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2

2 Fast 2 Furious:
Inside Yangon’s drag racing scene
Kayleigh Long
kayleighelong@gmail.com

Photos: Kaung Htet

O

n the well-paved concrete
private roads that border
an industrial estate on
the northern outskirts
of Yangon, the screech of tires and
acrid smell of burning rubber cuts
through the night. The driver of a
Toyota Skyline comes screaming

down the way, slamming on the
brakes and hauling the steering
wheel around, which throws the car
into a centrifugal spin. The nose and
spoiler graze the margins of the field
either side, narrowly missing our
photographer who dives for cover,
just visible in the dull glow of the
lampposts and the flickering red
brake lights and the haze of upwarddrifting smoke.
Thirty metres down the road, the
sponsor of the car is on his knees,
howling dramatically and shaking
his fists at the heavens in a display
that appears to be half borne of
genuine concern about the welfare of
his vehicle, and half about playing up
to the glowing semicircle of iPhone
screens capturing the moment.
Since the early 90s, a loose-knit
group of car enthusiasts has met
on a semi-regular basis to pit their
suped-up vehicles against one
another. We met in a low-key beer
station where the group of 10 or so
obligingly answered some questions.
Broadly speaking, there are three
categories of racing – all, needless

to say, illegal: street, drag and drift.
Street racing takes place on public
roads and relies more heavily on the
skills and knowledge of the drivers.
Drag is purely about speed, going
hell-for-leather in a straight line
against an opponent. Drift, to put it
rather clumsily, is when you make a
car go sideways.
One man, the acknowledged
go-to guy on engines, says he first
became fascinated with machines
“in first or second grade”. A selftaught mechanic, he explains the
phenomenon of the unique-toMyanmar “super saloon” that came
about as a direct result of Myanmar’s
restrictive car import policy and
resulting sky-high prices.
These vehicles, he explains, were
Frankencars: While something might
have had the body of a Honda, its
engine may have been gutted and
replaced by something with rather
more grunt. “Any car can be a fast
car,” he grins.
One man proudly tells me the twoseater 1986 Nissan he had until fairly
recently was fitted with a carburetor
and a double-charged engine that
could muster the equivalent power
of 280 thoroughbreds, reaching
speeds of just over 180km per hour.
Its claim to fame was, he said, taking
under three minutes to do a lap of
Kandawgyi.
When the car import restrictions
were lifted in 2012, the market was
flooded and the price floor gave way
overnight and without warning.
Most of the racing guys ruefully
concede they lost quite a lot of
money.
Under the previous import policy
framework, illegal street, drag and
drift racing was obviously, for the
most part, the domain of the very
affluent.
There’s reportedly another echelon

of illegal racing in Myanmar that sees
Lamborghinis and Ferraris take the
tarmac, the stuff of urban folklore. I
ask them about the persistent rumour
about a time the airport was shut
down at night so some general or
other’s sons could face off in a high
stakes drag affair. No one’s quite clear
on whether or not this is actually
true, but all enthusiastically agree it
makes for a good story.
A crackdown in Yangon proper
in recent years means races have
increasingly taken place on the
Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw highway, or
other spots further out of the city.
Asked if the group ever ran into
trouble with the authorities in
the early years, when they’d run
laps of Kandawgyi and drag off
on kan baung at Inya Lake, one
man dismisses this by claiming
his connection to a former MI
bigwig meant it was never really
an issue. And if it was, he said, the
go-to solution was usually to hit the
accelerator and outrun them. “The
police cars … they are not very fast.”
And that’s still largely the attitude
on dealing with the authorities.
Some of the racers tend to remove
their plates when setting out for
a night’s racing, banking on their
ability to lose the police if necessary.
The alternative is having the vehicle
impounded, which entails a nominal
fee of K1500. The bigger hassle is
that it is then stripped of its exhaust
and other parts.
We make our way in from the beer
station in a cavalcade of low-slung
vehicles with ripping exhausts, kept
conspicuously quiet on the public
streets, getting overtaken by the taxis
veering erratically on the dark roads.
It’s a bit before midnight
and everyone’s satisfied that the
understanding reached with the
estate would be adequate to ensure

Staff writers Kayleigh Long, Aung Kyaw Min, Kyaw Phone Kyaw,

Staff photography Kaung Htet, Kyaw Phone Kyaw, Thiri Lu, Aung

Catherine Trautwein, Toe Wai Aung, Zon Pann Pwint, Aye Nyein Win,
Nandar Aung, Ye Mon, Myat Nyein Aye, Myo Lwin, Wade Guyitt,
Si Thu Lwin, Mya Kay Khine, Cherry Thein

Htay Hlaing, Si Thu Lwin, Boothie, Wade Guyitt

Cover photograph Kaung Htet

Contributers Stuart Deed, Greg Holland

Cover design Ko Htway

Editors Myo Lwin, Wade Guyitt

Page layout Ko Khin Zaw

Sub editor Mya Kay Khine Soe
For feedback and enquiries, please contact wadeguyitt@gmail.com, myolwin286@gmail.com

3

The road of no return
Freeing the ghosts of Myanmar’s most haunted highway
aUNG KYaw min
aungkyawmin.mcm@gmail.com

T

the way remains clear long enough
to have a few races.
And it all goes smoothly enough
– everyone gets their speed fix and
lives to drag another day.
The night did, however, claim
one collateral casualty: a street dog
unfortunate enough to be trotting
across the road when it was collected
by a hot rod pushing the 180kph
mark.

WO years ago, U Zaw Win was driving
a Hilux pick-up between Yangon and
Mandalay.
“I went back to my village after delivering goods to
Yangon. Two villages before mine, I stopped my car
when a girl hailed me, because I knew she was from
my village. I told her to sit in the front seat. But she
said she wanted to sit in the back. When I approached
the rain tree [koke koo] at the edge of the village, she
told me to stop the car. When I checked in my rearview mirror to see that she got off, I saw she had no
back. I drove home and told my wife. She said the girl
had been violently killed that morning.”
Buddhist belief in Myanmar says that a violent
death (a sein thay) makes it difficult to move on to
the next life. And with the number of deaths due
to accidents on Myanmar’s roads, the highways are
particularly notorious for stories of the supernatural.
Especially notorious for ghosts is the new
Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw-Mandalay highway, which
opened officially on October 16, 2010, though it
had been driven on well before then. Instead of a
myan lan (highway), some people call it ma pyan
lan (the road of no return), because despite having
the superior surfaces, it has the highest rate of
traffic accidents and highest death toll.
Cargo trucks are not allowed to use the new
highway, and have to keep to the old Yangon-BagoMandalay route. Due to the number of accidents
on the new highway, some car drivers even choose
to take the old route also, believing it to be safer.

In June 2014 two Buddhist monks held a
ceremony to free the unquiet souls haunting
the highways and allow them to pass peacefully
onward to the next life.
Mandalay Byamasore Sayadaw U Neminda and
Nat Sin Tayar Sayadaw Bhaddanta U Panna Teja,
from Thanlyin township in Yangon Region, held a
merit-sharing ceremony and recited suttas three
times along the highway.
Then Nat Sin Tayar Sayadaw invited all the
ghosts to climb onboard his Toyota Canter.
“On the way to the highway, the truck was
empty and light, jumpy. But on the way back to
the monastery, the car was not jumpy. It was quiet,
with a heavy load. When the car arrived at the
monastery, the sayadaw ordered them to get off,
and the car was light again,” the driver later told
The Myanmar Times.
The spirits were detained in a large padauk tree
on the monastery compound as a merit-sharing
ceremony was held for them on June 15.
Ko Myo Aung, who lives nearby the monastery,
said he saw some unusual behaviour, with dogs
howling in ways they never did otherwise.
“The ceremony started at about 10am. Coconut
steamed rice, beef curry and water, enough for
nearly 400 people, was served for those spirits who
had a violent death. Family members of victims
on the Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw highway also attended
the ceremony. Top state officials also attended and
donated for them. Then the merit of the donation was
shared to those spirits,” said Ko Thar Gyi, who lives
near Kyaik Khauk pagoda and watched the ceremony.
Daw Moe Moe Khine, a doctor, has previously

held a similar ceremony along the same highway.
she said the highway was constructed through
Bago Yoma forest, and a ceremony was held for
those “from the evil spiritual world who have
been there for ages”, with the help of Saya U Khin
Maung Tint from Ohbo in Mandalay.
“Belief in the existence of the evil spiritual
world is a person’s right. Anyway, it is stated in
scriptures of Buddha’s words … King Bainma
Thar Ra in Gatauma Buddha’s times gave food to
spirits,” she added.
Nat Sin Sayadaw said sudden death means
people are unable to let go of their old life, leaving
them trapped. “People who always remember their
merit easily change to another life. But those who
sink into the life of greed, anger, ignorance and
vice, they don’t easily change to a new life. They
can’t escape their old life’s environment.”
Belief says that sharing merit or good deeds
with this spirits following a donation will release
them, and that this change will be marked by a
smell, sign or dream. Daw Myat Myat Moe found
the same after the ceremony.
“I never have dreamed about them, but I
smelled a strange sweet smell at home although
we didn’t use any scent. I got it one day before
the merit-sharing ceremony and again after the
ceremony. The smell lasted just three minutes. I
have never smelled such a smell.”
At first, she said, she felt scared and had
goosebumps. “Then I wasn’t scared, but was satisfied
and happy for them because they can change to
another new life due to the merit we shared.”
Translation by Thiri Min Htun

4

Driving
licence test
goes digital
New test format makes cheating – and
passing – harder, officials say
Kyaw phone kyaw
k.phonekyaw@gmail.com

I

N a bid to cut down on
the number of fraudulent
passes, the theory portion of
the driving licence test was
changed from a paper-based to
computerised system on January
5, according to the Road Transport
Administration Department (RTAD).
“The computerised system is more
systematic, faster and modernised,”
said U Kyaw Aye Lwin, an RTAD
officer from Yangon Region.
Though the new program will
automatically schedule re-sit
appointments for those who failed –
sooner, for those who fail by a small
margin, and later for those with a
higher number of incorrect answers
– the change is not just for clerical
reasons, U Kyaw Aye Lwin said.
“There used to be frequent
allegations that the RTAD gave
permission for driver licences to be
granted to people who don’t know the
traffic rules well. So we changed the
driving licence test to be computerised.”

