Sunday, January 20, 2013

What a country can tell you in just a few hours - Rangoon (Yangon), Burma

Photo by my friend IZ
If you haven't planned your trip too thoroughly, you are relaxed, you have a tendency to see the funny side of things and you are in good company, what happens in the first few hours can tell you a lot about the place where you've just arrived. Let's see...I NEVER plan too much, actually sometimes I don't plan anything at all, I'm always relaxed, I notice the funny side of things also when I shouldn't and I am traveling with my friend IZ, excellent company I dare say. And in fact Rangoon (or Yangon), and Burma in general for that matter, tell me a lot in just few hours. And they do it straight away, on the very first evening.
We left our bags at the hotel that we booked online before boarding our flight in Bangkok (it was IZ's idea, as a traveler he is less messy than me). We're not happy with it: it's very expensive, old and pretentious, it's good for a night but we have to find another one for tomorrow right away. We have a name without address and a vague landmark. Information that the taxi driver gave us on the way from the airport to our hotel. We start our quest in the web of unlighted Rangoon roads.
We walk for a while, when we are finally lost and have run out of ideas we start to ask around. Everybody has something to say, everybody wants to help, smiles, asks where we are from, starts listing the usual names of Italian footballers. Honestly though, they seem to know less than we do about the damned hotel. If we keep walking this might actually take the whole night. We wave down a taxi and ask the driver whether he knows that place. He repeats the name with a sedated patient expression. We give him the landmark, he repeats that as well. When we ask "Do you know where it is?" he answers "...where it is..." We thank him and move on, he watches us leaving without changing expression. The next taxi driver listens to us carefully and then give us a price. We ask him a few questions to double check whether he really understands what we are talking about and he fails miserably. He keeps repeating the same price and when he understands that we don't want to get on the car he tries to give us a discount. There obviously is a target-disalignment between him and us. No one is rude to or ignore us though. They are all nice and kind to us. They gather around us, get hold of more friends, they even start to make phone calls. Someone tries to entertain us with the usual list of football players. The most popular ones seem to be Baggio, Totti, Maldini and Balotelli. 
Another taxi driver approaches us, he repeats with confidence the name we gave him and nods: it really seems that he knows what he's doing. The price is fair, we get on the car. The direction doesn't seem to be the correct one but we trust him. After a few minutes, though, we notice some familiar details along the way. We start to worry and then, after a U-turn, the car stops in front of our hotel, the one that we intend to leave. He understands that he's made a mistake and smiles, nods, shakes his head. It's impossible to get mad at a guy like this. We smile and reassure him and then try to enlighten him with the name of the vague landmark: he seems to understand but it had already happened before and the event doesn't reassure us at all. He drops us in front of another hotel, it's not the one we're looking for but he keeps acting like a puppy that wants cuddles: even though he proved to be a disastrous guide we can't help thanking him and smiling. I even have to control myself in order not to stroke his head and give him a candy. 
Even though it's the wrong one, this hotel happens to be near our vague landmark, a Japanese office tower. We walk around it without any luck. We ask other people, a new crowd gathers around us, they all smile, they want to know where we are from, we keep asking about the hotel, everybody tries to say something, nothing useful actually, the names of the football players are always spot on though. 
Finally a young and bright taxi driver makes a telephone call and informs us that he knows where the place is. He really seems to know what he's talking about but we don't trust anyone anymore until we see the hotel sign with the right name. 
We made it. It was definitely hard to find it but the byproduct we got as a result is very high quality. Our first impression about the place is good...and to celebrate I'm posting another photo.
Another one by IZ

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