Friday, February 8, 2013

Elusive information - Mandalay, Burma

Three bonzes looking cool with icecreams at Maymyo botanical gardens
We're done with Mandalay. We've visited it our own way of course: no monuments, castles, old capitals, things that I already saw many years ago, for which you have to pay a fee in dollars, brand new bills, of course. Just lots of walks, bicycle rides, getting lost in dirty and noisy quarters, taking photos, looking around, talking with someone, sipping liquified sugar served in a teacup. 
It's time to move on. Next step: Maymyo, also know as Pin Oo Lwin. We've read in a guidebook that those nice pick-ups with two benches in the back, to be shared with a dozen people, bags, rice sacks, chickens and pigs, leave from the clock tower crossroads. Just to be sure we ask the girls who work at our hotel. They are confident: "You need to take one of the buses leaving from 83rd road." We don't want to take the bus though, as it's too slow. We decide to go for the pick-ups anyway. At the clock tower we enter a bank to change some dollars and we ask the clerks where the stand is. They are very confident as well: "From 84 and 23!" Which is not here. Out of the bank we ask a motorbike taxi driver. "Maymyo? You need to take a bus..." Same advice we got at the hotel. Only the station seem to have changed address: according to him sometime in the last two hours is was moved to 79th street. We decide to follow the bank clerks' advice and we walk to 23rd street. The pick ups don't seem to be leaving from here either. It's quite hot and we start to feel tired. We sit at a teahouse table and we talk with the waiters. "Maymyo? No, took the wrong way, you need to go back to 28th street..." Which is before the clock tower. This is already the fifth version of the story, and god knows for how long it might go on. 
When a thick wall is blocking your way, trying to demolish it by hitting it with your head is not a very good idea. Better climbing it, get around it, digging a tunnel under it or making a hole with a sharp object. I decide to try an old trick. The place is perfect: few vehicles, a couple of little restaurants, shops, people walking around, others looking out of their windows. I let two or three passersby know what I am looking for. I'm talking loudly, making ample and slow gestures, moving gracefully, like an emperor might do. I'm standing on the sidewalk, looking at something faraway, chest out, chin high up. What matters to me is that they see me, hear me, even smell me if necessary. 
It works: a waiter comes and tells me to follow him at another customer's table. This guy lets me know that he can get us two seats on a shared taxi. It will cost us few dollars and they will pick us up here, in a short while. He makes a phone call and a few minutes later the usual run down white sedan, with the wheel on the wrong side, stops in front of the teahouse. We pay the driver that slips a dollar note in the hand of our "agent" on the sly. What's this furtiveness about? Do they think we're two fools? We knew it from the beginning that there would have been a commission to pay. And that the fee is higher than what a Burmese would pay. We let them do it their way. 
We travel with two young monks who get off at a nice monastery, brand new, a few miles out of town. We ask the driver if we can go to the toilet and the two bonzes let us use the one in their room. Which is nicer and cleaner than the ones the Burmese spiders ask 30 dollars for
The air is fresh, everything around us is a different shade of green, we can already savor the beautiful walks we'll take. Unfortunately in the evening the fresh air becomes freezing and our nice walks will get us a cold, but who cares...

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