Standardisation of testing will
remove the potentially susceptible
human element from the equation.
Broker-based cheating also has been
a common complaint, something the
RTAD says it is cracking down on as
well.
“There used to be licence brokers
who came and told the answers
to the examinees. But we are not
allowing the brokers to enter the
exam room now,” U Kyaw Lwin said.
RTAD staff officer Daw Swe Swe
Nyunt said the new system rewards
only those who actually study as
they should. And early results show
prospective drivers really do need to
buckle down and study if they want
to pass their theory exam.
“Half of the examinees passed
[the paper-based test] before. After
computerisation, the pass rate has
dropped to one-third,” said Daw Swe
Swe Nyunt.
“I think the people who want a
driving licence can’t make it via the
brokers anymore,” said U Hnin Oo,
owner of Htate Tan private driving
school. “If they really want to take it,

Drivers-to-be sit for road regulations testing at the new computerised facility at the RTAD last week. Photo: Kyaw Phone Kyaw

they must learn the traffic rules by
heart.”
One prospective test-taker told
The Myanmar Times that he’s
nervous about the computer-based
interface interfering with his focus.
“I am going to face a lot of
difficulty if the test is computerised.
I don’t know how to take it because
I have no computer skills,” said Ko
Maung Soe.
But users need not worry, said
U Kyaw Aye Lwin of the RTAD.
Examinees won’t need to press a lot
of computer keys, he said – only the
left, right, up and down arrows – and
the keys will be in different colours
as well. Guides will also demonstrate
the process in the exam room before
the test begins, he said.

More people fail the traffic rules
portion of the exam than the practical
portion, according to Daw Hla Hla
Win of TV private driving school in
North Dagon. This is in spite of the
fact that the government publishes
a guidebook for the exam and the
traffic police department publishes a
book of sample questions.
“There is almost nobody who
passes the exam in their first try,”
driving school official U Hnin Oo
said, adding most take two or three
tries to pass, while those who have
difficulty studying or lack education
can take longer.
The licence exam used to be held
in Ywarthargyi, far from downtown.
Now the test is written at the
RTAD office in Myinthar ward of

Thingangyun township, a more
central location.
In Yangon, around 300 people
sit the driving licence exam daily,
according to the RTAD. The test has
50 questions and examinees must
score 40 or above.
Taxi drivers face more
comprehensive tests when applying
for their licences – the taxi driver
licence exam has 100 questions and
80 right answers are needed to pass
– though some taxi drivers have told
The Myanmar Times that they drive
without a taxi licence.
“If we are caught, we can get back
our licence by paying K1500 to the
traffic police department. So, it is no
problem,” said U Tin Ko, a taxi driver
from Mayangone township.

This picture (taken circa
1905) shows the first
automobile in Yangon,
here seen in the yard of
Chatsworth, the lavish
Edwardian-style mansion
of British architect
Thomas Swales. Aside
from his fame as the
first person in Myanmar
to import a car, Swales
also designed a number
of the city’s landmarks,
including the Sofaer’s
Building, the Burmese
Favourite department
store beside Sule Pagoda,
the Methodist Church, the
Freemasons’ Hall and an
extension of prestigious
private school St Paul’s
College.
While the make and
model of the vehicle
are unknown, the photo
captures other details
that would, in the
decades ahead, come to
characterise Myanmar’s
long love affair with cars
– namely, the right-hand
drive, the lack of seatbelts
and the unlicensed minor
in the driver’s seat to the
concern of basically no
one nearby.
Photo: Supplied/Yangon
Heritage Trust. This and other
fascinating historical images
spanning the city’s entire
history are on display at the
YHT offices on lower Pansodan
until March 31.

5

6

Classifieds hit the open road – the internet
Catherine TrautweiN
newsroom@mmtimes.com

T

he spread of connectivity
has driven some people in
Myanmar to head to the
information superhighway
to buy and sell cars.
And in the continuing race for
customers, one cars marketplace
sees online platforms pulling ahead
of legacy competition in a matter of
years.
“Right now [the share of people
engaging with online classifieds] is
not so high, but people have started
moving toward the online industry,”
said Ko Wai Yan Lin, CEO of Rebbiz.
“My expectation is that in the
next 2 to 3 years, online classifieds/
advertising in general will overtake
traditional print media,” he told The
Myanmar Times by email.
Some have called Myanmar Asia’s
only remaining frontier market.
Over the past few years, e-commerce
platforms have gradually cropped up
to take on an old media standby: the
classifieds.
MyanmarCarsDB debuted on
January 4, 2012 – Independence Day
in Myanmar. The site started with a
handful of listings that came through
family and friends. Ko Wai Yan Lin
laughingly remembers their initial
reaction: “What’s wrong with you?”
Since that time, the platform has
racked up nearly 50,000 listings and
6 million page views via its Android
application and the web.
The company recently announced
a capital injection from Frontier

Digital Ventures, a Kuala Lumpurbased investor that specialises in the
online classifieds industry. Ko Wai
Yan Lin couldn’t put a number on
the investment but called it “a big
amount for us”.
Though Frontier Digital
Ventures head Shaun Di Gregorio
started his firm in May 2014, he
has been in online classifieds for
about 15 years. In a press release
announcing Frontier’s investment in
MyanmarCarsDB, he called Myanmar
“the last untouched market in Asia”.
“All of a sudden we see consumers
in these frontier markets who are
leapfrogging ... in that transition
from old media to new media,” he
told The Myanmar Times. “Time is
being compressed in this transition.”
MyanmarCarsDB, with its
freemium model, makes money off
of its platform through advertising
and subscriptions rather than
transactions, according to Ko Wai
Yan Lin. Right now, the majority
of sellers on MyanmarCarsDB are
individual used-car dealers that for
the most part don’t have physical
showrooms, he said.
His company’s product, which lets
users narrow their search down with
filters, makes the hunt for cars more
convenient, he said.
Private car importer and ship
captain Ko Aung Myin Moe said
MyanmarCarsDB has users all over
Myanmar, and that he had connected
with people from the northern states
on the platform.
Though he said he thinks the
classifieds business will be around

“for quite a few years” as Myanmar’s
migration to online services will take
time, he has seen the power of the
internet’s immediacy.
“Buyers contact me five minutes
after the car was uploaded, and [I]
sell out within an hour,” he said.
Chief editor U Kyaw Thu Hein
of High Speed weekly journal
thinks the classifieds business in
car journals will remain important
in Myanmar because they are easy
to pick up on street corners, and
because people like to read physical
journals rather than online. He also
said people don’t yet have the skills
or time to search online, and that
crawling internet speeds also deter
users.
“[Listings in] big newspapers like
The Sun and Daily Mail are going
up online by the second,” he said.
“However, the sales from print media
do not decrease.”
MyanmarCarsDB goes head-tohead not only with classifieds in
print, but also a competitor courtesy
of international incubator Rocket
Internet. At the end of 2012, Motors.
com.mm revved its engines into the
industry, racking up 10,000 vehicle
listings and 160,000 monthly visitors
by the end of last year.
Motors.com.mm operates on a
freemium business model as well;
“big dealers” can sign contracts in
exchange for advertising services like
profile management, according to
country manager Rianne Roggema.
Of the platform’s sellers, nearly
all are dealers and brokers, while
individuals – who can list cars for

Selected new car dealers
BMW
Corner of Nar-nat-taw Street and Pyay
Road, Kamaryut Township,Yangon
Tel 098633209
info@ pac-bmw.com

ISUZU
MTG Motors Trading Co. Ltd.
Building H, Hlaing Yadanar Housing,
Insein Road, Hlaing township, Yangon
Tel 95-1503590, 514165
mtgmotors.trading@gmail.com

CHEVROLET
No 242 Upper Pazundaung Street,
Mingalar Taung Nyunt township, Yangon
Tel 01-9000621
www.chevrolet.com.mm
contact@chevrolet.com

JAGUAR LAND ROVER
Capital Automotive Limited
No 3 Insein Road, Ward 12, Hlaing
township, Yangon
Tel 01-521958~62
Mandalay 02-5089280
http://newsroom.jaguarlandrover.com

DFM
Yaung Ni Oo Services Co Ltd
No 19 Baho Road, Sanchaung township,
Yangon
Tel 01-2304801, 2304802
www.Dong Feng-Myanmar.com
Facebook DFM Myanmar
FORD
Capital Automotive Limited
No 3 Insein Road, Ward 12, Hlaing
township, Yangon
Tel 01-521959, 9669081~83, 01-52195862
www.ford-myanmar.com
Facebook Ford Myanmar
HYUNDAI
Hyundai Motor Myanmar
No 2/6, 2 Quarter, corner of Insein Road
and Thamine Station Road, Mayangone
township, Yangon
Tel 01-653271~2, 654881~4
Service Center 01-653273
www.hyundaimm.com
Facebook hyundaimm

