Friday, December 27, 2013

Impressions and Memories of the Last Couple of Months

I'm not sure if it's my age or what, but time seems to be flying faster than ever.  It seems as if it's Monday morning and when I turn around it is Sunday.  Since I opted for a staycation over the holidays in Mandalay, I'm enjoying the time to just catch my breath, relax and get caught up on stuff I've been putting off for months.

Before I forget them, I want to jot down some experiences and impressions from recent months.

  • Myanmar has struggled over the last decades, politically and economically.  Things are improving but the country's infrastructure needs so much work.  Health care, for example.  As a result of Mark Owen's recent traffic accident (he was hit by a truck while riding his motorbike) I've been asked to put together a policy for the school on getting emergency treatment for injured teachers.  The health care in Mandalay is not the best and getting out of the country is not easy.  
    A dog napping on the dirty floor in the hallway of the largest government hospital in Mandalay.

    Getting Mark from the ER and Radiology to get an ultrasound required a trip outside.  Notice the gurney is bare metal. We made this trip more than once, by the way, since they determined he also needed a CAT scan.  That was a brand new piece of equipment.

    The Mandalay airport has jetways but I've never seen them used.  Instead, Mark had to endure being carried up by baggage handlers.  The jerking was not good for his broken ribs and punctured lung.  While Air Asia has jetways it uses in Bangkok and knew that they had someone on board who needed to get off in a wheelchair there was neither a jetway or wheelchair when we arrived.  It took over an hour to get off the plane after everyone else had disembarked and was the worst example of customer service I have ever seen.  Ever.
  • Sounds always remind me of where I've been.  Most of the time they're in the background and I'm not even conscious of them.  Other times, like the early morning church "bells" and roosters in my village in Samoa, they can't be missed. A sound I'll always associate with Myanmar is that of horns honking.  Because driving rules here are loosely applied, cars, trucks, motorcycles all honk to let you know they're coming up on you from behind.  Or if they see that you might be trying to cross the road they honk to warn you not to.  Or to let you know that they are in the lane next to you.  While I wish AIS was closer to the center of town to make dining and shopping easier, I appreciate the relative quiet of being on the outskirts of the city.

    I was surprised and laughed out loud at a sound I heard repeatedly at the Chatachuk market in Bangkok.  Prior to making an announcement on the loudspeaker they would play the exact same bell tones used on cruise ships.  

    I still think I'm hearing helicopters when Chinese made trucks go by.  They sound exactly the same.  And at the same volume.

    I generally prefer silence to noise.  I've never understood why people walk on the beach listening to Ipods instead of waves.  After a day in a room with 29 first graders, I do not want to go to a noisy restaurant or bar.  I'm looking forward to my fellow teachers returning from the holiday travels but while they're gone I'm enjoying how quiet the apartment building is.
  • Transportation is my greatest challenge (other than language) in Mandalay.  In Bangkok, you can usually grab an inexpensive taxi anywhere.  Friday and Saturday nights, especially when it's raining are exceptions.  In Mandalay, taxis are expensive and can be hard to get.  Getting a taxi to pick me up at school requires a phone call.  Because simcards are so expensive here (about $250 USD) I don't have one.  I ask a school guard to call for me.  But the guards generally don't speak English.  Usually that's no problem.  They know "taxi".  But if I want to be sure a taxi picks me up an hour from now?  Not possible to communicate.  Usually it takes 15 - 30 minutes to get a cab.  But it's not unusual to take a couple of hours and a few times I just gave up.

    If I'm cooking and forgot to get X ingredient it involves a taxi ($10 fare) to drive the 15-20 minutes to the store, then back.  I usually just ditch my plan for dinner.  Or beg another teacher to make a shopping run on their motorbike.  I don't have a motorbike because of the traffic and healthcare situation.

    Dinner out generally means hiring a taxi to take me to the restaurant, wait for me, then take me home.  That means the taxi is generally at least twice what I pay for a nice dinner.  I tried having the driver not wait around and had the restaurant call a taxi for me when I was ready to leave.  The driver didn't speak English, there was miscommunication and the normal 15 minute ride turned into an 1 1/2 hour adventure.

    I thought I'd reached a solution to my dilemma.  I found a nice taxi driver, who speaks English and was willing to give me a bit of a discount for using him regularly.  Then I had a wallet dropping incident during the recent emergency trip to Bangkok and lost his phone number.  Damn.  U Soe Min, where are you???
    I still have not gotten over my fear of crossing four lane roads with no traffic signals and pedestrians don't have right of way.  But I do it.  Because even a chicken has to cross the road.

    Trucks, motorbikes, cars, buses, bicycles, pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages all share the roads.  To get a driver's license you just have to pay a fee.  

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