I frantically woke up and reached for my phone. Breakfast ends at 9:30, surely it's 9:45 by now, I thought. 8:30. The day is saved. Having slept 9 hours, my body is back on track after 3 mornings of getting up at 4:45 for sunrise. It's Moving day. From Mandalay to Kalaw was today's adventure. I flipped the light switch and grabbed my lap top, to book an overnight bus ticket. I had read that it was smart to book these ahead of time due to their popularity, but in all the times I've read that there has always been last minute seats. Until today that is. I meandered into the dining area of my 10$/night hotel, feasted on some kind of noodle dish, a couple of eggs, toast and some coffee. Solid morning. Realizing my mistake in waiting last minute I asked the reception about a mini van to Kalaw, and after a few phone calls, I was notified the last one left at 9, about 10 minutes ago, unless I wanted to go at 6:30pm and arrive at 2 am. On the other hand there was a small car, aka taxi, leaving at 9:30 for 20,000kyatt or 14 dollars. Sure, I reluctantly agreed.
In typical Asia fashion the car showed up at 10, the driver doning a us army camfolauged jacket (popular fashion over here). I ask if I can sit in the front, 'no', why?, 'another man' he responds. Alrightttyyy, I think to myself as I crawl in the back of the white '02 Toyota. We pull up to another taxi station, where we pick up passenger #2, a monk! I no longer care that I'm in the back seat. Passenger #3, also a monk. This is a great opening line for a joke. The older monk in the front seat, tells me he used to work in the forest service then continues to chat with the driver in their native tongue. I was happy for the insight and a little bit of English. The chatter ends as they stuff betel nuts wrapped in tobacco leaves into their mouth. A favorite stimulant of the Burmese. Turns out this is going to be a 7+ hour drive. I crack open 'Burmese Days' by George Orwell, my splurge buy for $5. 3 hours later, we stop for lunch. The similarities from the book( written in 1934), to now are uncanny.
2 monks, the driver and myself walk into the restaurant, an open aired venue with child sized stools situated around small tables each with a two pots of tea on them. I'm the tourist attraction. The young boy that serves us can't take his eyes off of me, his smile is huge and unwavering. He gives me the 'I don't speak English eyes' paired with the signal, a flat hand wavering like a leaf falling from a tree. "Shan noodles?" I question, he lights up having understood as the taxi driver pours me a cup of tea from the other side of the table. Soup, tea, and a bowl of noodles with some garlic sauce and vegetables. He signals "3". I hand him a thousand kyatt bill and he returns the change. Lunch was 22¢. I laugh, finish my tea and head back to the taxi. The kid still hasn't stopped staring or smiling and I wave as I duck back into the Toyota, he waves back.
Once you have a meal for 22¢ you're never the same. As we bounced and swerved down the bumpy roads I couldn't stop thinking about how at home, 10$ is a pretty cheap meal, 5$ seems like a bargain. In South America $3-5 was pretty average. In Thailand, street vendors hang around the 1-2$ mark. In Myanmar I just ate for 22¢, and was just as happy had I spent $10 at home, maybe happier given the service and environment. I dive headfirst back into my book, only looking up when we make 'serious' swerves or brake checks. It seems the horn is attached to the taxi drivers heart beat. If it doesn't sound with every tick, then it sounds twice the next beat for reassurance. It's the sound track to our journey. We pass skinny cows, an indeterminable amount of motor bikes, generator powered trucks, pagodas and ox-carts. I've inherited the kid's smile, thinking all of this has become so impressively normal.
I slide the book back into my back pack, I'm living out Burmese days first hand. I was born for this adventure and I'm happy to proclaim I have arrived, I'm living the life I dreamt of. Grateful I can share it with you.