KIA and PEUGEOT
No 22B, 23A Kabar Aye Pagoda Road,
Yankin township, Yangon
Tel 09-73180000, 09-977008888
Facebook Kia Myanmar
www.kia.com.mm
No. 74 corner of Yangon-Mandalay Road
Kywe Sae Kan 11 Road, Chan Mya Tharyar
ward, Pyigyitagon township, Mandalay
KING LONG and SSANGYONG
Super Seven Stars Co.Ltd
No. 50 Pyay Road, Hlaing township,
Yangon
Tel 01-507382, 507094
www.supersevenstars.com
MAN
Myanmar First Asia
No 212, R-11 Mingalardon Garden City
Industral Zone, Yangon
Tel 09-47039670
mansates@mfagroups.com
MAZDA
No 96, Kabar Aye Pagoda Road, Saya San
Quarter, Bahan township, Yangon
Tel 01-554633

MERCEDES BENZ
Cycle & Carriage Automobile Myanmar
Co. Ltd.
No 51 Pyay Road, Mayangone township,
Yangon
www.ccamyanmar.com
Tel 01-666712, 664059, 09-95057045
MG
No 351 Pyay Road, Sanchaung township,
Yangon
Tel 01-501705
www.lsautomobile.com
NISSAN
United Diamond Motor
No 443 Pyay Road, Kamaryut township,
Yangon
Tel 09-33251066, 09-6500249, 0931405203, 01-401346
Mandalay showroom
Tel 02-36469, 09-402609551
Facebook Nissan Myanmar
TATA
Apex Greatest Industrial Co.,Ltd.
Junction of Kantawgalay St & Bo Min
Khaung St, Mingalar Taung Nyunt
township, Yangon
Tel 01-246701, 255922
apexgreatest@gmail.com
TOYOTA
TTAS Co.Ltd
Aye and Sons Services Ltd.
No 87A Kabar Aye Pagoda Road, Bahan
township, Yangon
Tel 01-400950, 01-502206, 01-545424
ayensons@ttasmyanmar.com.mm
www.toyota-myanmar.com

Toe Wai Aung

free – make up about 5-10 percent.
Right now, Motors.com can count
around 270 dealers on its site, Ms
Roggema said.
Quality of the advertising
platform, which sees no commercial
transactions but instead matches
buyers and sellers online,
help Motors.com.mm take on
competition, according to Ms
Roggema.
Ko Wai Yan Lin claims a home
field advantage for MyanmarCarsDB.
Specifically, he mentions its CIF
tools, which yield the actual price a
customer will have to pay for a car.
“We know [Rocket Internet] has
very deep pockets,” he said. “Our
philosophy is to just focus on what
users want ... We just focus on
simplicity and localisation, how to
make sure local people can use [our
product] easily.”
Even with the industry expanding,
the shift from offline to online
shopping won’t happen right away.
“It’s very hard to get the trust of
consumers,” Ko Wai Yan Lin said.
“Our main objective is to make it
simple.”
Motors.com.mm currently runs
ads in offline media. “For now I
think that especially in Myanmar,
we’re working side to side,” Ms
Roggema said.
However, she explained that the
country’s geography and population
spread make it a prime market for
internet advertising. “As soon as
the internet will be there, that’s
going to be the way to reach people,”
she said. “So to be honest, it’s not

even a question; in the end [online
marketing] is going to be the easiest
way and the fastest way.”
Ko Wai Yan Lin called mobile
“the future”, a sentiment echoed
by many as millions in Myanmar
get connected to the web by way
of service rollouts from legacy
telco MPT and recent international
entrants Telenor and Ooredoo. The
majority of Motors.com.mm’s users
access the platform via mobile,
whether through its website, Android
application or iPhone application.
Motors.com.mm’s application
now allows for users to post listings
from their phones. And while a small
percentage of the platform’s sellers
are currently individual consumers,
mobile might change that. “The
fact that we have that application is
going to give people the opportunity
to upload their own car and sell it to
their neighbour,” Ms Roggema said.
This progress could be pushed
along by users clicking and keying
more nimbly than before.
“The education shouldn’t be as
hard as what he have done the last
few years, because right now almost
everyone is familiar with mobile
applications, especially Facebook.
Nobody needs to explain how to
use [it] ... like Viber, no one teaches
them,” Ko Wai Yan Lin said. “The
most important thing is how we can
make our application user-friendly.”
With mobile on the rise, it seems
that while online and offline might
move neck and neck for now, in a
few laps the internet might outstrip
an older way to advertise.

20 most-traded second-hand cars in
Yangon market (as of January 22)
Brand

Year

Kyat (lakhs)

Toyota Mark ll

2001-2006

155-270

Toyota Mark X

2005-2009

225-480

Toyota Crown

2001-2006

175-340

Toyota Surf

2006

340

Toyota Fielder

2009

150

Toyota Prado

1996-2003

320-450

Toyota Axio

2007-2011

155-260

Toyota Premio

2001-2010

145-245

Toyota Vitz

2007-2011

85-135

Toyota Wish

2003-2009

165-270

Toyota Caldina

2001-2005

160-230

Toyota Alphard

2003-2012

250-360

Toyota Probox

2006-2009

85-90

Toyota Belta

2007-2011

125-148

Nissan Ad van

2006-2009

85-90

Honda Fit

2008-2009

90-95

Honda Civic

2007-2010

145-200

Honda Insight

2008-2011

110-135

Mazda Demio

2007-2009

90-95

Suzuki Swift

2008-2012

95-135

Prices vary according to year, model and type of fuel, and can change without
notice. The Myanmar Times presents this data for information purposes only.
Consult your local dealer for more detailed information before you make a decision.

7
Chitlang, Nepal

Last of Nepal’s
car porters
recalls life
without roads

Photo: AFP

Ammu Kannampilly

A

T 92, Dhan Bahadur Gole
is the last known survivor
of a generation of porters
who carried luxury cars
on foot across steep mountain passes
to Nepal’s rulers in Kathmandu.
Before the Himalayan nation
built its first highway in 1956 only
the capital city had paved roads, and
porters were the only means of getting
cars to the wealthy Rana dynasty.
Gole had never even heard of cars
when he started working as a porter
at the age of 20, let alone seen one.
Although Chitlang village
where he was born in 1922 is just
16 kilometres (10 miles) from
Kathmandu, it has only been
accessible by car for a decade.
His father was a farmer and
collected taxes on behalf of the
Ranas, who ruled Nepal until 1951 as
hereditary prime ministers.

“We never had any money – the
Ranas took all the taxes, we had to
rely on farming to feed ourselves,”
Gole told AFP at his home in
Chitlang village.
By contrast, the Ranas could
afford not only to splash out on
Mercedes and Ford cars, but also to
pay dozens of porters to carry them
over the mountains from India.
Their fondness for luxury cars was
so well known that in 1939, Adolf
Hitler gifted a Mercedes Benz to
then ruler Juddha Shumsher Jung
Bahadur Rana to persuade him to
keep Nepal’s feared Gurkha troops
out of World War II.
Gole’s first day in the job began
at 5am. After tying logs together to
build a bamboo stretcher for the car,
he and 63 other porters hoisted their
cargo on their shoulders and started
to walk.
Dressed in thick cotton clothing
and wearing flimsy slippers, they

chanted “pull it, pull it, take it
forward” as they navigated steep
passes and crossed fast-flowing
rivers, trekking for nearly five weeks.
“After we delivered the car to the
driver, he turned it on and it came
alive. It was like watching someone
perform magic,” said Gole.
One of the world’s most isolated
countries, landlocked Nepal was
largely inaccessible by modern
transport at the time.
Over the next few years, Gole
carried several cars, only resting
for a couple of days in between
assignments.
He earned about 25 rupees
(US$0.25) for a month’s work, which
helped him build the house he now
shares with one of his grandsons and
his family.
“We had to take care and keep
the car safe while going uphill, while
crossing rivers, while managing
sharp turns,” he said.

“But we had fun – we were all
young, we were friends and every
day was exciting.”
The work came to an end with
the construction of the Tribhuvan
Highway which connected the
Kathmandu valley with the southern
town of Birgunj near the India border.
“They built the road and that was
it. They didn’t need us anymore.”
By then, the Ranas had lost power.
But in Chitlang, little had changed.
“We had no school, no road, no
doctors, no toilets. None of the kings
did anything for us,” Gole said.
When Nepal finally abolished the
monarchy and became a republic in
2008 after a 10-year Maoist insurgency,
Gole was eager to cast his vote in the
country’s first post-war elections.
Despite widespread frustration
over successive governments’ failure
to agree on a constitution for the
new republic, Gole said he remained
optimistic about the country’s future.

“Everything is better now. We have
electricity, water, food,” he said.
“Besides, if you don’t like a
government, you can kick them out.
Earlier you couldn’t do anything.”
Today Gole, a widower who has
been married three times, has more
great-grandchildren than he can
remember.
He sports a bushy moustache and
says he still wakes up early and goes
for a walk through the hills every
morning.
He said all his former colleagues
had passed away in the six decades
since they last worked as car porters.
During all that time, he has never
once been in a car.
“I guess cars must have been
useful to our kings, but they were of
no use to me,” he said.
“I have no interest in riding in a
car. I am happier at home. Anyway, I
am too old for adventures now.”
– AFP

8
Steamship

Steamship
Yangon

India (Calcutta/Wagga Wagga/Lahore/Karachi)

Car

Ship

Dubai

Ship

Bahrain

Ship

Kuwait

Iran

Stayed at a d
by locals in Ba
in hotel, gave
Faced san

September
29, 1955
Motorcycle

Motorcycle
Syria

Motorcycle
Lebanon
Slept in mechanics’
workshop

Motorcycle
Sweden (Stockholm)

Motorcycle

Motorcycle
Yugoslavia
Daw Tin Tin Sein arrested for not speaking
local language when U Ba Toke was at bank
withdrawing money. Police commander
arrives and frees her

Greece

Ship

Car

Sweden (again)

Ship
France

Motorcycle
Cyprus

Motorcycle
Norway (Oslo)

Motorcycle

Motorcycle
Turkey

Motorcycle

Finland

Motorcycle

Arctic Ocean

Poland

Motorcycle
England (Dover/Liverpool/Oxford/London)

