Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Honest Taxi Driver and Clouds

My dialog with a Burmese taxi driver after work today:

Taxi Driver: Where you go?
Me:             Hledan Zie (the name of the market near my house)
TD:             Hledan Zie?
Me:             Hledan Zie.
TD:             Okay. Okay. 
There's a long pause. Neither one of us wants to be the first to name our price. See, as I think I've mentioned before, taxis are not metered here in Yangon and so any trip anywhere begins with this little dance we have of taxi driver and potential passenger. Saying how much you want first puts you in a worse place, negotiating wise. I got all day, and he's the one with his car running, blocking the taxi behind him as they queue up at the mall.

TD:       One thousand five hundred.
Me:       Oh, no, should be te'taun. (1000; I find I get better results if I show at least some knowledge of their numbers.)
TD:       No! No! (He then proceeds to mime zig zagging through heavy traffic. It was 4 o'clock, and traffic wasn't that bad yet, but fares do go up during rush hour)
Me:      Te'taun ni'-ya? (1200. At this offer, the driver just laughs. I should have known better. Taxi fares are always rounded to the nearest 500)

I said okay to his 1500, knowing it's always a bit more when your starting destination is a ritzy mall. At the end of the first street, my driver starts to turn the wrong way. I stop him and yell 'Be! Be!' (left!). His turn would have made sense if he were going to the far side of Hledan Zie, but I live on the near side, and I still don't know how to quite express that. Perfectly understandable misunderstanding.

City Espress, Hledan Lan” I offer up, naming a popular convenience store near where my road turns off. Near the end of the short trip, I again had to tell him when to turn.  

I'm not sure what it was that did it. Maybe it was him losing face a little in not knowing where to turn. Maybe he was impressed with my knowledge of the back streets. Maybe he just realized that yes, 1000 Kyats is the correct fare for a trip a bit over a mile. When I told him to stop, he said, “Okay, One thousand.”


Yes, one thousand, okay.”

I was flabbergasted. I've had taxi drivers try to increase a fare on me en route, but never had one reduced. I might have tipped him the extra 500 (it's only 52 cents) just for being honest, but tipping isn't part of the culture here, and I might have offended him.

This place never ceases to amaze me.

* * *
Can you see ominous face in the clouds?

The rainy season is starting. The monsoon is coming. In all my life, I've never seen clouds quite like what I saw tonight from my rooftop balcony. They were spectacular. A video can't do them justice, but I tried. 

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