Accidental Tourist

Our mean Ma in Myanmar

Brian Carlin finds some locals drive a hard bargain - even when they seem to have your back

16 July 2017 - 00:02 By Brian Carlin

Our trip through Myanmar was going well. We had taken in the sites of Lake Inle and were now on A Road to Mandalay.
Our taxi driver enquired as to where we had booked our accommodation but I hadn't, so I quickly referred to my Lonely Planet and told him to take us to Ma Ma Guest House.
He knew exactly where it was. A refined elderly lady introduced herself as Ma Ma and immediately started a tirade against the army. Being of a similar age to my darling and me, she showed some empathy by offering us her best room complete with two air-conditioning units.
Problem was that neither worked so I looked at another room. No luck, so I stole the fan from it. In lieu of no cooled air, we were blasted by two propellers on high mode.
The next morning I met with Ma to discuss the heat in Mandalay.
I received a limp excuse about intermittent power and that there was little she could do to alleviate our discomfort.
I suggested she could alleviate my financial distress by offering a discount on our $45 rate. The best she could offer was $43. The heat had got to me: I reserved another night.
We hired two bikes from the guesthouse and rode off to explore the Streets of Mandalay. A malicious municipal engineer during colonial times had numbered streets running east-west from one to 50 and those running north-south from 51 upwards.
It seems easy but if one is in 51st street and you wish to go to 49th street and you happen to be on the corner of 21st street, then one must cross 28 streets to get to 49th street and by this stage it's time to be admitted into an asylum.
Put simply, one can be on the corner of 50th and 51st street but never on the corner of 30th and 31st. As the city developed, blocks were carved up and named streets inserted in between the numbered streets to add to the confusion.
Why the genius engineer could not adopt the system used in New York where avenues are numbered one way and streets the other defies basic human understanding.One late afternoon as the sun was setting, we found ourselves lost and slowly going insane on the Streets of Mandalay. We stopped at a new five-star hotel to ask directions. Just out of curiosity, we asked what their rates were.
The affable manager, Mr Aung, advised that as they had just opened, we could have a luxury standalone, fully air-conditioned suite with fluffy white towels and bathrobes for $50 a night, breakfast included.
And he would throw in a welcome dinner. There was none of the usual haggling; we had found our place out of the sun.
The next day I told Ma Ma we were moving on. Could she arrange a shared taxi for us to our next destination? No, but she could arrange a taxi to take us to 27th street between 56th and 57th? Why were we leaving?
Ma Ma, your place is just not cool.
The taxi driver, obviously having a grasp of the street numbering system, knew where we were going. I stood in awe.
We spent a lovely two days there, venturing out in early morning and late afternoon, spending most of the day in the sparkling pool.
On hearing that we were keen on cycling, Mr Aung had six brand-new Chinese models delivered to the hotel, which guests could use for free, gratis and nothing. So, besides staying in a five-star hotel, we were also seen pedalling around Mandalay on shiny new bicycles.
Municipal engineers are notorious for getting things wrong, but this one had inadvertently made it possible for us to have luxury accommodation in Mandalay at 57th street between 26th and 27th or was it 27th street between 56th and 57th.
Mandalay asylums are not air-conditioned. 
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