Scotland (Loch Ness)
Norway

Burma to Britain
by

Ital

Scotland

motorbike

England

Sweden

Denmark
Ne
the
rla
nd
Poland
s
Be
lgi
um
Ge
rm
Czechoslovakia
any
France
Austria
Switzerland
Hung

Yugoslav
Spain

Italy

How a remarkable journey took shape
Zon Pann Pwint
zonpann08@gmail.com

S

IXTY years ago, a couple
from Yangon decided to
drive a motorcycle across
half of the globe. Their
adventures lasted 365 days and
covered 30 countries – and their
escapades and experiences are
more real, remarkable and exciting

than the exploits of Phileas Fogg in
Around the World in Eighty Days.
In 1955, Daw Tin Tin Sein
and her husband U Ba Toke, a
forest conservator in the Burma
Forest Service with a passion for
photography, had been married for
two years. He was 43; she was but 18.
They had a young infant daughter.
But they were also struck with
wanderlust, curious about visiting

G

remote corners in the western edge
of their country, places like the Naga
territory, the Chin hills and northern
Kachin State.
But when they started actually
planning a trip to see these places,
they decided to dream even bigger –
and go a lot further than the border.
“We tried to go beyond the limits
of what is thought to be possible and
wanted to see the natural wonders
of the world. We decided to travel
around the world,” Daw Tin Tin Sein,
now 80, told The Myanmar Times
last week by telephone.
What seemed at first like a crazy
fantasy was made possible by the fact
that U Ba Toke’s job as a government
officer meant that, under the Service
Regulation and Financial Regulation
(SRFR) law, he was permitted to take
a year’s paid leave for travel. Looking
to take full advantage of that, the
couple began applying for visas for a
proposed route that would take them
from Yangon northwestward through
India, then across Asia and Europe,
and then across the ocean to America.
The couple also drummed up their
own publicity – and fundraising. A
conversation with Nation newspaper
editor U Law Yone led to a frontpage story about their endeavours. It
also led to a surprise sponsorship: U
Law Yone gave them K1000 – a fair
bit of money in those days.
Half of the gift – K500 – was
used to purchase their vehicle: a
1942-model BSA (Birmingham Small
Arms company) motorcycle, dating
from the Second World War. Later
on, a British newspaper article about
the couple – entitled “Wanderers
smile way across world” and
reproduced in Daw Tin Tin Sein’s
book Kabarhle Tin Tin Sein (World
traveller Tin Tin Sein), published in

four parts in 1999 and later gathered
into one edition in July 2014 –
reported that the motorcycle had had
at least 10 previous owners, and had
been purchased as junk. But despite
knowing little about mechanics, U
Ba Toke set about fitting it up for the
journey.
The bike would prove up to the
task – though for a while it seemed
as if the trip would end almost as
soon as it had begun.
With U Ba Toke in front and Daw
Tin Tin Sein sitting behind – they
never switched – the pair set off
from Yangon to Monywa in Sagaing
and then to Kalaymyo. But there
they were told by residents that they
would not be able to proceed to India
via Tamu as planned – the route had
been blocked by a landslide. They
biked back to Yangon to think up
another plan.
The setback proved a lesson in
how gruelling the trip would be.
“The ground there was too rough
to ride over. I was very tired from
the journey and felt pain when the
motorcycle jumped … As the journey
started, we had the first taste of
the trouble that was travelling by
motorcycle.”
Still, they were not to be easily
dissuaded. Since riding to India was
impossible, they decided they would
simply go by ship then pick up the
road from there.
On September 29, 1955, the couple
and their motorcycle departed
Pansodan Jetty on a steamship
bound for Calcutta. Friends, family
and journalists came to see them
off as they pulled away. Also staying
behind was their six-month-old
daughter, who remained in Yangon
to be cared for by their parents. Daw
Tin Tin Sein’s father had at first

objected to the whole idea of her
taking such a risk, but eventually
offered his support.
The smooth sailing, however,
ended on arrival in India.
Immigration officers in what was
then called Calcutta asked the couple
to show their import permit for
their motorcycle, which they hadn’t
brought because they didn’t know
it would be needed. The motorcycle
was impounded.
After contacting the Automobile
Association back home to help them
reclaim their ride, the pair chose
to stay at a monastery in Calcutta
while they waited. They also took
advantage of the delay by doing
some travelling about southern India
by train.
To help pay expenses, U Ba Toke
began developing the negatives of
the photos he had taken thus far,
selling enlarged prints of the places
they had seen.
At last, a month and a half later,
the motorcycle was returned to
them. Unfortunately, it had become
covered in rust, necessitating a
further four days of delay for repairs
before they could be off.
Their first destination was
Bodhgaya, birthplace of Buddha,

The globetrotters pose on their bike in 1955. Photo: Supplied/Kabarhle Tin Tin Sein
Bus/train

Ship
England (again)
Motorcycle sent back
to Myanmar by SS
Warwickshire

France

Train
Spain (Barcelona)

Slept on train
Italy (Genoa/Napoli/Rome)

Train

Train
Hungary

Tra
Czechoslovakia

9

Motorcycle
Iraq/Basra
date plantation offered
asra. In Baghdad, lived
e broadcast, met king.
ndstorm in desert.
Motorcycle

ly
Saw Milan
and Venice

Motorcycle
Saudi Arabia (Jeddah)
Met Saudia Arabian king,
visited Babylonia

Motorcycle

Motorcycle

Motorcycle
Austria
Motorcycle breaks down,
workshop demands
equivalent of K5000, 10 times
what it was bought for

Switzerland

Motorcycle
Belgium

Ship

Motorcycle

Motorcycle
Switzerland (again, Lutzenberg)

Jerusalem

Germany (Munich, Stuttgart)
Slept in Black Forest
when they could afford
accommodation in
Stuttgart

Denmark
Met king of Denmark

Motorcycle
Belgium (again, The Hage)

The Netherlands (Holland)

Finland

d

a

gary

via

Motorcycle
Egypt (Cairo)
Saw Pyramids of Giza

Motorcycle
Austria (again)
Crossed the Alps

Motorcycle

Germany (again)

Motorcycle
Jordan
Met king of Jordan

Iraq (Baghdad again)
Faced cannibals in
desert, saved by a
Jordanian

Romania

Bul
gar
ia

Greece

Turkey
Syria
Cyprus
Lebanon
Jerusalem
an
Jord

Iraq

Iran
Kuwait

Egypt

Bahrain
Saudi Arabia

Dubai
India
Myanmar

where they spent two nights. (Later
destinations holy to other faiths
included the Mount of Olives and the
Ganges River.) They also visited the
Taj Mahal, as well as climbing into
the Himalaya hills.
“I saw snow on the Himalayas for
the first time in my life. It was too
chilly. I melted the ice to drink and
cooked our rice with cold water,” said
Daw Tin Tin Sein.
The cold weather wasn’t the only
surprise. She remembers being taken
aback at some of the customs they
encountered, especially those of one
tribe in northern India.
“All brothers who were born of
same parents wed a single woman.
The brothers, their wife and their
children lived in the same house.
I had never heard of such custom
and I wondered at it. But I saw how
the brothers treated their wife and
their children kindly. We were told
that the custom had been practised
since long ago in order to limit the
population growth.”
They slept in hotels when they
could and by the wayside when they
couldn’t. Occasionally the motorcycle
would blow a tyre on the rocky roads
and send them flying off, injuring
them both. Whenever this happened,

ain

U Ba Toke stayed with the bike while
Daw Tin Tin Sein followed a guide
to a nearby town, found a mechanic
and then led the way back to the
scene of the accident.
Despite the hardships, she
remembers having a blissful time.
A meeting with Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru at his home was
just one of many highlights in India.
From there they continued to
Lahore, Pakistan. They planned to
ride through the Khyber Pass and on
to Kabul, Afghanistan. “But we were

Another two men got out of the car and untied the rope ...
Their rescuers, they later learned, had saved them from a
group of cannibals.
told that the pass was unsafe for
visitors and robbers might attack us
so we couldn’t.”
It was another setback, but
fortunately word had spread by then
about these two intrepid travellers.
Articles appeared in the newspapers,
and a Pakistani radio station invited
them to discuss their trip on-air, for
which they were paid an honorarium.
Such radio appearances, along with

Train
Romania

sales of U Ba Toke’s photos, kept them
on the road.
Instead of going north to
Afghanistan, they continued west
through Iraq. The most dangerous
moment in the trip came when they
travelled 1000 miles across the desert
sands north of Baghdad.
“We spent a night in a petrol shop,
in Ramadi in the desert. The night
in the desert was terribly cold. The
cold was unbearable. The following
morning, we continued to bike to
Ruthba. At one point we faced a

together. I cried and cried. Though
my husband was consoling me, his
face fell,” Daw Tin Tin Sein said.
It looked as if the journey might
come to an ill-fated end. But just as
the group was building a fire nearby,
a car drove up and stopped. The
driver got out and yelled at the group
in Arabic, causing them to fall quiet.
Then another two men got out of the
car and untied the rope binding the
couple’s hands and legs.
Their rescuers, they later learned,
had saved them from a group of
cannibals.
“The man who rescued us said
they were making a fire to roast and
eat us. He told us to ride off on our
motorbike. For our safety, the car
kept following us until we reached a
safe place,” Daw Tin Tin Sein said.
The near-miss wasn’t the only
time they were saved by strangers:
Whenever they faced danger during
the trip, Daw Tin Tin Sein said they
were always assisted by someone who
selflessly came to their aid.
The Dead Sea, the Nile, the Great
Pyramids of Giza, the spot where the
Lighthouse of Alexandria once stood;
Lebanon and Syria – soon it was
time to leave Asia behind and enter
Europe through Turkey.
They travelled by ship, train and
bus as well as by motorcycle. They
even saw Inuit people who showed
them how to fish from a kayak in icy
northern waters.
In Yugoslavia they were briefly
detained for not being able to speak
the language, but they were later
freed. Otherwise, they got on with
English, and everywhere they went
their nationality proved to be a

