Sein administration, there is still a prohibition on trade in jadeh.
The mine environment is disastrous as the US administration declares that the Java trade "contributes to violations of people' s freedoms and erodes the Burmese democracy reforms". Whilst it is not official for aliens to dismantle it, Breng Mai told me that most of the big surgeries are now run by the Chinese. "He says that the Chinese are paying the colliers much more, but the terms there are even more poor.
"There will be no more Jad when the Chinamen are done with the Kachin state. Even now the landmines that were wealthy 10 years ago are already dwindling," he says. Up until that date, the stands of Mandalay's maze of jewelry continues to ring with the chattering of China and Burma call.
When I go, Breng Mai gives me a small piece of blackjead.