Middle of the night, all is mostly quiet. A few nights ago I was awakened around 1 am by the distant, persistent sounds of festival music. Last night it was dogs barking, street dogs for there is virtually no other kind here. Though people will give food to the dogs that live outside their houses, the dogs know no human touch. Even if attached to a certain place, they are still wild. They are their own creatures.
Though I have occasionally heard them other times at night, this was far more long lasting. Probably this meant that some person was intruding on their night territory. During the day they mostly sleep, lying on sidewalks and in the street just out of reach of the traffic. At dusk their behavior changes. I was told that if you show fear and run, they will chase you and likely will bite. You must stand your ground and shout at them to leave you, and then you must leave their territory.
Apart from the occasional festival, the streets are largely empty by around ten pm. And quiet. Then sometime early, you will hear a loudspeaker on the street below, a call to prayer. This morning it was just a lone call at 5:30am, a Mandalay alarm clock.
My first full morning here it was much more than that – the sounds from two speaker mounted trucks, moving about through the city. One was a voice, the other a chanting song. Eventually the voice drew close enough for me to hear the loud repeated calls. It began with ‘min gala ba’ which is used for ‘hello’. Literally it means ‘It is a blessing’. It went something like this, on an on, with some minor variations:
for mingalaba, sit sit sit, an de lei, an de lei
and a lot more I cannot remember then
si si pa
si si pa
Later on this Thursday morning, when I went to the large central market found in every city and called zeigyo (zaycho), I found that it was closed for the day. Thursday is the day that the market is shut so that all can spend the day at the pagodas in prayer. Thus was explained the roving speaker trucks of my first morning wake up in Mandalay.
The streets begin to awaken. Riding in a little blue taxi from bus station to hotel at 5 am on my first morning here, there were people about, mostly on bicycles, bundled against the morning cold. The bicycle riders need to start the earliest to get to their destinations. There were also many small pickup trucks, full of early morning commuters.
The pickups are the main bus transport here, though there are large buses as well on certain major routes. The pickup beds are covered over with strong metal canopies and they are lined with a U of wooden benches. When those benches have filled, there will be a few small metal stools pulled out so more people can sit in the middle. Standing on a small platform in the back and hanging off the rails will be three to six more people, always men. The canopies must by strong because they will be loaded with boxes or baskets or any of a baffling array of items. Often, if not completely full of parcels and cartons, there will be more people sitting up top, usually young men or boys.
By 6:30 in the morning, as dawn arrives, the sounds of the city are steadily growing. It will build to the full cacaphony of the day very soon now, my last morning in Mandalay. Tomorrow I will go by small blue taxi to the jetty at 4:30 am to catch the twice weekly 5:30 am slow boat, down the Ayeyarwady River to Bagan.
The full daytime streets of Mandalay are busy, a rather fun kind of craziness. Riding a bicycle here allows one the full experience. One learns how to navigate the stratified traffic, streams of bikes, motorbikes, tiny taxis, jeeps, pickups, larger trucks and occasionally full sized buses. Some intersections have signals. At the ones which do it is relatively simple, except for the turning lanes.
Traffic flows on the right, as in the states, an abrupt reversal after independence from Britain and its left hand side driving. The many vehicles which predate this change are steered from the wrong side – this is one quick way to estimate a vehicle’s age. Pre and post 1970. The right hand lane is a free turn lane which means that the traffic never stops – often a factor for pedestrians. Bicycles going straight must position themselves farther into the road, not at the far right side or they will get caught up by the turning traffic. The center section of the road will be stratified by speed and size, first bicycles, then motorbikes (s’ain keh), then all the large vehicles. At farthest left will be another stratified “lane” of left turning vehicles. Thus the vulnerable bicycle will have to move into a position roughly between two columns of trucks. If I don’t anticipate my positioning early enough, I will sometimes make my left turn by first making a right, then waiting with the column of traffic for the light to change again.
It’s all quite a dance, of anticipation and confidence.
Intersections without lights are another matter completely. On minor side roads, usually the traffic interlaces fairly easily. As the streets get busier, crossing from a more minor street becomes a huge and sometimes daunting challenge.
The zenith of this was the Gordian Knot I witnessed near the Zeigyo Market a few days ago. So many vehicles had forced their way in from every direction that the entire thing had become impossibly tangled. Horns were sounding everywhere, but no one could move, not forward nor backward. Eventually some passengers jumped out and were having vehicles move inch by inch, first one backed a tiny bit, another moved forward a bit, then another backed, and so on until finally there was enough room for a motorbike or two to get out of the tangle, then perhaps a trishaw, then maybe one small taxi, and so on until finally the bigger vehicles could move on and the road was again usable. Meanwhile, I had got off my bicycle and walked it through some small openings near the edges.
There are some advantages to slower transportation.
Bicycling around Mandalay:
tale from Mandalay
dead dog lying by the side of the road