The other day I took the 10 minute ($4) cab ride to the grocery store. I had a relaxing Friday night planned and just needed a few dinner ingredients to make it perfect.
I enjoy using the rides in the cab to both talk to the drivers as well as watch the world going by the window. The streets, which I've seen at 6:00 a.m, and 9:00 p.m. as well as times in between are invariably busy. Crowds riding motorcycles, bikes, driving cars and trucks and walking. Open air shops and restaurants full of people. Workers in small open air workshops building furniture.
I've still seen only a very limited amount of Mandalay because of the limited transportation but each time I'm in town I love looking at the details. Here are some things that I've noticed:
Less than a block from Citi Mart, where I like to grocery shop, is a billboard advertising scholarship opportunities. I was surprised to see that the University of South Florida was one of the schools involved. When I get home I'll have to see if I can connect with Myanmar students in FL.
Many of the small clothing/tailor shops have mannequins on the "sidewalk" in front of their stores. I put sidewalk in quotes because it is frequently so cracked and pitted that it is barely walkable. Anyway, in front of the stores are mannequins. My favorites are the blue ones which look like aliens.
I'm still amazed at the number of passengers who perch on the backs of motorcycles while not hanging on in any way. I really can't begin to describe the chaotic traffic and how often drivers have to slam on their brakes or swerve. I think they have velcro on their butts to keep them on.
Last night I was at Diamond Center, which houses restaurants, shopping and Ocean, which is like a mini version of Super Target. The excitement of shopping there is always leaving the mall to cross the street to our school bus. There are no traffic signals. Pedestrians do not have right of way. Traffic is fast and scary. It doesn't help that it was dark and many of the motorcycles either don't have or use lights.
The traffic seemed a bit heavier than usual last night as I waited to cross with two large, heavy bags. Or perhaps my nerves just weren't up to it. I like to wait until there's a slight break in traffic and then step out in front of motorcycles instead of cars. My theory is if they hit me, it won't hurt as much.
I waited so long yesterday that a local woman and her young child joined me. When I stepped out, she stepped out. I think she figured that at my size I could stop any oncoming traffic. We made it through two lanes and then had to stop in the center of the road to wait for a break in the next two lanes of traffic. We were standing on the solid yellow center line which is about 4 inches wide. Traffic zipped by in front and behind, leaving us buffeted in their wake. I've gotten used to this wait and try not to focus on my vulnerability while standing there.
I was doing fine with my two companions at my side until I looked to my right and saw headlights coming toward me. Directly toward me because the driver of the car was straddling the center line. If I stepped forward, I'd walk directly into a passing car. Same with stepping backward. I held my ground and just watched the headlights get closer. About 5 feet away from me, the car veered into his own lane, cutting off a motorcycle, which slid into the lane closest to the curb, which cut off two motorcycles, one of whom ended up on the sidewalk, the other slamming on his brakes. There was much horn honking and yelling.
I just continued waiting for a few seconds and then slowly stepped into on-coming traffic and crossed.
All my life I wished for the excitement of travel. This was not what I had in mind. But I made it home safe and sound. Past the alien mannequins, past the beautifully lit pagodas, past the smells and sounds of a community which embraces spices and outdoors.