Monday, July 05, 2010

Yangon to Mandalay: The cold bus

Back when I was in Russia in the late 80s, whenever you were leaving on a trip somewhere and it happened to be raining, someone was sure to say lugubriously: "Zee SKY is CRYING because you are LEAFING." If that's the case, Myanmar must have been very unhappy to see us coming, because when we arrived that first morning inYangon it rained all day. We went straight from the airport to the bus station, and there we sat, from early morning until late afternoon, watching the rain fall on the buses, the muddy parking lot, and a stack of Max soft drinks.

The nice lady who sold us the tickets got us settled in the bus station restaurant. "What kind of food would you like?" she asked, and when we said "Myanmar food" she said "Oh, thank you!" with a huge smile. The restaurant people stuffed us with curries. Then a kitten attacked Chad's sneakers. They probably deserved it.

The TV was advertising a fascinating lineup of ancient American movies, from "For a Few Dollars More" to a Doris Day-Rock Hudson flick. I stared sleepily at the screen for hours, listening to a Burmese audio phrasebook I'd downloaded from the Defense Language Institute. It was full of useful phrases like "Stop or I'll shoot!" and "Please don't push, there are enough food parcels for everyone."

There are two rules governing bus travel in Myanmar. First, long-distance buses leave in the afternoon and reach their destination at 4 a.m. I have no idea why, but that's how it is. Second, the Yangon-Mandalay bus is FREEZING COLD. Other travelers have confirmed this. I begged a blanket off the bus driver, but the insanely overchilled air from the ceiling vents cut right through it. I went through the 7 stages of extremely cold bus passengers: anger, disbelief, uncontrollable shivering, (fruitless) complaints to the driver, homicidal impulses, crying jag, and finally, surrender. With my fleece hiking hat pulled down over my ears, my wool sweater pulled up over my face, and the help of a knockout pill (Indonesia's Panadol PM, world's greatest cold medicine!), I finally managed to get some sleep.

Everyone had to get off the bus at 1 a.m. to show their i.d. at a police checkpoint. I tried to get outraged about this government intrusion, but mostly I was happy for the chance to restore some circulation to my toes.

And when I woke up again, we were there: Mandalay!

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