|On the road back from Pindaya in 1989. |
Shortly afterwards, we overturned the car trying to avoid a bullock.
As Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond have discovered in the Top Gear Burma Christmas (?) special which has just been shown on BBC2, transport in Burma (also known as Myanmar) is interesting.
For instance, as a result of British colonial rule, we used to drive on the left-hand side and so all the cars are left-hand drive, but in 1970, Ne Win, the military ruler who was in charge of Burma for decades, decided out of superstition that he would make everyone switch to driving on the right as apparently we were sliding to the left politically (he also once shot at his own reflection in a mirror because he believed that would make him safe from assassination). This change made, and makes, driving in Burma slightly terrifying, as the driver can't really see the road properly.
And until recently, only military and government officials were allowed to import cars, and so new cars were relatively scarce and so the cars remained right-hand drive. My own family's cars date from the sixties and seventies and actually appreciated in value.
Because of this, I'm not sure I've actually been in a car in Burma which had a seat-belt, but the Burmese use this to our advantage. I have 16 first cousins alone and the whole family is pretty close, so expeditions are planned with military precision, by which I mean vehicles need to be pressed into service to ensure all of us get to our destination.
The lack of seatbelts lets us reduce the number of cars we need - the Burmese phrase is "shih' doh, nao' soht" which means "push forward, move back" and it describes how we sit - I'll shimmy forward and my cousin Khine will shimmy back, and that way we can get 4 people in the back of the car instead of 3.
However, my absolute favourite way to travel in Burma is in the back of a flatbed truck, which we call a pick-up. It means we can cram even more people in, as we spread out a bamboo mat, bunch up together and sit cross-legged on top.
Dangerous as hell I'm sure, but there's no finer feeling than the wind ruffling through your hair as you speed along in the back of the truck at night in the open air.
|With my mum in the back of a pick-up|
|The new road to Mandalay|
|On the road to Mogok in 1987|
|There is a bus beneath the monks|
|On the way to dinner|
|Burmese rickshaw in Mandalay, known as a "side-car"|
|With cousins in a pick-up truck|
|The chicken ladies of Popa come running to our van|
|"Try our fried chicken!"|
|A fried chicken's batty|