The Myanmar Ride

Feb 25th.

Early morning cool breeze gives little clue of the heat to come later in the day. Negotiate the ride to the EMDH office with the taxi driver, yesterday afternoon it was 2500 kyat ($2.5), which is the correct price I am told, I have to bargain him down from 3000. This morning the driver says 2000, I certainly don’t negotiate that price. A high percentage of the taxis are ancient relics, 25 year old toyota corollas and the like, invariably the inside of the cabs hardly looks better than what you would find in a junkyard, metal skeletons missing panels, door or window handles, springs in the seats, etc etc. almost all are left hand drive with the sterring wheel on the wrong side, testimonials to their former Japanese lives.

Good news, my travel authorization has arrived, which means that I have official permission to go into the institutions in Mandalay. Took three weeks instead of two, but it came in in time, that’s all that counts. Off to negotiate a few taxi rides and get ready for the trip to Mandalay this afternoon. Shows and workshops start tomorrow morning.

A few hours later, I am waiting at the airport negotiating the two hour flight delay in the corner bar section of the waiting room demarkated by fake bamboo trees laden with flashing white lights, strings of leds that would say christmas if they were red and greens of another country. The two hour stretches into three, and then three and a half. Finally the promising sound of distant propellers taxiing into landing position. At the four hour mark, a Burmese voice over the loudspeakers converts promise of possibility into reality.

Elements of surprise in Myanmar domestic air travel. There is security. We have to pass bags and bodies through the typical xray scanners. However there is no need to take laptops or liquids out of the bags, or change out of the pockets. Everyone stands on a wooden box to be patted down and wanded. The wand emits a symphony of sounds, the security officer, a woman, feels lots of goods in my cargo pockets, and then nods that I am indeed secure. No need to check just what is inside the bag either. The transfer bus to the aircraft is a brand spanking new German bus, unlike the one that greets us in Mandalay with weathered duct taped linoleum flooring.

Mandalay baggage terminal is all modern steel, glass and marble, and has three shiny stainless steel baggage carrousels. Big mamoth ones that stretch a few hundred feet out in a very modern looking and completely empty terminal. There are lugguage carts lined up for the passengers. Everyone waits patienty by the carrousel number one. The familiar red light and buzzing sounds start up, but the belt doesn’t start moving. A pause and repeat sequence, still nothing. Three minutes later, a phalanx of baggage personel appear out a side door retrieving a small caravan of carts, that reappear loaded with luggage a few minutes later. One can’t help but smile.

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