Myanmar Time Machine

From the sky, Myanmar makes a good impression, dotted with temples, rice paddies, and small villages. Undeveloped, unspoiled, old school.

At the airport, the taxi dance begins. A booth inside says 20000 kyat, about $15. Decide to take my chances outside with that price point in mind. There’s a kid with a smile and a taxi waiting for me, the only question is price. 20000 for private, 15000 for shared. Okay, give me shared.

I give him two 10,000 notes expecting 5000 change, and then he blows my mind. He returns one of the 10,000 notes, AND gives me another 6000 change. My share of the fare is only 4000 kyat, about $3. The fare is cheap, but the mindblowing part is finding an honest taxi driver without really trying.

I suspect it may have something to do with Myanmar being a former British colony, as were Singapore and Hong Kong, where taxis are also not a problem. Being a devoutly Buddhist country probably also helps – the threat of being reincarnated as a toad a deterrent.

Mandalay is a big city, with over a million people, but even near its center retains a village feeling. The streets are paved, but lined with dirt. There are shops and apartments, but also people living under plastic tarps and cooking on the street.

A young woman with pots and pans arranged over open flames appears to be playing the drums, in a symphony of culinary sizzle. Pickup trucks with 20 passengers in the back coast by. A young boy pulls his pants down and pees in the gutter, he doesn’t even aim, just lets it fly. No one notices, no one cares.

Although Myanmar has been stigmatized as politically “oppressed,” I can’t help but feel the freedom. Somewhere, someone is supposedly in ‘charge,’ but you’d never know it at the street level, where peaceful anarchy reigns.

Myanmar Time Zone is 30 minutes offset from its neighbors. As though a malfunctioning time machine has left the place half in the present and half in the past. Half ruled, half lawless. The mix is not a bad place to be. Not bad at all.
Hello Myanmar, I think we’re going to get along just fine…

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