November 20, 2017 – Rangoon, Rangoon, Wherefore Art Thou Yangon?

According to a google search (which I can do now that I’m outside of China; google and facebook are heavily censored and/or blocked in the PRC… but bing and yahoo were mostly good to go… I was just too lazy to change my browser’s default search engine and thus opted to wait until now to search this):

Burma became Myanmar and Rangoon was changed to Yangon in 1989 when the country fell under the rule of a widely maligned military junta that stayed in power until 2011, when it was formally dissolved.

Why after that military junta fell they kept the name changes I’m still not clear on.

I should point out that at least one search result posited that Rangoon is an anglicized spelling of Yangon so maybe the name didn’t really change?  Ugh, the internet.  Why can’t it just tell me the answer I want to hear.  I guess that’s what a counsel of sycophantian toadies is for.

Note to self – place help wanted advert for toadies.

Note to self – probably best not to try and write these blog posts on either minimal sleep or at 1 AM when you can’t sleep.  But then again, when else am I going to write these things?  The Kevin Paradox is in full effect.  Sometimes what you think is funny is not.  Not by a country mile… and in this case, that country is Burma… er, Myanmar.

Note to self – seriously, I know nothing.  Nothing.


Rangoon is 90 minutes behind Kunming. That’s not some weird riff on Max Headroom or X-Men (which are variously 20 minutes or so into the future).  That’s a fact of horology (go ahead, make your own Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales reference).  I’m always astonished at partial hour time zone shifts. I’m pretty sure there’s one in eastern Canada that threw me for a loop too.

So too did this airplane’s curtain separating us economy passengers from the elites. I’m used to a curtain… but the sign was something new.

FMI – For My Information: as a preview of next year’s adventures, I just checked and apparently Nepal and New Zealand even have quarter hour deviations (!!).

As I stepped off the plane in Yangon, I was immediately struck by a wave of heat and humidity.  My family has long used movie quotes as conversational shorthand and one of our personal favorites comes from an adaptation of Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues (1988).

“It’s like Tarzan movie hot.”

I think the extrapolation of meaning is quite clear… probably clearer than my obtuse Max Headroom reference above (FYI, For Your Information: Max Headroom was set 20 minutes into the future according to an onscreen graphic).  But in researching the Biloxi Blues line a few years back, I realized we bastardized it and shortened it even more.  The ACTUAL line is

“It never got this hot in Brooklyn.  This is like Africa hot — Tarzan couldn’t take this heat.”  — Biloxi Blues

But ya know what?  I prefer our bastardized version.  Sorry, Mr. Pulitizer Prize and Tony Award Winning Playwright.  If you weren’t also responsible for a delightful Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn one-two punch I might think you were overrated.

In any case, back to our story.  A cab driver plucked me from airport crowd with the now-standard business tout of “Taxi, Mister?  Taxi?”  We agreed to a USD$12 fare to my hotel and off he went to get his cab, promising to be back at the curb in 2 minutes.  I googled a few things on my phone, tapping out a few notes to myself to followup on when I had better connections.  Absently I looked up and saw a hand wave me over from a car window.  When I got into this cab I thought I was getting into the guy’s car. It was only after we had pulled into traffic that I realized my mistake. I was in some other cabbie’s car who had snatched my fare.  I felt guilty as I hadn’t intended on skipping out on the original guy’s cab; it was an honest mistake and wasn’t because I’m a little bit racist and thnk all Myanmarese look alike — they don’t.  I want to be very clear about this.  But when a disembodied hand waves me over to a cab a minute or two after a guy said he’d wave me over in that time, well… I’ll say this and if it makes me a little bit racist so be it.  All disembodied hands waving from a taxi cab window look alike to me.  There.  Ok.  I said it.  I’m a little bit racist, too.

So as my liberal soul wrestled with this harsh reality of personal bias and racism, the ride itself was also a little intimidating.  I had no idea where we were going.  I couldn’t tell if my data plan with Sprint covered Myanmar (I had service but no texts from them like I usually get when connecting in foreign lands telling me the price of roaming) so I couldn’t map the route and see how far it was.  And the driver’s English was only slightly better than my Burmese.  It took a lot longer to navigate the congested and curvy city streets and alleyways to get to my hotel… and the guy drove … casually? Casually might be the best way to describe it.  His leg propped up nonchalantly as he weaved in and out of non existent lanes. I would have been worried but Buddha was his copilot.

After a 40 minute or so ride, we arrived at the Rose Garden Hotel, a swank affair as is de rigeur when I book through a tour group and far removed from the murder hotels I would stay at when booking on my own (note to self: in places with genocide and ethnic cleansing, maybe don’t joke about murder hotels… maybe at least TRY not to be a terrible person?  Please?).

The driver told me USD$10 for the fare, thus saving me $2 from the original driver.  Score one for me for being terrible, right?  I felt bad that somehow I was rewarded for being a bad person and getting in the wrong cab.  I didn’t tip the guy — I may be a guilty bad guy but that doesn’t make me a sucker bad guy.

FMI – For My Information and TWIMC – to whom it may concern: Aw, crap.  I just re-read that linked post and though tipping isn’t common in Myanmar, “for waiters, luggage porters, maids, bus drivers, taxi drivers and tour guide gratuities are a nice addition to their meager wages.”  It’s the “meager wages” phrasing that really hits me.  I’m a jerk.

I met up with the Albatros Adventure tour leaders.  James was heading my multinational group.  Niels and Jasper were handling the other two.  They went over a few details with more info to come as the days went by.  Mainly they let me know where we were meeting tomorrow morning for the city tour and when we’d be heading to the airport for our connecting flight into the heart of Burma.  Seems like a great group of folks and I’m looking forward to the adventure.  I should’ve grabbed a snapshot of them.  Phooey.

I told them I was off for a shakeout run to try and get over some jetlag.  James warned me of potholes and various toe-catching bits and pieces on the “sidewalks.”  He didn’t use air quotes on the word but it was implied.  He told me I wasn’t allowed to trip or fall as no injuries were allowed before the race.  I thought this a great rule and I promised to be careful.

And, boy, did I need to be.  Thinking of Short Round shouting in the Temple of Doom “Strong bridge, Indy.  Strong bridge!” I was struck by just how… um… hole-y the area around famed pagodas and religious sights near my hotel were.  James wasn’t kidding about the potholes… they weren’t just on the sidewalks and roads, they were on the pedestrian bridges and boardwalks along the water.

Indeed, as I tried running a bit on the boardwalk, the rotted wood would actually fall away beneath my feet.  I thought that stuff only happened in the movies… but maybe life really is like a movie.  Remembering my promise to James… which was also a promise to my Mom to be careful… I opted to walk the boardwalk.  It still felt pretty precarious.  I’m used to running over bridges and feeling the bouncing give and take of the wood and structure with each footfall.  I’m less used to the bridge falling beneath me feet.

After uploading a few posts from the previous days, I ventured out in search of dinner.  Wandering the streets, I opted not to hoof it the 20 minutes to a well-reviewed noodle bar as it required skirting a particularly dark park and some what appeared to me poorly illuminated alleys.

Instead I wound up at a well lit place and ordered a plate of steamed dumpling for 2500 kyat… which I think translates into less than $2 American.

As a result, I ordered a second plate. What could be more ugly American than stuffing myself silly?

I ran-ish a bit today. Ish. A bit.  Ranly.

Sigh.  I’m the very model of the fat, ugly American tourist.

Tomorrow I’ll do better… he said as he unpacked his large camera and checked the lens cap.

So basically I really am a big, ugly American.

Double sigh.