Thursday, January 29, 2015

Buying a Car in Myanmar

I've typically purchased cars new, direct from the dealership.  Yes, more expensive and yeah, yeah, yeah you lose money when you drive off the lot.  That's the advantage of being single.  I can make irrational financial decisions and only have myself to answer to.

My last car, though, was about 6 months old and I bought it from CarMax.  This isn't a CarMax commercial but it was a great process.  Two incredibly patient men (one a salesman, the other a friend) walked me around the lot, went on test drives with me and were just generally awesome.  I had a similar, although much faster, time when I sold the same car a year later, back to CarMax, at a fair price.

In Myanmar,  there is no CarMax.  Cars here have been limited due to government controls and since there's more demand than supply, prices are ridiculously high for even used vehicles.   The government is now allowing more vehicles in but prices are still crazy.  I've been looking at 20 year old beaters that I'd pay about $500 for at home.  In my Myanmar home, they're more in the $6,000 range.

Another difference is that you don't go to a car lot to look at cars.  There are such things, I actually saw one but there are dozens of men waiting there to sell their cars.  My local friend advised me not to get out of the car.  Seeing my foreign loveliness, they'd mistakenly assume I'm rich and willing to spend.  Wrong on both counts.

Instead, a taxi driver that I've been using recently has been brokering deals for me.  He shows up after school with a car for sale and the guy selling the car (for someone else).  I check it out and give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.  It's kind of becoming my new hobby.  I may never find a car I like but I'm meeting a lot of nice local guys.

Today had to be a salesman's nightmare.  He showed up with a 1992 Toyota Corolla.  Diesel.  Sounded like a semi.  I test drove it.  Hmm, I could turn the steering wheel about 90 degrees without the wheels responding.  Plus, it was an automatic but the gear shift moved at will, rather than locking into place.  The salesman said he could fix both of those things.

His worst moment though?  I turned the car off after I drove it.  He couldn't get it started again.  I was gently ushered off to my apartment while the menfolk got jumper cables and a school vehicle to try to get it going.  I was chuckling as I walked up stairs and then I started guffawing out loud.  I heard cows.

What's worse than a car that won't start in front of a prospective customer?  Trying to jump it on a narrow dirt road when a herd of cows strolls by, acting like they own the road.  The cows were not pleased with the vehicles on their road and were loudly telling the cars and men to get the heck out of their way.

The last thing I heard as I went into my apartment was mooing cows.  I didn't hear a car starting.  Hopefully it will be gone by the time they bring another car by tomorrow afternoon.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

All Good Things, Including Vacations, Must Come to an End.

I loved Luang Prabang and hope to go back.   After a tuk tuk ride to the airport (for which I paid the same price as my ride from the airport in an air conditioned van) was fine, although there were six of us Western sized folks and the motorcycle struggled mightily getting up the hills.  Ironic that as we were discussing where we were from I found three of the other passengers are also teachers in Myanmar - they teach in Yangon.

After LP, I headed to Bangkok for more relaxing and eating.  Let's face it, I don't really travel, I just graze.  No photos from Bangkok.  I stayed at the hotel where I usually stay, ate where I usually eat and grocery shopped where I usually shop.  I mostly went for walks and took advantage of cable tv and fast internet.  Yes, I'm a slug, but a happy one.

It was an easy flight back to Myanmar and the afternoon weather was perfect - sunny and in the 80's. Arriving back home was easier because of the very friendly greeting of the immigration officers.  "Ah, my friend!  It is so good to have you back!"  Bet you've never heard that from a U.S. immigration officer.

Rather than wait for the other arriving teachers, I sprung for a taxi, since I was the first one through customs and the others weren't even in the long line yet.  A good choice, since they arrived over 2 hours after I did.  I went to my apartment, dropped off my junk and headed back out in the taxi to go food shopping.

Halfway there I realized I hadn't grabbed any more Myanmar money (Kyat, pronounced Chought).  I only had $25 worth with me but figured I'd just get a few items.   Silly me, I'd forgotten Myanmar prices.  I bought a large basket of of goodies at the market (carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, avocados, fresh prawns, onions, potatoes, green beans) then stopped at Chicken King to pick up a kilo of frozen chicken.  Chicken King, by the way, is actually a cell phone store which has a single freezer filled with chicken.  On the way back to school I also stopped for a bottle of Myanmar rum.  I came home with $15 left.

The prices weren't the only great part of my homecoming shopping.  The main thing was the greetings I got from the vendors.  Some saw me coming (I'm not hard to miss in Myanmar) and I saw them gesturing and yelling to their friends.  Lots of smiles and gesturing on both sides, since we were happy to see each other and they don't speak English and I don't speak Myanmar.