Train
Bulgaria

sandstorm. Unexpectedly we met a
group of travellers with camels. They
stopped us and dragged us from the
motorcycle.”
The group surrounded them,
shouting abuse in their own
language. Then the shouts turned to
a beating.
“Men, women and children kicked
us, one after another. A middleaged man tied our hands and legs

passport to acceptance.
“At that time, our country had
dignity. If the people knew we
were  Burmese, they showed respect.”
Even their money was accepted. “I
was impressed that I could convert
kyat into local currency in the banks
in many countries,” she said.
By this point, however, money
had run dry. The original goal of a
trip round the world was becoming

Train
Turkey (Istanbul)

increasingly unlikely, and their
eventual destination proved to be
England, where, among other media
appearances, they were interviewed
on BBC television for a program
called In Town Tonight, for which
they were paid £190 each.
“In the following days, almost
every newspaper in London covered
the story with the articles about us,”
Daw Tin Tin Sein said.
From England they shipped the
motorcycle home, then returned
via train and ship, seeing many
countries they had missed on the
way out.
Then, a year after they left, the
couple flew from India to Yangon –
the only time they took a plane in
365 days of travel that took them
halfway around the world.
After their return, the couple
would go on to have five a family
of five. Daw Tin Tin Sein worked as
a teacher as well as a civil servant,
first for the Ministry of Transport
and later for the Ministry of Forestry.
She gave lectures on Buddhism, and
now owns the Myat (Glorious) Bagan
Hotel. Her charity, World Tourist Tin
Tin Sein Foundation, raises funds
for the poor and destititute. She has
written several books in addition
to her account of the extraordinary
journey
Sadly, U Ba Toke, her companion
on the trip of a lifetime, passed away
in 1996. He was not able to join her
on the many trips she later took in
her old age to America (the subject
of a book-in-progress), Japan and
Europe, where she taught a number
of classes about meditation.
As for the motorcycle, after their
return U Ba Toke treasured it and
gave it a well-deserved retirement,
riding it no longer. But he had older
sons from his previous marriage (he
was a widower when he met Daw
Tin Tin Sein) and he was afraid his
son might try to ride it and damage
it. He gave it to his nephew for
safekeeping, but since then, Daw Tin
Tin Sein isn’t sure what’s happened
to it, and so it’s no longer among her
many keepsakes from their journey.
Another souvenir they didn’t get
to keep was a brand-new motorcycle,
personally given to them by BSA
when they visited Birmingham –
trade regulations, it turned out,
prevented them from importing it
back to Burma along with them.

Ship
Iraq (again, Baghdad)

Airplane
India (again, Bombay)

Yangon

September
28, 1956

10

Seeking a shortcut on the train
Stuart Deed
newsroom@mmtimes.com

B

EFORE it was concreted
over in the past 18 months,
if you’d looked closely
enough at upper Thein
Phyu Road during monsoon you’d
have seen a curious thing: lines of
thick iron running in parallel northsouth.
The lines, of course, were rails for
a tram or train – part of a British-era
public transport network that linked
Yangon and got people around
quickly and relatively easily. Trams
even went to Shwedagon Pagoda.
The transport network also included
a rail line to Mandalay and beyond,
and Yangon’s famed circular line.
As anyone who has travelled
on the trains can attest, years of
underinvestment have reduced them
to shadows of their former selves.
However, as Yangon slowly chokes
while more and more cars clog its
limited road network, the circle
line appears an unlikely saviour for
commuters.
Travelling the circle line on a
touristic venture with family I’ve
been surprised by the train’s ability
to scythe through the city, quickly
cutting from the central station
across downtown – through some of
the most congested areas – to Ahlone
township and then north through
Kyeemyindaing to Insein.
And when I last moved house,
I wanted to be near the train line
because I think rail is the correct
future of mass transport for the
city. And the Japanese International
Cooperation Agency has been
working on a master plan for Yangon
for several years, with newspaper
stories of the proposed plans and
expenditures flowing regularly.
In September, Eleven Media
reported the Ministry of Rail
Transportation plans to spend
US$700 million upgrading the circle
line, with the top speed of trains set
to more than double from 30 miles
(48 kilometres) per hour to 80mph
(128kmh), which strikes me as
slightly far-fetched.
“This estimate amount does not
include the cost for the sky train. An
estimated $700 million will be spent
only on the upgrade of the railway
and train coaches,” U Tun Aung Thin,
general manager for lower Myanmar,
told Eleven.
The story added that the upgrades

Photo: Stuart Deed

will include replacing carriages,
fences and sections of the track, as
well as installing automatic gates, and
are designed to make rail the main
mode of transport within the city.
Recently I had to make two daylong trips to downtown for work and
was appalled on the first day at how
difficult it was to enter downtown
by car. But getting out was far more
difficult – seemingly every direction
was blocked. And junctions were
riddled with drivers doing the wrong
thing to try and get ahead: making
an extra lane in incoming traffic,
crossing intersections from the
non-turning lane, even running red
lights. The experience was beyond
frustrating and made me look into
car insurance, because in such a
maelstrom having an accident is only
a matter of time.
On day two I decided to put the
train line to the test because I knew
that the nearest station was only a
short walk from my home. Actually,
the station is less than 10 minutes’
walk and easy to find – my home
station is Bauktaw, slightly west of
Waizayandar Road.

Finding the ticket booth was
refreshingly easy and my one-way
ride to downtown set me back K300;
a comparable taxi fare would be
about 10-fold more costly.
To my surprise a couple of tourists
also arrived at the station after I
did, and quickly retraced my steps
in buying tickets. However, they
had asked an additional question
that I’d stupidly failed to ask: How
long to downtown? The answer they
were given was between 45 minutes
and an hour, a long way off the 25
minutes I’d estimated.
Trains arrive at the station about
every 15 minutes and one rolled in
at about 9:45. My initial impressions
were good: The train seemed quite
clean and in reasonable condition,
and I’d had a stroke of luck – it was
air-conditioned too.
I quickly settled down, took out a
book and waited for what I assumed
would be a quick shunt to central
station downtown.
Despite moving along quite slowly,
the train did manage to rock and
sway about a little more than I’m
used to, but we soon moved through

Tarmwe, Myittar Nyunt and Ma Hlwa
Gone stations, with only short pauses
for passengers and a 5-minute wait
at one point. With only one station
to go we were making good time and
have nearly reached the terminus in
about 30 minutes.
However, after arriving at
Pazundaung station a funny thing
happened – the slight vibration and
accompanying roar of the diesel
engines stopped.
After 20 minutes I was willing to
cut my losses and get out, knowing
that I was close enough to where I
needed to get to. But just as I stood
up the engines returned to life and
the train moved off. Then, barely
five minutes later, the train pulled
into central station – making a total
travel time of nearly an hour.
I had heard that the trains were
always late, generally uncomfortable
and slow, and I guess the reason for
the delay at Pazundaung was to clear
the track ahead. Overall, though, I was
generally impressed with the operation
of the train in motion, the ease of
finding the station and buying a ticket,
and the comfort of the carriages. And

it was nice not to be in my car fighting
for space on a congested road.
In fact, it was so nice that I
tried again, and again: Subsequent
trips have taken about 25 minutes,
although I’ve had less luck with
waiting times at stations, sometimes
up to 25 minutes.
And while getting to downtown
is simple – the lines at Bauktaw run
north-south – it’s more complicated
downtown when I’ve needed to buy
a ticket home. Partly this is my own
fault – if I had studied Myanmar
a little more I think the timetable
would make sense. At present I find
it difficult to plan and just turn up
and hope that a) a train is coming
soon, and b) that the ticket sellers
will point me to the right train.
There’s so much potential in
rail transport in Yangon and I am
certain that it will be the best option
in future. But if efficiency is your
measure, you’re probably better off
in a car or taxi. This is doubly so if
the nearest station is more than a
short walk from either your home
or office because you’ll still have to
battle the traffic.

Las Vegas

Daimler gives look at autonomous ‘living space’ car

G

Photo: AFP

ERMAN automaker
Daimler on January
5 showed its vision
of the driverless car,
a prototype vehicle that allows
four passengers to face each
other as the vehicle finds its
way.
“In the future, the car
brings access to the single
most important luxury goods
of the 21st century: private
space and quality time,” said
Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche,
as he unveiled the self-driving
Mercedes-Benz luxury sedan

F 015 at a keynote at the
Consumer Electronics Show in
Las Vegas.
Vehicles, he said, “will be
exclusive cocoons on wheels
that enable people to do exactly
what they want”.
The futuristic designed car
with a sweeping curved form
factor still has a steering wheel,
unlike the Google driverless
vehicle, but the driver’s seat
and front passenger seat can
pivot to allow the vehicle to
become a “private retreat”,
according to Daimler.

