Monday, 27 May 2013

Old world meets new world - the things we take for granted

I was puzzled by my guides in Myanmar. Sometimes they spoke good English and yet at other times it was totally baffling and I couldn't understand a thing. That was until it was explained to me that they learn to read English but not to speak it. So although my wonderful young guide Ye min at Inle Lake read 600 page English novels voraciously as we swooshed along on the lake (also singing lovely English songs - were they love songs to me?!) his pronunciation of English sometimes left me scratching my head. I'll give you a simple example (although it's hard to explain):

"Here is the eer mumble mumble th" Ye min said.
After many repeats and head scratching from me I asked him to show me what he meant. 
"Ah ha" I said "earth. Now you say earth". 
Ye min replied "eer mumble mumble th". (see why it's hard to explain!). 
Well this went on for 24 hours with him practicing like mad to say earth!! 
Eventually I asked him to say "birth" He replied perfectly "birth". Now say "irth" I said. 
He replied perfectly "Irth - but it is spelt". (yes it is!) "Oh English is so hard".
Secondhand books, books and more books
Walking through the streets of Yangon I saw many second hand bookstores selling very old English (and other language) novels, school books, magazines and old newspapers etc. It seems that there is a voracious appetite for reading and learning. And then I saw school books being made by hand right on the street. No printing presses or the like. Just a simple collation of (poor) photocopies, hand stitched and bound. 
On the street book making
Sewing and binding the pages
And so to another conundrum!
My guide couldn't understand why I would need a credit card. Travellers are warned that Visa and Mastercard are accepted in very few hotels and shops and there are no ATM's in Myanmar.  Only local currency (kyats) and crisp new US dollars are acceptable. That means one needs to lug small denominations of US$ for all purchases, tips etc. It felt both unsafe and inconvenient. 

My camera needed replacing (certainly not budgeted for in the cash I was carrying!). I hadn't seen the point of taking my smart phone as one can't make international calls to and from Myanmar. But it would have been a great back-up camera! C'est la vie! Ye min generously offered to lend me the money until the next day! How kind but I was stuck of course as I couldn't repay him the next day!! And then his face lit up! (as it often did!) "We have a new ATM in my town and we'll be there tomorrow. We can go there and you can get your money". Imagine my combined relief and trepidation! And so we went on an adventure with my heart in my mouth. Would the card be gobbled up never to be seen again! Ye min and I both entered the sparkling new 3-sides-of-glass stand-alone ATM (no privacy here!).  Surprisingly all went smoothly (with Ye min watching my every move - including my pin number!) and then before you could say 'Jack Robinson' out popped the money with that all familiar burring noise (local currency of course less a large 'commission'). I will never forget Ye min's eyes! They were as large as saucers:
Where was the teller? 
How could that happen? 
How could 'it' count the money that fast (and deduct a fee at the same time!)? 
(rather like a child thinking the newsreader sat behind the TV - way back in the late 50's!) 
"I want one of those credit cards" he said

And then we discussed my Kindle. "Inside this Kindle I have 55 books". 
Eyes wide again - as he turned it over to see where they were!
"I want one of those" he said
"But until you have a credit card you can't buy the books" I replied.
What a catch-22.
And then I explained that by the time I had finished ordering a book on the Kindle it was already downloaded  and my credit card debited from America. It was almost too much.
The eternally happy, learned and helpful Ye min. A great guide (don't look at the food - Western-style with appauling Burma belly results)
And yet he had a smarter smart phone than I did. But only to make local calls. Still I hope it won't take long till they catch up - and probably pass us! But in the meantime it's a great reminder of how easy life is when you have a credit card (too easy sometimes!) and that all the world is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year! 

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