Back home, I got unpacked and settled in.  One teacher brought me parchment paper from the U.S. (we both like to bake) and another teacher brought a pair of sandals from Canada (we'd had a casual conversation about the challenge of buying shoes for Western sized feet).  Both were such thoughtful gifts and so appreciated.

I cooked up the prawns in a butter/chili/garlic sauce for dinner.  I enjoyed being back in my own home.  And in the middle of the night I listened to the faint sound of drumming coming from a nearby monastery.  Tomorrow I'll have to ask my local friends what the occasion was.  Yup, great vacation but good to be home.

Now, if Myanmar internet allows, here are some photos of my last day in Luang Prabang.
Another lunch, another great view of the Mekong river.

This was a small place, with a few tables and one middle-aged woman doing all the cooking and serving.  I went for the most expensive item on the menu.  Hey, I'm on vacation - who cares if it's 20,000 Kip.  Which is about $2.50.  Great food and a view!

Condiments for the omelette were (L to R) fresh lime, a sweet/salty dipping sauce and crushed peanuts.  The cook didn't speak enough English to tell me what was in the dipping sauce which is a shame because it was delicious.  I'm going to experiment by mixing some oyster sauce, sugar and rice vinegar.  I've never considered adding these items to an omelette but will be doing it from now on.  It transformed the meal.

A very hearty portion, filled with local greens (morning glory, sprouts, etc.) along with a bit of the local sausage.  Delicious.

One of the hotel uses these classic cars to pick guests up at the airport.  Rooms there cost about six times what I paid for a very pleasant hotel room.

Many of the hotels provide bicycles for guests.  These just happened to be made of bamboo.

Luang Prabang sausages, drying on the sidewalk.

My dinner, almost every night, came from the little barbecue stand next door.  My favorites - eggplant, green onions, squid, chicken and mushrooms.  About $3.00 for all this deliciousness which came with a fantastic lime, sugar and red chili dipping sauce.

Friday, January 2, 2015


Another day of walking, eating and getting massaged.  I'm beginning to feel like high priced beef.  That is not a complaint!  I'm thoroughly enjoying days moving slowly by while I relax and just breathe.   Since there's a wat (pagoda) on every corner, I figured I might as well take photos.  Because of Luang Prabang's UNESCO World heritage status, they are the best maintained I've seen in Asia.

Lunch yesterday - a delicious sandwich on great French bread.  Camembert, cheddar, tomato, onion, lettuce and salami.  $2.50 and came with a view of the Mekong river.

I went for a light breakfast today.  I was excited about the "bread, butter, cheese and jam".  Laughing cow.  Oh, well.  The bread is the best I've ever eaten.

The fruit plate that comes with breakfast every morning.  Banana, mango, watermelon and a mandarin orange.  Full breakfast is included with my room at the Nam Khan Riverside Hotel.  Always hard to choose - eggs and sausage?  Banana pancake? Mango shake or pineapple shake?  I'm feeling very spoiled.

Manicure gone mad!  Or, a statue in front of a wat.

The wat

Offerings in front of the wat.

One of the buildings on the monastery grounds.  I assume it's either classrooms, dorms or both.

One of the many hotels in town - an old home on the Mekong river, converted and restored.

There are a lot of tourists - this is the height of high season - but if you walk away from Tourist Street (I swear that's the name of the street), you can enjoy some quiet time.

Huge stag horn ferns.

If you click on the photo to make it larger and look carefully, you'll see three women working together on food prep.

Confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers.

Trash bin.  Myanmar, are you paying attention?

Not sure what these are called.  Grave markers?  Photos and dates of birth/death of family members were shown.  On the grounds of a meditation center.

Giant drum.

Another view.  One of the things that I've been enjoying here is walking in the evening and listening to the sounds of chanting and singing of the monks at every wat.

I loved the leaf shape of the metal screen on this window.

A monk. 

Another wat.

Spirit house.  Some are very fancy, some are not (this one is in the latter category.)  A Buddhist friend said they are used to appease angry spirits and keep them out of the house.

Another wat.  I told you there are a lot of them.

MLT, this ones for you.  At the restaurant where I had lunch today you can dine in a tuk tuk.  They swear it is romantic and your relationship will last forever if you dine there.

My view at the restaurant.  The Nam Khan river.

My lunch at the Indestructible Rock Restaurant, which was fabulous.  Lao steak (with garlic, onions and tomato) and the most unusual mashed potatoes (in the bowl) I've ever had.  The combo was delicious.  I also enjoyed the iced coffee.

Not sure what these ladies were doing.  They were clearly working on something - my guess is gathering the tiny cockles I saw at the nearby barbecue place the other night.