“This is what we believe
will be next in the terms of
the car’s design, concept and
communication,” Zetsche said.
The prototype was to take a
driver along the Las Vegas Strip
later on January 5 before being
put on display at the huge tech
show opening January 6.
The show is devoting an
increasing amount of space
to automotive technology,
including vehicles that offer
some autonomy and greater
connectivity.
– AFP

11

Luxury
cars at the
starting line
Aye Nyein Win and
Nandar Aung

S

INCE Myanmar allowed the
first international-brand
new-car dealerships in
decades to open in 2013, 16
have set up shop, and owners say
sales are rising, with Asian titans
like Toyota, Mazda and KIA squaring
off against Western heavyweights,
including luxury models from
companies such as Mercedes,
Chevrolet, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover
and Ford which target the wealthiest
segments of the population.

when it comes to buying new.
“We give full service for the cars –
no need to worry about spare parts.
Buyers know better and come to buy
cars from our place.” He said the C
Class and E Class models are proving
most popular, priced at around K200
million (about US$200,000).
Chevrolet – often mispronounced
here as “Charpalet” – said wordof-mouth and good reputation
rather than advertising drive its
sales. Importer U Htoo Aung Kyaw,
executive director of Pacific AA Motor
Company Limited, said building a
bond with customers is their focus.
“We will get trust for a long-

Mercedes showroom on Pyay Road, 7 Mile. Photo: Thiri Lu

check the kilometres on the indicator
or how to check the car after
buying it. We stay in touch with our
customers,” U Htoo Aung Kyaw said.
BMW also enjoys a good reputation
in Myanmar, though the sales centres
opened only recently. Executive
director U Chan Myat said having
BMW here is a good sign for everyone.
“When BMW arrives in Myanmar,
the other business investors will
trust they can invest in Myanmar,”

said U Chan Myat.
The imported BMWs are
manufactured in Munich, Germany,
to suit Myanmar’s climate and petrol
type, he said, which puts them at
a higher price point than other
offerings – between $70,000 and
$500,000.
Jaguar Land Rover is taking
a sophisticated approach to
advertising. General manager
Michael Pease said the company is

Chevrolet showroom on Upper Pazundaung Road. Photo: Thiri Lu

U Aung Thet Lwin, head of sales at
Mercedes Benz Myanmar, says over
100 Mercedes Benz vehicles have been
sold to date, with that number set to
increase dramatically in 2015. He said
after-sales services is an unsung plus

term relationship with customers
if we can give the best service …
Here people are not familiar with
insurance and service. Thus, we
remind them by phone to check their
car as people don’t know when to

Aye Nyein Win
ayenyeinwin.mcm@gmail.com

T

OO many cars are on the streets.
Traffic is bumper to bumper. We’re
moving at a snail’s pace. The number
of cars keeps increasing. The roads are

jammed.
We’ve all heard what everyone thinks. But are
there really too many cars in Myanmar? Or is
this just Yangon’s problem?
Registered vehicles doesn’t mean all vehicles,
but it’s the best tally we have. There are over
640,000 registered automobiles nationwide,
including over 40,000 buses, over 82,000 light
trucks, over 16,000 heavy trucks, and even
specialised vehicles such as fire engines or
logging trucks (though there are no official
listings by brand, so it’s impossible to tell how
many Toyotas, Hondas, and so on).
Among these, over 430,000 are in Yangon.
This includes 57,000 taxies, which means taxis
make up 13 percent of the registered vehicles
on Yangon’s roads (roughly one taxi for every 91
people, given the recent population estimate of
5.2 million).
For decades car imports were the province
of the elite. Starting in 2011, however, old cars
could be traded in for a slip giving the right
to import a new one, first for dealers and later
for individuals. According to figures from the
Road Transport Administration Department,
since car imports were authorised the number

Jaguar showroom in Hlaing township. Photo: Thiri Lu

Urban crawl
How to solve Yangon’s traffic woes?

of registered vehicles in the country jumped by
more than 210,000. As of the end of 2014, more
than 100,000 old vehicles have handed in.
“Even if they don’t import on their own, they
would sell the permit slip,” said U Kyaw Aye
Lwin, regional staff officer of the RTAD.
Accident figures show one byproduct of the
influx, Police Colonel Kyaw Htwe said.
In 2012, official numbers show 11,650 traffic
accidents; in 2013, 13,900; in 2014, nearly
15,000. Injuries climbed correspondingly, with
19,700, 23,000 and 25,000 respectively; deaths
did too, with 3300, 3600 and over 4100.
The real figures, Pol Col Kyaw Htwe said, will
be higher. “Accidents in rural areas are not all
included. Some accidents might not have been
informed to the police station.”
In Yangon Region in 2014, 3008 accidents
caused over 42000 injuries and 588 deaths, with
an average rate of 8.3 accidents, 11.6 injuries and
1.6 deaths per day. The total reported damages
were K1,273 million, or about US$1.2 million,
according to Police Lieutenant Colonel Lin Htut.
While the Minister for Commerce U Win
Myint said in 2014 that the car import policy
wouldn’t change again – following complaints

of frequent policy shifts causing difficulties for
importers – in December 2014 it was announced
that import controls would be instituted
effective January 1, 2015. Among other reasons,
the move is an effort to curb traffic jams in the
country’s biggest city, along with road widening
and other investments.
“An announcement was made January 1
that a car import licence will be given only if a
recommendation can given proving access to a
parking space can be shown. But cars already
imported are parked on roads due to not
having parking spaces. That causes road traffic
problems. It is necessary to create parking
spaces for already imported cars fast,” said Pol
Lt Col Lin Htut.
Although some think there are too many cars
and imports should be cut off, some say there
are too few cars compared to the population of
Myanmar. Then why are the roads jammed? The
major cause is that there is no habit of following
traffic rules, he said.
“Buses, private cars, actually all cars break
the rules. So we increased arrests from our side.
We are planning workshops too.”
He said the bus system is in particular need

looking to build market share via
product placement in Myanmar
movies, such as they’ve done
elsewhere via placement in James
Bond films, among others. Two of
Jaguar’s recently introduced new
models go for $103,500 and $107,500.
Ford says it is selling more
single-cab trucks than luxury cars
at the moment, though that may
change. U Aung Thet Lwin says
that despite some challenges from
brands like Lexus, which have more
of a following due to Japan’s history
in the Myanmar auto world, Ford is
without strong competition.
“Brand new cars have more
strengths actually. So the market
of new cars would grow when the
government lowers the tax and car
prices become within the reach of
people. Even now there is becoming
a market as expected,” said U Aung
Thet Lwin.
He also noted that new car dealers
are competing “with one arm tied” by
government import restrictions which
require left-hand-drive models only.
Used cars can be imported in either
orientation, and most drivers still opt
for right-hand-drive models, since it’s
a format they know and trust in spite
of the obvious safety issues.

of overhaul.
“We are aiming to form a public company
to change the bus transportation system. As
you know, bus drivers and bus helpers earn
more money if they run their buses more times
because they get their wages by sharing the
income. That wage system is a weakness. Bus
transportation needs the government’s support,”
said Police Lieutenant Colonel Lin Htut.
Meanwhile, brokers, importers and
showroom owners have been setting out
together to find answers to the city’s traffic
problems. Last year in a workshop they
discussed letting cars park overnight again in
Batar vehicle trading centre on Insein Road
in Kamaryut township. About 2000 cars are
running day and night in town because they
cannot park in the station overnight.
Also discussed was the prospect of YCDC
giving spaces outside of town to vehicle trading
stations, and building new modern parking
buildings meeting international standards in
those spaces. Replacing private car use with
school buses for children coming to and from
school is another point of emphasis.
Pol Col Kyaw Htwe said imports would
keep rising, and more flyovers need to be built
if necessary to smooth out the flow cross by
congested intersections. Automated traffic lights
are also being expanded in 2015.
No word yet, though, when drivers plan to
start following the rules of the road.
Translation by Kyawt Darli Linn

12

Rust In Peace

Myanmar’s car cemeteries
Ye Mon and
Myat Nyein Aye

I

F the mantra for vehicles these
days is “out with the old, in
with the new”, where, exactly,
is “out”?
For many cars, that’s Thilawa
special economic zone – one of
three locations in which vehicles are
dropped off and disassembled, either
for recycling or for re-sale as spare
parts.
Mandated by the Myanmar
Economic Corporation in early 2014,
the Thilawa SEZ’s “car cemetery”, as
it is colloquially known, replaces the
Insein Steel Mill, which previously
handled old cars. The other sites for
used car disposal in Myanmar are
Myaung Dakar Industrial Zone, in
Hmawbi township, Yangon Region,
and Yamethin township, in Mandalay

Region.
The car cemeteries are something
of a museum of late-20th-century
vehicles. Following decades in which
imports were strictly controlled,
effective September 19, 2011, the
government instituted a scheme
under which legacy vehicles could be
turned in for a slip of paper granting
the right to purchase a more recentmodel vehicle. Since then more
than 400,000 new or used cars have
been imported – a sea change for
Myanmar’s roads.
The car cemeteries are where
formerly prized, coddled and
life-supported vehicles are being
finally put to pasture. They act as a
sorting ground for everything from
assembled-in-Myanmar Shan Jeeps
to journeyman imports like Town
Ace and Super Saloon. Even trucks
and buses come to the end of their
roads here.

A bottle of fuel powers this car on its last ride. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

Cars are stacked sky-high at Thilawa. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

‘’I used my car for over 10 years,”
said Yangon resident U Saw Myint,
who recently made the fateful drive
to Thilawa SEZ. “This car was very
lucky for me and sometime I feel
like this is a path of my life. But
nowadays, many people are using
the latest cars and they are more
comfortable than old cars. I worry
obsessively about my old car, but
I have decided to throw away it to
change it for a new car.”
Vehicles are lined up to be
registered and be checked by the
Road Transport Administration
Department and MEC officials.
Unlike U Saw Myint, most bringing
cars to Thilawa are agents. Behind
the lineup is a wall of car bodies
nearly the height of a telephone pole.
Some look fairly new. Others are
dilapidated, and some are crushed.
Contrary to popular belief, old
cars are not simply melted down
whole in a steel mill. Rather, an

active market exists in the car
cemetery, dealing in reclaimed spare
parts, many of which will later
return to the market.
Agent U Aung Kyaw Sann, who
works in the cemetery as an agent,
says those looking to dispose of their
old cars are unaware of the money to
be made from stripping it and selling
the parts.
“Car owners hire agents to get the
slip – they only want a slip. So, we
take off the parts of old cars which
are to be melted in the steel mill,
and we don’t need to go the market
directly. The brokers will come to
buy the parts.”
On the used parts market, newer
components are more highly valued,
but even some old parts may find
their way to markets like Bayint
Naung in Yangon’s Mayangone
township.
“Our duty is check that the cars
are really old or not, and whether

they have been used for 20 years,”
said an RTAD official. “I think the
owners don’t get the money from
their cars when the parts are sold.”
Owner U Ko Aung said he did not
bother trying to earn money from
selling spare parts from his old vehicle.
He only wanted the slip for a new one,
but he sees the potential value.
“I guess the spare parts from the
old-car market could potentially be
a huge market in the future because
those parts are cheaper than the new
parts,” he said.
However, some involved in
importing new cars have told
The Myanmar Times that the
government should prevent the
market in spare parts salvaged from
trade-ins. They said old parts will
reduce fuel efficiency and safety of
otherwise up-to-date vehicles.
It also means parts of these cars
are again cheating the cemetery, and
driving among us once again.

