Film and a walk

Cover of "Eagle Eye"

Eagle Eye

I had a nice lie in this morning till after 8am (wow!), devoured breakfast and walked around the corner to the cinema. I’d noticed last night that the sign for Transporter 3 had been taken down, but it seems they always change the films on a Friday and always have an English one on as the early showing at 10am. The “new” film was Eagle Eye which fortunately I’d not seen, so I paid 1200K for a cheap seat (1500K gets you the balcony) and picked up some snacks.

Myanmar is the first country to fail my “Coke and popcorn” test for the cinema. Everywhere I’ve been, a medium Coke and popcorn has cost approximately the same as a cinema ticket. The UK, Singapore, Bangkok, India… everywhere. Mind, the problem here is that they don’t actually sell Coke or popcorn. Still, my bottle of water and packet of baked potato things came to 600K rather than nearer 1000K. Actually, the going rate for a can of Coke in Myanmar is 1100-1200K so if I had been able to buy one then the theory would have buoyed out!

The cinema was a little scruffy – obviously based on the old “proper” cinemas back home, but upkeep of the decor hasn’t been their priority. However, it’s comfy and the sound and picture quality are perfectly fine. There’s a no smoking policy, but there’s still the usual “chat away if you want to” rule that seems to be endemic in SE Asia. At least there are no mobile phones – I think I’ve seen three people use them in my entire stay in the country.

Another clue that the building was British-based (possibly even British-built) was my first encounter with stand-up urinals in male toilets since I arrived in Myanmar. Normally it’s just a collection of toilet stalls.

As in Thailand and India, the national anthem is played at the beginning of the film. A “warning” appears beforehand that “Loyal citizens will respect their nation’s flag”. Everyone rose as the grainy footage of a flickering flag (it looked like something from Thunderbirds) flashed up… and then they sat down again without waiting for the clip to run its full length. The film was decent enough with only two pauses as the power went and was switched to generator and back. The audience reaction was muted enough that this is obviously a common occurence.

Once outside, I was flagged down by a tri-shaw driver in a Man U shirt (what else outside of Manchester?). We ended up talking for half an hour in the sun. Like most Burmese, he’s not happy with the way the country is currently run and wishes the British were back in charge! He obviously doesn’t know what a state our own country is in… Mind, at least we have free education (he’s got 2 daughters of school age), reliable gas and electric, clean water, paved roads, hospitals…

At around 13:00 I started walking, my planned destination being Mandalay Hill, though the guy I’d been talking to told me to go in the morning. The officers on duty often don’t start checking for the $10 tickets until afternoon when most tourists head up to watch the sunset. I decided to circumnavigate the palace walls, but grossly underestimated the distance. It’s huge!

Halfway along the south wall, I saw a bridge over the moat and thought it would be nice to cross over and walk close to the walls themselves. Tourists can only enter from the east entrance, but I was only interested in seeing the outside. As I crossed the bridge, one of a handful of men in uniform stood up from his desk and approached. I smiled pleasantly at him and received:

“Grunt!”
“Hi, is it possible to walk along the wall here?”
I finger-mimed walking and pointed along the wall.
“Grunt!”
I pointed back over the bridge and round to the north.
“I walk that way?”
“Grunt!”

No pointers, no directions, no smile, no nothing. And he wasn’t even speaking, he was – in honesty – grunting. I’ve heard enough Burmese to know when I’m getting instructions and when I’m getting low-brow Neanderthalese.

“OK, f*ck you very much”

I smiled and waved as I turned. “Goodbye! Arsehole!”

Well, if they can’t be polite to me… It seems they either pick the naturally brain dead to envelop in their uniforms, or beat their IQs out of them. I suppose if you’re willingly kow-towing to the authorities here you have to be some kind of moron. Or the schoolyard bully.

By the time I approached the north-east corner it was around 14:30. I referred to my Lonely Planet and discovered that the post offices in Myanmar close at 15:30 and don’t open on weekends. The postcards I had in my bag had to go today, so Myanmar Hill would wait till tomorrow. I walked on to the north-west corner and down the western edge to 22nd Street where the office was very easy to find. It’s got two huge red postboxes outside that look like they’re made of brick and the door is bracketted by sturdy white pillars. Again, definitely some British influence.

Here’s a doozy – compare the postage rates here with, say, Denmark. In Copenhagen I paid – at the current rate of exchange – just shy of £1 Sterling per stamp to send cards back to the UK. Which is insane. Here, it’s 30K. Which at the official rate of exchange is approximately $US5 or £3-ish. However, only people who get caught out and change currency at the airports get that rate. I got approximately 1000K per US Dollar which means my stamps were nearer 3c or 2p each. If I’d had time I’d have sent 100 of the things. As it was the postcards were only 10 for 1000K!

Cards posted, I headed south towards the guest house. I stopped on the way at a street stall that was doing cold fruit drinks. I’d caught sight of one that a customer had – pink and with coconut shavings on top, filling up an old-fashioned pint glass with a handle. 500K got me a strawberry whatever-it-was. From what I saw, it was made with chopped and pulped fresh fruit, plain yogurt, ice and sugar with the coconut shavings all over the top. I watched someone else attack theirs so I knew how to drink it – first you stir it with a spoon (provided) then eat it by scooping it out. Very, very nice indeed. I will be having one more tomorrow! Maybe orange this time.

Back at the Royal, I had a shower (cold, again) and worked on the video I’d taken yesterday. I’d skipped lunch, but the restaurants seem to liven up as darkness falls so I thought I’d wait till around 18:30 before I picked somewhere to eat.

Tomorrow would be an early, and very long, day.

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