- Finding out that a cell phone provider has randomly changed all their phone numbers to need a “07” at the beginning of the number, after spending a few days trying to contact friends unsuccessfully.
- Taking a shower and wondering “what is that terrible smell?” only to find out that a squirrel has died in your water tank.
- Struggling for 30 minutes to make a transaction with barely functional internet and then seeing this:
Our church community took a weekend retreat to Chaungtha beach, the same beach from our company retreat in the last post. To jog your memory, Chaungtha is a 160 mile, 7 hour bus ride from Yangon. That’s averaging about 21 miles/hr, to give you a feel for the conditions of the road.
After a lovely beach weekend, we hit the road at 11:30am, expecting to arrive in Yangon around 7pm. There were about 25 people on our bus of expats, including 7 small children and an infant. The first 1.5 hours of the trip from Chaung Tha to Pathein (our lunch stop) is easily the most nauseating; switchbacks over rolling hills combined with gaping potholes fresh out of monsoon season will do some damage on a weak stomach. An hour into our trip, our bus driver pulled off to the side of the road (to the relief of some passengers) to investigate a loud clunking noise. Our exhaust pipe had fallen down and took the oil filter with it. The exhaust pipe was an easy fix – a couple pieces of wire quickly had the pipe back in place. The oil filter, however, required a spare part.
Cultural Note #1: Most cars in Myanmar have the steering wheel on the right side of the car, and yet people also drive on the right hand side of the road. So if you’re passing a car on the left, the driver can’t actually see if there is oncoming traffic. Thus the role of the “spare.” On every Myanmar bus there is a driver and another person called a spare, who sits where the steering wheel should be and tells the driver if he can pass other cars or not.
Cultural Note #2: There is a deep sense of not wanting to impose on other people (or give others bad news) in Myanmar culture. In fact, their language has a word for this mentality, and it’s used often. So if your bus breaks down with a bunch of foreigners onboard, you’re not going to give them any bad news, even if it means lying when the truth will be inevitably revealed at some point.
So the spare jumped on a motorcycle and headed to town to look for a new oil filter while the driver stayed behind. The driver told us the repair would take 30 minutes, although we realized later that the drive to the closest town was at least 30 minutes one-way. Each time we checked back with the driver, he reported that he’d had talked to the spare, and he would be back in 30 minutes (we’re pretty sure he didn’t have a cell phone). 5 hours later, the spare returned, replaced the oil filter for one that was too small but would probably work, and we were off again.
The 5-hour stop was miraculously pleasant. Great scenery, cool weather, impromptu music, and even a woman that made motorcycle trips between our bus and her village to sell us snacks.
We had dinner in Nwe Saung (and of course got some t-shirts) and started the winding trip again at 8:30pm. Before leaving we asked the driver if he had enough gas given our little detour. He assured us that although his gas gauge was broken, we certainly had enough.
Myanmar -1. Murphys - 0.