Do corroded spark plugs mean bad fuel?
Myo Lwin
myolwin286@gmail.com

U

P until three years ago,
many of the buses, trucks
and passenger cars in
Yangon were vintage
models and remnants of the Second
World War. What most owners had
on their minds first thing in the
morning was to check fuel, water,
air and oil – si-ye-lay-waing, as it is
known widely in Myanmar language.
That meant checking the fuel
(either petrol or diesel), the water
in the radiator, the air pressure of
each tyre and the engine oil level.
These are the four musts, especially
for buses. Most buses, which were
usually Chevrolet and Dodge, had
reminder notices written and hung
in a place visible to the driver.
Today, for drivers of newer cars,
these notices are mostly yesterday’s
news, as they have the luxury of
simply checking their dashboard
displays, which show red, orange or
green lights depending on whether
or not anything is faulty.
Under this government, at least
two major visible changes have
been made. The number of mobile
phones has jumped from 1 million
to 9 million in two years. And the
number of registered vehicles has

jumped from 250,000 to 640,000
over just three years.
Of course, all these cars are
creating more traffic jams – but that
just gives everyone more time to talk
to each other on their phones.
One signal most people ignore,
however, is the seatbelt light. As
few wear them, and the light is
irritating, many ask the mechanics
and discover that the red light can
be turned off by putting a small stick
into the negative side of the seat
belt. Otherwise, most drivers go to
the workshop only when they hear
or feel sounds or vibrations when
driving that signal a problem.
Suspensions used to need regular
fixes, particularly among taxis, but
repaved roads have helped in that
areas. One major problem still
unsolved, though, is the need to
check the fuel systems.
U Phone Zaw Win, vice president
of the Automobile Technical Division
of the Myanmar Engineering Society,
told The Myanmar Times that a
major problem is the variation in
octane value, which leave spark
plugs with carbon residues after only
a short time.
“The air filter is also important
as the air has to pass through some
sensitive electronic filters and the
clean air is also important,” he said.

Ko Thiha, a mechanic from Desire
Autoworks, said most of the cars at
his workshop have engine vibrations
or reduced power problems.
“Most of the cars that came to us
have engine power problems. They
complained that their car’s speed has
slowed down and the pick-up time
takes longer,” said Ko Thiha.
“We discovered the quality of the
spark plug insulator has become poor
so that the internal combustion power
is not sufficient inside each cylinder.”
Ko Thiha said in the past they were
able to simply clean the plug, but
newer-model cars get damaged beyond
repair and require swapping out. Such
problems, he said, are more common
in smaller, 3- or 4-cylinder cars with
1000cc or 1300cc engines, because
they are designed with more RPM
(revolutions per minute). In bigger
cars, a weakness in one or two spark
plugs has less of an effect as there
are still four or six others working.
“For cars with fuel system problems,
we normally recommend replacing the
new filter and cleaning the injector. If
a model has the injection system that
cannot be taken out for cleaning, we
use an ultrasonic cleaner to take out the
carbon residues. Then the engine gets
back to its full power,” Ko Thiha added.
The Myanmar Times spoke to
numerous taxi drivers, owners

and mechanics, and all said these
problems are common in newer
models. Comments like “I have to
change to new plugs once every two
months” and “I replace my plugs once
every three months” were popular.
The big question here is what is
causing the problem: the quality of
fuel being sold or the quality of the
cars being imported.
The number of filling stations
has increased dramatically in
the past few years, from just 260
government-owned stations and zero
private stations in 2010 to only 12
government-owned but 1163 privately
owned stations as of December 2014.
U Thiha Aung, managing director
at Myanmar Vehicle Tech Co Limited,
said the spark plugs “look like they
have the symptoms of gasoline
additive problems – accumulated
ferrocene on the spark plug insulator
causing a misfire. Generally, this
chemical is used to increase the octane
number in gasoline.”
He said the chemical can bring
more power by boosting the octane
number, but can damage the spark
plugs and catalytic converter. He said
fuel additive is the probably cause,
though he cautioned this is not yet
proven by testing.
U Phone Zaw Win of the MES
said there was a gap in knowledge

between mechanics who used to
repair older models and those able
to work on newer vehicles that have
arrived lately, as the newer models
use more electronic technology.
The MES, which is a non-profit
organisation, has been conducting
three-month training, covering topics
such as the use of different on-board
diagnostic scan tools, the use of repair
manuals and the understanding of
diagnostic trouble codes.
“The tools are not expensive.
We just want the car workshops in
Myanmar gain knowledge about
today’s newer models,” said U Phone
Zaw Win, who graduated from
Rangoon Institute of Technology
with a Bachelor of Engineering in
1965, majoring in automobiles.
“Many mechanics are familiar with
the old cars and they need to know
about the change in technology. They
need to have scanners which are cheap
and affordable, like a medical doctor
needs a stethoscope.”
“The knowledge gap is wider than
in Thailand and Singapore. We have
created low-cost scanners so that the
mechanics can pinpoint the fault of
their cars.”
He said it’s particularly important
to know your car well when on a
long trip, and to use oil and lubricant
suited to the model you drive.

13

Left is right
Aye Nyein Win
ayenyeinwin.mcm@gmail.com

R

OUGHLY 90 percent
of imported motor
vehicles in Myanmar
use right-hand drive,
with steering wheels on the right
side, according to official figures.
That would be unexceptional,
if not for the fact that, roughly
90pc of the time, the roads
themselves run in the opposite
manner, meaning cars are on
the right side of the road but
the steering wheels, and hence
drivers, are also on the right,
with a better view of the kerb
than the traffic. (The other 10pc
of the time, of course, occurs
when someone blindly pulls out
into oncoming traffic – the only
way to catch a glimpse of what’s
oncoming.)
As a former British colony,
Myanmar used to drive on the
left side of the road using RHD
vehicles, consistent with British
practice. (Only about 35pc of
the world currently drives on
the left, and British influence is
usually the explanation.)
But following a surprise edict
from General Ne Win in 1970,
the direction of traffic changed
overnight from left to right. The
steering wheels of cars didn’t,

In pictures
Photo: Greg Holland

though, so people had to just
put up with relying on honks
and passenger guidance when
merging into a lane.
With a civilian government
back in power and a flood of
imported cars now coming in, the
country has three options: change
the flow of traffic, change the
kinds of cars allowed as soon as
possible, or just keep on as before.
There doesn’t seem to be any
discussion of the first option,
but the second has floated
around as a rumour from time
to time, with some believing
imports might be limited to only
LHD vehicles starting in 2015.
(New cars are already limited to
LHD only, but make up a very
small minority of cars sold.)
Authorities have yet to make
public any such announcement
of limiting used cars to LHD as
well.
“The numbers of imported
cars with LHD are hardly seen,”
said U Kyaw Aye Lwin, head of
Yangon Region’s Road Transport
Administration Department.
“In seminars and meetings
relating to motor vehicles,
authorities say to allow only
LHD in importing vehicles, but
the RTAD cannot speak about
this new policy exactly because
people prefer RHD,” he said.

He said limiting imports
“won’t be easy”, though adds
some sort of policy will surely be
needed to untangle Myanmar’s
traffic conundrum.
Japan is the top car exporter
in Asia, with a 45pc share
of the top five nations. New
Japanese imports are available
in both RHD and LHD drive,
as the factories produce both
orientations. But used vehicles –
more common for imports – are
in RHD format, as that is how
Japan drives.
“But Myanmar has adopted
a right-hand traffic system, so
vehicles with right-hand drive
are not convenient for people in
Myanmar,” said U San Myint Oo,
managing director of the RTAD.
He said the RTAD only
enforces existing laws, though
added the roads would be safer if
import companies were limited
to cars of a suitable orientation.
But he said that some changes
may need to be made to signage,
bus doors and so on, to help
them match the rules of the road.
If the import law was to be
changed, the new vehicle law,
now in draft stage, would need
to be debated, approved, and
only then modified, with all
ministries approving.
“If the law is enacted, I

I came across this man and his ride on the backroads of Hpa-an. The
motorcycle’s customisation was inspired by the Yellow Ranger from
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and is fitted with a machete, a chain
whip and a metal bar “for helping people”, he explained.

(But right is left)
hope regulations related to
vehicles will be included to
keep motorists safe,” said
U Soe Htun, chair of the
Myanmar Automobile
Manufacturers and Distributors
Association.
Police Captain Win Lwin of
No 2 Traffic Police Office was
hesitant to blame accidents on
LHD versus RHD, citing unsafe
driving practices as a more
probable culprit.
“If motorists can control their
speed and follow traffic rules,
there will be no accidents and
motorists and pedestrians will
be safe. It also mainly depends
on the motorists’ driving skill.”
Taxi driver U Maung Maung
disagreed, saying cars being
forced to pull out blindly to pass
was a major cause of accidents
– and something that could be
made much safer with LHD
vehicles.
“We have heard that the
government will allow importing
only left-hand drive vehicles in
the future. It will be good when
such a policy is practiced,” he
said.
Until then, it seems the third
option, doing nothing, has the
lead.
Translation by
Thiri Min Htun and Emoon

Which side are you on?

