Monday, February 20, 2017

Myanmar Motorcycle Epic 11: Mandalay

Before going into the specifics of this leg of my recent journey, I'd like to share a few anecdotes which illustrate how truly remarkable the Myanmar people are. The first of which happened on my first day in Mandalay, which you saw in the previous video. I was carrying my ukulele with me in its case as I explored the ancient capitals. Now the way I had it secured wasn't too good. I had strung the shoulder strap of my man-bag through the handle of the uke case, so it would remain secure provided all the stuff in my bag didn't make its way through the handle of the case. Unlikely.

Alas, as I drove back from Inwa to Mandalay, a good 20 miles, gravity took its effect on the uke case. I was in Mandalay city itself, traveling down a major thoroughfare when another motorcyclist overtook me, said something in Burmese and gestured at my bike and the road. Oh. I thought maybe I had a flat tire, and so I pulled over. Hmm.. the tire was fine, but umm... my ukulele was GONE! It had wriggled its way through my method of securing and had fallen off who knew how far back down the road.

I was upset. Although it wasn't my "main" ukulele, I was fond of this concert uke I'd only bought a few months before and have made my travel uke. I supposed I should have gone back down the road and looked for it, but again, this a very busy street. If it hadn't been runover, it had certainly been picked up

My regret lasted all of ten seconds. A truck pulled up and they handed me my ukulele in its case. I guess they were behind me when it fell, they stopped and picked it up and went chasing after me. Thing is, in a city, motorcycles can go much faster than trucks. We get around the traffic. But these guys didn't give up. After they handed it to me, they insisted I open up the case to check the instrument. What I feared might have been a mangled mess of wood and strings turned out to be nothing of the sort. Not even a scratch.

I thanked my uke rescuers profusely. They didn't have to do that. I don't even think they did it because they recognized me as a foreign visitor, something that would be difficult to tell if you're following a motorcyclist from behind. They did it just because, like 99% of the people here, they're simply good people.

My next anecdote takes place about a week after. On my motorcycle, there's a bracket which secures the tailpipe to the engine. I don't know how it happened, but one of the two screws securing this bracket had broken. This lead to a horrible rattle which it took me days to identify. By the time I got to Taunggyi, I knew I needed it fixed.

Several previous mechanics had refused to fix it, as replacing this particular bracket involved a lot work, essentially requiring removing the engine from the motorbike. Two to three hours work. I didn't care what it cost. I could hear the tailpipe starting to crack. I needed this repair.

Just a block from my hotel in Taunggyi, there was a mechanic's shop. Along with an oil change, I asked the mechanic to fix the problem. I did not enquire what it would cost. I went back to the hotel and couple hours later, came back. It was fixed. How much?

"Thauwn Thaun", I thought he said. 30,000 Kyats. That's about $21. Well, a bit more than I was expecting to pay, but still not that bad for what I had had done. Or so I thought.

Fittingly, the 10K Kyats note pictures the Mandalay moat which you'll
see in the next video.
As I started to pull out the `10,000 Kyat notes, I was stopped and was told again, "Thauwn Town". Oh. Not 30,000, it was 3,000. Two bucks. Parts included. The Burmese words for thousand  and ten thousand sound very similar, so this wasn't the first time I've had this confusion, but here's another example of the extreme honesty of Myanmar. Mechanics worldwide are known for overcharging people, particularly those who don't get an estimate beforehand. I didn't need to because I knew I would get charged a fair price, and when I tried to overpay, by a factor of ten, I was stopped from doing so. I can't imagine many places in the world where this would happen.

My last anecdote comes from near the end of my trip. This one was again a product of my absentmindedness. I was rolling into Mawlamyine, and about an hour before getting there, I stopped at a little rural roadside restaurant, had a coke and rested, something you gotta do every so often while touring on motorbike. Later, in Mawlamyine, I realized I didn't have my smartphone. Uh oh. This was bad. Next to the bike itself, my phone was my most important piece of gear I had on the trip. Although not top-of-the-line, my Samsung J7 ain't cheap. It's worth $300, which equals about 4 months pay for your average working class person here. Maybe I'd left it at the restaurant, where I distinctly remembered pulling it out and checking it. Wouldn't be the first time I'd left my phone on the table when leaving a restaurant. After checking into the hotel, it was back up the road to see if I could even find that nondescript hole in the wall.

I did. They had the phone. They'd even wrapped it a plastic bag and had put it away. Again, they could've claimed ignorance and I couldn't have proved otherwise, and they'd have had something equivalent to months of profits from their little business.
Lying like that, however, just doesn't occur to these people. It's not correct living, and living a correct life is extremely important to them.

The world could learn a lot from the world's most generous nation. Probably not going to happen; I just hope Myanmar doesn't learn from the rest of the world.

Okay, so back to the Epic. In this episode, I visit the world's (two) largest books, an amazing old wooden monastery and I try to cross the moat and enter the military base. At the center of the base was a reconstruction of the old Mandalay royal palace on the site where it once stood. It was destroyed in WWII.

I don't argue with guys carrying an AK-47
Alas, although I was able to impress the first soldier with my Myanmar drivers license, the second one, armed with an AK-47 wouldn't let me do what the locals were doing, i.e, push my motorbike through the city gate (even they can't ride them). Instead, I was barred. Hrrumph.

1 comment:

  1. I truly enjoyed your entry and video. Thank you. Blessings, Lynn


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