The love in the air
has been replaced by pollen.
Sniff sniff, cough – A-CHOO!


cc via Pixabay


CaBloWriMo: Still and cold and clear


Everything was still and cold and clear. I let my breath out slowly, feeling the warmth around my teeth and lips, the catch in my lungs, unaccustomed to such stillness. When it seemed there was no more breath to breathe, I forced the last traces out through my nose. All gone.

Before my eyes, moisture shivered, shimmered, and evaporated, then that too was gone. Time to go.

Four bags were waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. One by one I had manhandled them down the narrow, twisting steps, stumbling over doormats and scuffing whitewash, smearing myself and mine with tenement warpaint. If they hadn’t disappeared, it was because there wasn’t much worth taking. Everybody round here knew that.

First up was the blue army surplus rucksack with its creaky metal tube frame and catch fasteners held on with yellowing Sellotape. From an era long before ergonomic design was invented, it cut into my ribs when overfilled; if I hoisted it up off my shoulders every minute or so, I could take on just enough oxygen to keep going.

That went on first, and diagonally over that a smaller rucksack with some money, a depleted and insistently bleating phone, and a notebook – the kind made of paper – with maps and addresses and numbers and the like, kept in front of my face and so within easy reach for me and less easy reach for sharp-eyed opportunists.

That left one hand each for the purple “Calvin Kien” wheely suitcase that had lost three of its four wheels and both its zips, and the leather suitcase I’d been given when I first left home, which was a piece of family history, and as such should have been in a museum dedicated to the inconvenience and discomfort of a bye-gone age.

All it took to set myself in motion was to gently shift the combined weight forwards, and gravity would do the rest. And remember to breathe, I thought, just remember how to breathe.

(By Andrew Kudrin from Novosibirsk, Russia, via Wikimedia Commons)

(By Andrew Kudrin from Novosibirsk, Russia, via Wikimedia Commons)

Archive: Two planes to nowhere (and a fistful of kyat)

Air Mandalay check-in desk

The hi-tech Air Mandalay check-in desk, complete with big red weighing scales.

Work backwards from a 7am flight. And the time taken to check in and… and the journey to the airport… Ow.

By the time my brain engages, we’ve flown the 50 minutes to Yangon, at which point we turn around and fly right back to Bangkok, land, hang around for another 2 hours, and then fly to Yangon again. This time we land. And disembark. Baby steps.

I race off to check in for my onward flight to Mandalay, only to discover that a) it’s also been delayed, and b) they have no record of me booking. I rebook, and find a woman to squat behind a pot plant with exchanging money illegally. The official rate of 6.5 kyat to the dollar turns out to be a complete fiction; I get 840. This rate makes Myanmar slightly more expensive than Vietnam, at least as a traveller. Replete with kyat, I eat a long overdue lunch, relieved that it doesn’t, in fact, cost $140.

My flight with Air Mandalay is endearingly low-tech. My bag is weighed on a big red standalone scale, before being taken away for loading by A Man. Flights are announced by – well, you can hear them land. The staff, however, are charm itself, and are quite happy to keep pumping me full of coffee. 

After the plane has flown to all the major tourist destinations that have an airport, we arrive in Mandalay to be met by a scrum of, well, nobody. It’s completely deserted. I get in even more of a lather when I discover that something soapy has exploded in my bag, but fortunately there are about 8 people on hand to help mop up the mess. Afterwards one of them apologises, although I’m not quite sure what for. All very civilised.

Back to the non-existent taxi scrum (of nobody). Normally this would be a relief, but it’s dark and we appear to have landed in a ricefield. Bothering a few people, it turns out that there’s a free bus being laid on, possibly, although nobody knows where and when until it drives past and I have to run after it yelling. Safely on board, we bump off down a dirt road composed mostly of potholes, scattering small children on bicycles into the fields as we go. I’m starting to worry that I’ve nowhere booked and no idea where I’m going, so I bother some random people until I at least have a direction in mind. We share a tuk-tuk there and I succeed in finding myself a place to sleep. All that remains is to have a chicken curry in the only place open this ‘late’ (9pm), a bones-on-the-floor, dog’ll-eat-’em kind of whiskey joint, before crashing. Zzzzz.

From here on June 5th 2011