Around four in the afternoon businesses open on the streets and sidewalks. In addition to buying food, you can get your shoes repaired, loudspeakers refurbished, custom sewing jobs, electronic components that have been extracted with a small sledge hammer, radios and tapes. End your day with a perfectly prepaired betel nut.
1) Spend three days looking for the most crisp US dollar notes you can find in Malaysia.
2) Exchange your US dollar traveler’s checks into Ringgit and Ringgit back into said US dollar notes.
3) Once in Myanmar carefully iron your dollar bills to take out any wrinkles as they are made from cotton but don’t have a care label.
4) Talk to a certain recommended travel agent.
5) Go to the good friend of the travel agent, the respected station master.
6) The helpful station master sends you behind the counter with the ticket master.
7) The ticket master realizes that you don’t want to leave today, so he directs you to the official travel office because only they can issue a ticket for tomorrow.
8) The official travel office is not where the map thinks it is, but the other travel office next to where it should be, sends you to the building across the park.
9) You go around the park because crossing the park requires a fee for foreign visitors.
10) At the official travel office, which has very friendly staff in spite of what you read in your travel guide, you get a hand-drawn map showing you that there is a ticket office behind the train station.
11) At the the ticket office, locate the right window from about twenty-five (25) options carefully labeled with letters that you can’t read. You will choose the wrong window at least three times. Each time a clerk will dribble out part of their bright red wad of betel nut as you are directed in the general direction of your next incorrect choice.
12) Explain your choice of ticket to the clerk while fending off an annoying tout offering unsolicited advice.
13) Convince clerk that your carefully ironed dollar bills are legal tender.
14) Clerk will go to supervisor to have your carefully ironed dollar bills refused.
15) Wander the streets in search of Indian money changer who was offering his services when you walked to the train station.
16) You will not find him but run into the annoying tout. Tell him you didn’t get the ticket because your dollar bills were not accepted.
17) Annoying tout turns into helpful fixer and takes you to a friend who can exchange good dollar bills into perfect dollar bills for a 5.5 % fee.
18) Sit down on little plastic chairs in the tiny store front and negotiate transaction with the translation services of betel nut dribbling friendly tout.
19) After you change your money you will encounter the Indian money changer who gives you the stink-eye because you didn’t work with him.
20) Run back to ticket office behind the train station because it is now closed but friendly tout knows a way around the gate.
21) The ticket clerk knows the helpful fixer which may or may not be a good thing.
22) Ticket clerk examines your perfect dollar bills carefully and finishes hand-written ticket from before.
23) The condition of the newly hand-written ticket does not compare favorably to the perfect dollar bills you just handed over.
24) The helpful fixer who you have since compensated for his services will repeat for the 17th time, “Don’t worry. Be happy” as you part your ways dodging traffic.
© Photos: Traveline
Around four the afternoon turns golden and the streets start teeming with people that previously were hiding from the merciless heat. The sun drops like a stone and it is completely dark before the fresh smell of a pre-dusk application of DEET has worn off. For many, homework, dinner, a chat with friends, takes place in the public space; air-con is not a standard, and electrical power not a given. At night, entire townships go dark, making stars visible in the sky above this city of five million.