|R is concentrating on driving in Yangon traffic; I am blissful at our newly reupholstered car!|
Their first response was, can we give you the kelly blue book value of the car? Well, that sounds fair if the damage is irreversible, but wait what about the rule that says diplomats get one car AND ONE CAR ONLY? That's correct. I sat in meetings with other diplomats just the day before going to port where they discussed if your car it totaled, there's no trading it in for a new one here nor abandoning it and buying a new one. You just get the one. That's just the way the laws are written.
So we had to tell the moving company, thanks but that doesn't actually fix our we-need-some-sort-of-transportation-here problem. We did end up finding someone local who used to live in the U.S. and was willing to procure all of the upholstery (steering wheel, fabric side panels of the door, head rests, carpet, roof, seat covers, arm rest: you name it, we replaced it!) and replace it. It took time of course and just last week the final touches were put on poor Suki Subaru who has been through a helluva lot (smash and grab in January 2015, scraped in a NoVa parking garage in May 2015, crunched by a moving truck in August 2015, Mold with a capital M December 2015).
So now that you're convinced you do NOT want to purchase this car from us, let me tell you- it's nearly perfect now! It's like a brand new car on the inside all shiny and clean with these serious industrial monsoon season rubber floor mats that were mistakenly ordered. And I STILL LOVE THIS CAR! We'll probably go somewhere next that won't allow us to bring her with us and it will break my heart.
Anyways, I've had the chance to really enjoy driving in Yangon which I wasn't sure I would. I'd heard the traffic was insane and hiring a driver was a must, but while I don't judge those who entrust their vehicles and livelihoods to someone else (I LOVE when friends with drivers give me rides- it's the best! you don't have to worry about parking or having a glass of wine or anything), I do actually like scooting around in my subaru.
Here are the driving principles I follow to survive the roads in Yangon:
1. Choosing a lane is so boring. If you straddle both lanes you can still pass people who are turning left in the lefthand lane on the right and swerve around trishaws, dogs, humans, water buffalos, bicyclists, monks, taxis, etc. blocking the righthand lane. This is how the locals do it, so I have taken up this habit too. I'll never be able to drive in America again.
|Monks walk around town in the mornings accepting alms from people. The people prepare rice or other food to give them. It's good not to hit a monk while driving.|
2. 90% of drivers in Myanmar are in vehicles that have the steering wheel on the righthand side of the car despite the fact that they also drive on the right side of the road (in America we drive on the right but steering wheel is on the left for better visibility). This is due to the fact that a superstitious general sought advice from his astrologer who said that the country had moved too far to the left, politically. In response, in 1970 he switched sides of the street to drive on to the right which solved EVERYTHING! Despite the changed policy, cars were still mostly imported from Japan (wheel on the right) and there you have it. If you don't want to get sideswiped, you'd better master the friendly half-honk. I just put my palm on the corner of the horn and barely tap it so that drivers know where I'm at when I'm passing and don't decide to swerve around the aforementioned trishaws, dogs, humans, water buffalos, bicyclists, monks, taxis, etc. blocking the right hand lane.
3. Smile and wave if you need to merge- even in bumper to bumper traffic, it goes a long way here. There are many times when R will ask me to roll my window down, hang my arm out the window and smile to get over at the right time. Other drivers peacefully oblige without a hint of frustration or bitterness. Of course you have to get into this same mentality and leave your passive aggressive driving behind you in America. If someone else asks to get in front of you, you yield. It's a little crazy but it works.
4. Perfect your backing in skills or be doomed to never find a parking spot EVER. People complain about the parking in Yangon but really I think they're insecure about their ability to reverse into a narrow space. I practice every day both at the embassy where the parking spots are enormous and at home where there's risk of injury and I won't say I've mastered it but I'm much more apt now.
5. Never run your headlights during the daytime. While in America this is considered sensible and safe, in Myanmar people think that it drains your battery. They will signal to you in traffic all over town by making a fist and then opening and closing their hand quickly to look like a light. The first time this happened I was really concerned and couldn't figure it out. By the third time I knew what they were trying to communicate but thought, oh I will show them- it's better to drive with lights on! But by now, I've given in. I don't drive with my lights on in the daytime. It's just easier to turn them off than have every taxi driver and parking attendant worried that I don't know I'm draining my battery.
6. My final piece of advice is to not be in a rush when driving in Yangon. Traffic is unpredictable and not necessarily bound to a time of day or place in particular. If I drive over 25 miles per hour here, I feel like I'm cruising on the freeway. We typically show up 10 minutes let or 20 minutes early regardless of when we leave the house. Some times it's the full moon or the new moon or a local holiday or a power outage or school traffic or a bus that ran into the cement embankment in the middle of the road that you can't predict.
But again, I like the chaos and fluidity of driving here. I also don't have to drive very far or very much in Yangon so it's not a total headache for me.