Got the photo I wanted, now it’s time for a different kind of shot. As a former British colony, pool halls will be hard to find, but snooker is a certainty. According to Mr. Internet, there are two snooker clubs within walking distance, so I start walking.
Mandalay has perhaps the most dangerous sidewalks I’ve ever seen. They are basically drainage ditches covered with concrete slabs, but every now and then a slab is missing with a five foot drop into the muck.
Mind my steps and make it to Unik Snooker. Covered but not indoors, about ten tables, and packed. Cigarettes hang off the end of open mouths as a dozen sets of eyes turn my way, all asking, “WTF is that white guy doing here?”
It’s a good question. Think I’ll keep walking. It’s about another mile to K1 Snooker, and the scene is ever changing. From business district to dirt road, from lean-to shack to McMansion. People in the West who complain about inequality don’t have a clue.
There are a bunch of mini food trucks along the road. A bit bigger than golf carts, with one or two ladies cooking something in the back.
I order a chicken burger with egg and a water, total cost 2200 kyat ($1.60 US). The girls are quite happy to have a customer and deliver the goods pronto, along with a plastic glove. I give her a 5000 note, put the glove on, and start eating.
Out of the corner of my eye I see her counting my change, but she does not disturb me while eating. She puts the money aside for later, or perhaps not at all. I suspect if I forget to ask, she will forget to remember. It’s a trifling amount really, but I do ask for it simply to prove that foreigners aren’t stupid.
On to K-1, a big warehouse in an upscale neighborhood. No zoning laws. With a few dozen motorcycles parked outside, I know it’ll be busy. Open the front door to find 20 full size snooker tables and a lot of people staring at me.
K-1 Snooker is not on the regular tourist maps, and my presence here is a mystery. There’s no hostility in it, just pure WTF?
I’m given a table, and though its a snooker table, they rack it for 8-ball, and a kid in a pink shirt makes hand motions that he’ll play me. He’ll be seeking an answer to WTF? Am I some sort of hustler looking for action, or just a tourist who got lost?
We start playing, well he starts playing, I start adjusting to snooker equipment. Everything’s a bit different. The table is huge and a bit higher. The pockets are small and rounded not angle cut. The cloth is fuzzy not smooth. And the cue is narrower than a pencil at the tip. Thats the tough one. Hitting the ball anywhere off center has an exaggerated effect, and off the rail seems impossible.
The kid can play, in Megabreak terms I’d put him at A+8, but I get the sense he’s holding back. Coasting. Game one for me.
Game two brings some hard lessons. One, the way the pockets are cut means there is simply no such thing as shooting a ball down the rail, the pocket will spit it out.
Two, this table is not level, slow shots of any distance are a fool’s errand. Three, weird rules, they consider a miscue a foul, even if you make the ball you wanted, its a foul, and the penalty is bringing a ball up.
The kid kills me in game two, but the jury is still out on WTF? A few more games and the verdict is in: I can shoot half decent, but make too many mistakes to be a threat to anyone serious. This is how I interpret the conversation between the kid and another guy who just walked in.
With no announcement, and mid-game, the other guy starts playing me. Name is Omeo, and we’re pretty evenly matched. He’ll make some great shots and then WTF?
We have a constant spectator, each table comes with a young lady attendant, to rack the balls, hand the rest when needed, take drink orders, and so on. She actually pays attention too.
Play for a few hours. I can see it getting dark outside and this table is driving me crazy, so say no more. The girl who’d been holding the rest retrieves the bill, its 5200 kyat. About $3.75. Very cheap, at least for me, and I intend to pay the whole thing.
But before I can count out the bills, Omeo pays the whole thing. WTF? Its a nice gesture of hospitality, but I’m a tourist, its my job to pump money into the local economy, not get freebies.
Omeo proves highly resistant to my reimbursing him. I get the feeling its a point of pride to him. Proving that he is not a poor guy, but a generous and prosperous host. Okay, okay, I let Omeo be the big man, thank him for his hospitality and the games.
Call the girl over who holds the rest. I give her the money. She tries to explain that Omeo already paid. I try to explain that this is a tip for her because she works so hard. Confusion prevails, but she’ll figure it out, as I’m out the door.
Dusk has fallen, and so has the temperature. Mandalay’s climate is surprisingly moderate, and it gets cool at night, low 60s or mid teens depending on your system.
An old guy on a bicycle shouts at me from across the road. He wants to give me a ride. I tell him 40-80, the street intersection I want. He calculates a fare: 2000 kyat ($1.48). Okay, lets go.
He unfolds a little plywood sidecar seat and I get comfy. Okay, not comfy, but I sit. Meanwhile the old man is working his butt off. The tires are a bit low on air, but the man has no shortage of gumption.
He weaves his way through a red light intersection while scolding kids on scooters. I agree man, kids these days. I like this guy. At one point we’re going the wrong way down a busy street and I start liking him less, but he’s survived this long so must know what he’s doing.
We arrive at 40-80. I give him 5000 kyat, more than double the agreed upon fare. He looks at me like WTF? I say, “No change” and give him a thumbs up.
He was very happy, and so was I. So was I.