Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day 37 - Myanmar (Burma): Lost in Translation in Yangon

While I anxiously awaited the arrival of Alberto, I figured I would knock out a few touristy things in Yangon. The majority of my day involved people watching while getting lost.

I quickly learned Yangon is massive, or at least it feels massive. It's like rolling up to L.A. without a car and thinking you can walk across 'town.' And then you realize immediately you're poorly mistaken.

Yangon has 5 million people in a city that sprawls without sidewalks, is burdened with deadlock traffic and whose taxi drivers don't even know how to navigate the way. Or at least my taxi driver didn't, stopping 4 times to ask for directions before mistakenly arriving to the Air Bagan office, and finally my intended destination, Air Mandalay office, to pick up our 'paper' tickets.

It took over an hour to arrive to my next destination, despite having the Air Mandalay employee explain to him in Burmese and show him on the map the train station, which is way before the river. Upon driving over a bridge and asking, 'Where are we going?' And receiving the enthusiastic reply, "where are we going?," did I manage to get the driver to pull over - a few times - before finally getting the assistance of a man with a translation mobile app to clarify again my destination.

This lost in translation, resolved by technology, happened in 2014. I can only imagine what it was like to travel in Burma in the early 2000s. Although even in 2014, people on the train still seemed excited to a tourist, saying "hello" and "happy birthday" or flashing big smiles to welcome me.
As I left the train, the absence of English signs prevented my easy orientation on the map. I asked 2 young guys where the jetty was, pointing on the map. 'Jetty' they replied. 'This way?' I said, pointing to the left. They nodded and smiled. Not convinced, I followed up with 'This way?' Pointing to the right. Equally enthused, they responded with a nod.

I finally met a man who pointed me in the right direction. "Are you a Christian?" he asked. Not knowing how to respond, I said "Yes." "Are your practicing?" he replied. "No" I said. And with that, he left me saying, "I hope you find Jesus." Yes, in the city of 5 million I found the only Christian bible beater.

I also uncoveted the rest of the Westerners, all holed up at the same posh Burmese restaurant, 'Monsoon.' With the looks of the cleanliness of the street eats, I think I will be sticking to Westernized Burmese joints. To make a generalization, I don't think the Burmese cuisine will be winning James Beard culinary awards any time soon.

Below is Alberto and my first meal of oily curry and mystery meat.

NEXT STOP: JW & Alberto hit up the temples in Bagan


  1. Ok, the interview type comments, where you and Alberto are giving answers are hilarious. Thinking of you!!! xoxo

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