April 17, 2015

just running errands around town

before i'm off for the trip to Bali i have a bunch of errands that have piled up and there is no putting them off.  i've mapped out the trip around town and leave early in the morning to get as much as possible done before it gets really, really hot.  

i haven't driven anything except the scooter i had in Chiang Mai since i left the US and it's such a luxury for me to be driven everywhere.  westerners think that Asians drive really badly because we are so used to different road rules.  of course when they are in a western country they need to adapt to our rules but i don't think there is a higher accident rate in Asia than in western countries.  

in most of the SE Asian countries where i've been walking across the road is a bit like that game frogger but walking in Yangon is a totally different scenario.  those 'buddhists' will run your ass over in a heartbeat.  about once a month i will be in a taxi that hits a pedestrian. it's horrific.  one time it was a child about 6 years old and he hit him hard.  after the brother/friend picked up the boy the driver just kept going until he got to a traffic jam and then he got out and checked for what?  a dent? blood? 

the roads are packed with taxis because it's just in the last few years that the government has allowed the masses to buy cars - leading to the obvious problems like parking and traffic jams.  it's just a few dollars for a taxi ride but it can take 30 minutes to go 2 miles in some parts of Yangon.  motorbikes are forbidden in the city and there are very few bicycles because there are incomprehensible rules around that as well.  on some streets you are forbidden to ride bicycles and the police will confiscate the bike.  the problem is there's no way to know which roads are forbidden.  there are cyclos [we call them pedicabs] but they mostly operate off the main roads and again the rules seem to be murky.

the staff arranges a car/driver when i have meetings during the day but evenings and weekends i am on my own.  that involves standing on the road, trying not to get hit and flagging down a car.  then you have to negotiate a fair price [westerners get charged more of course] and depending on how hot it is - if they will turn on the ac for you. sometimes it's better to not have ac.  closing the windows and turning on the ac flushes out the mosquitoes [never figured out how there can be so many mosquitoes living in a car] and being paranoid about dengue, well...  also, the cars have tiny engines so the ac only works if the car is actually moving. 80% of the taxis are grimy and disgustingly dirty so it's a good day when you find a clean one.

i remember one day, there was a student protest moving into the city so traffic was especially bad.  i was in a taxi, it was hot and traffic was at a standstill for over 10 minutes.  i had a sinus infection so i felt miserable and the gas fumes from a bus in the next lane were overwhelming.  i looked up in annoyance at the bus and realized, on my worst day, i still had it so much better than most of the people of Myanmar.  imagine whatever horrible bus you've ever been on or seen a picture of it - i promise you it's much worse.

few westerners ever ride the city buses.  i only met one westerner who had done it.  it's a bizarre system where the bus drivers lease the bus by the day.  they are paid based on the number of riders they have so they compete with other buses to get to the stops quickly.  it takes a team of three people to man a bus  - the driver; the fare collector and the door guy whose job is to push people on/off the bus and to shout out the bus route/next stop. it's really chaotic and sometimes i stand on the street watching a busy stop for a few minutes.

but on this day i seem to get all the good taxis with ac and reward myself at the end of the day with a stop at my favorite foot massage place on Nawaday Road.  60 minutes $6US.

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