I

n feudal societies people wore swords on their left,
which meant they mounted horses from the left. That
was easier done from the side of the road than the
middle, so traffic stayed on the left side of the road.
In the late 1700s in the US and France, the biggest thing
on the road was the teamster (a person driving a team of
horses pulling a wagon), who sat on the back left horse
so he could whip to the right. The driver needed to see if
he was about to hit anything on his left, and as the biggest
things on the road reversed traffic.
In pre-Revolution France, the left was reserved for
nobles and the right for everyone else. Post-revolution,
the nobles tried to blend in more, and shared the road
with the rest. A “keep-right” law was passed in 1793.
Countries Napoleon conquered adopted right-hand
traffic; those he didn’t, including England, stayed on the
left. Austria, only half-conquered, remained split until
Hitler ordered right-side driving in 1938 after annexation.
The US, after independence, was eager to shed British
roots, and cast off left-side driving starting in 1792. In
Canada, former French territory stayed right and former
British territory stayed left until 1920. Newfoundland,
independent until 1949, went right only two years before
joining Canada.
After WWII, Korea switched sides when the US, not
Japan, became influential. In the 1960s Pakistan mulled
a switch from left to right, but rejected it because camels
were trained to carry on walking when their drivers were
asleep, and it would prove too difficult to retrain them to
use the other side of the road.
It is convention for the driver to sit closer to traffic and
the passenger closer to the kerb. As the Ford company
explained in 1908 when it redesigned its steering wheel,
“Travelling along the right side of the road the steering
wheel on the right side of the car made it necessary to
get out on the street side and walk around the car. This is
awkward and especially inconvenient if there is a lady to
be considered.”
Wade Guyitt

14

Horsepower
How carriages keep the wheels
turning in Pyin Oo Lwin

Photo: Si Thu Lwin

Si Thu Lwin
sithulwin.mmtimes@gmail.com

J

INGLE bells jangling, the
cool breeze caressing your
cheek, hearts and hoofs
going pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat:
Myanmar may have plenty of horse
carts, but for carriages there’s only
one place to go: Pyin Oo Lwin. The
Mandalay Region retreat may no
longer be a colonial hill station,
but it’s still got a reputation for
relaxation. Its horse-drawn carriages
are no small part of that image:
Like Shwedagon in Yangon and
rubies in Mogok, carriages here are
a community icon.
You can thank the British for that.
The conquering colonials invaded
what is now Pyin Oo Lwin in 1886,
the year after taking Mandalay.
Before they rolled in to the area in
great numbers, the town was just a
military outpost near a small Shan

village, along the road to Lashio.
After, it became a hill station – a
place of retreat, not from dacoits but
the heat.
Pyin Oo Lwin – or as it was known
then, Maymyo, or May’s Town,
after Colonel May, stationed there
in 1887 – enjoys a breezy altitude
of 1070 metres (around 3500 feet)
and developed an atmosphere to
match. Eventually, as the summer
capital of British Burma, it became a
place for the Anglo establishment to
rule from during the months when
the temperature made collars and
petticoats untenable elsewhere.
The colonial era is long gone
now, of course, and the automobile
has since brought an end to
carriages most everywhere else. But
architectural details such as the
Purcell Clock Tower keep memories
of past times alive in Pyin Oo
Lwin, and the town’s penchant for
horsedrawn carriages remains also,

albeit reclaimed as a civic symbol.
Not to say that they’re not in
decline. By 1965, official records
show 153 in operation. Today, there
are over 50 – less, but not by much,
considering the automobile has long
since run them off the road most
everywhere else.
U Ba Oo, 56, has been driving
coaches since he was 14. He says
tourism is what keeps the horse
carriages rolling in Pyin Oo Lwin.
“Pyin Oo Lwin is a good place for
relaxing and for tours. That’s why
they are still popular. If not for that,
they would have vanished long ago.”
Of course, novelty fun-rides
alone don’t a tradition make. But
the coaches are also regularly hired
by residents for important rituals
such as weddings and donation
ceremonies.
Three-wheeled and two-wheeled
motorcycles have been major threats
to keeping coaches alive, something

U Ba Oo sees as inevitable given the
march of time. “They are necessary
for long drives. It is natural to have
a loss in gaining development,” U Ba
Oo said.
Still, he said that even though it
not easy to make back even the cost
of meals for horses and driver during
rainy season, he would die before
giving up his horse and carriage.
“I wish the authorities to help and
support coach drivers. That would
keep coaches, the symbol of the
town, alive,” U Ba Oo added.
Authorities didn’t used to like that
symbol, however. Under the former
military government, VIP arrivals or
defence academy graduation days
meant that the horse and carriages
had to stay off the roads, according
to U Kyi, 84.
They came back, he said, due
to foreigners’ requests. Fees were
mandated, posted inside of each
coach, but today the rate of passage

depends – like much else for sale in
Myanmar – on bargaining.
He said there used to be about
a half-dozen different builders and
repairers in Pyin Oo Lwin, but now
there’s only one.
“We have been doing this for
generations since our grandparents,”
said U Mut Tar, a 55-year-old
carriage maker who lies in Nyan Taw
quarter. He also said business isn’t
too bad – though it has shifted since
his grandparents’ age.
“We get orders from Yangon,
Mandalay, Bagan, China and hotels
using them just for show. We made a
coach for an order from Malaysia for
a wedding just today.”
Interested in buying one? Expect
to pony up between K2.5 million to 3
million, depending on the quality of
materials used. But make sure you’ve
got something to pull it. Otherwise
you’d be putting the cart before the
horse.

Public servant
Mya Kay Khine
mya.simplefly@gmail.com

W

HEN U Khin Myint Maung went to
Nay Pyi Taw last year to receive a
promotion, he found on his return
that some work had piled up for
him in the meantime: a three-day-long traffic jam.
Known for being the most efficient – and
friendly – traffic police officer in Yangon, U
Khin Myint Maung patrols the intersection of
Dhammazedi and Link from 7am to 7pm. And his
sunburnt skin proves he spends those hours right
in the middle of things, not snoozing in a traffic
hut at the side of the road. He wields his whistle
like a surgeon, waves his arms like airport ground
crew and all the time never seems to stop smiling.
In 2012 U Khin Myint Maung was given a Hero
Award by 7-Day News. But not every traffic officer
is as beloved by the public – though we wish they

were. He seems to take on his duty not as a job
but as a passion.
“I think public servants are born from the
public,” he says, explaining, in one breath, why
some officers seem less devoted, and also why
he feels the compulsion to serve instead of take
advantage of drivers.
Every new police officer, including the traffic
police, attends six months of training in Wat Htee
Kan, Pyay township. But with 57,000 taxis and
over 6500 passenger buses in Yangon alone – not
to mention the over 400,000 cars – traffic seems
to be too much to handle. Some members of the
public allege some officers are crooked, and even
extort money from accident victims. That’s clearly
wrong, but it’s also wrong to put the blame on
conditions on traffic police alone.
“I give my opinion when I give lectures to
upgrading classes in our force,” U Khin Myint
Maung says. “Every police officer is responsible

for clearing the roads. But the public needs to be
included in clearing. Once, they could drive as
they like. But now, it’s necessary to line up.”
CCTV cameras are set up in 22 of the
most congested areas of the city, including
Shwegondine, Tarmwe, Myaynigone and 8 mile.
There are 10 automatic sets of traffic lights, with
more coming in 2015. Still, as U Khin Myint
Maung shows, nothing improves efficiency more
than someone who cares.
Traffic police earn K135,000-K190,000 a month,
for which they must serve with enthusiasm,
without shying from the heat or rain, and without
resting their arms, legs or lungs.
“When I have done my duty, I sit in silence, not
talking to anyone. And then I wash and go to bed
after 8pm,” said U Khin Myint Maung.
Still, he bears it all with a grin.
“Not only traffic police – smiles are better than
frowns for everyone.”
U Khin Myint Maung saves the day. Photo: Thiri Lu

15

Along for the ride
The following stories
aren’t from the same
bus ride. But they might
as well be. As with life,
it’s the journey, not
the destination, that
defines us, as MT’s
Cherry Thein discovers
when talking to
commuters about the
social side of bus riding
t.cherry6@gmail.com

G

ETTING on the bus in rush
hour is like squeezing onto
a packed rollercoaster.
Passengers fill the seats
first, leaving latecomers to cram into
any available aisle space like sand
poured between pebbles in a jar.
There’s nowhere to stand without
being pressed against someone else.
If you have only one hand free, you’ll
end up clinging perilously to the rail,
dragged to your destination as the
bus starts, stops and sways.
So when the stranger sitting
nearby reaches out to him, offering
to carry his bag on her lap so he
doesn’t need to clutch it to his chest
while keeping his balance, why does
he turn her down? And why does he
say no so abruptly?
“Actually I really wanted to make
conversation with the girl,” U Soe
said. “It is so boring riding the bus
for too long with too much traffic.”
But while any other day her offer
– one of thousands like it, happening
every day, on buses all across the
country – might have been gratefully
accepted, this day happened to be
the end of the month. That means
payday – and in U Soe’s bag was all
of his earnings.
“I do appreciate the girl being
willing to help me,” he said. “But it is
human ego to be over-protective of
my belongings.”
Human ego, it turns out, comes
up a lot when people talk about what
it’s like to ride the bus.
Ma June Lay first started offering to
hold people’s bags for them in her
university years. Students mingled
with regular commuters going to
work or running errands, and when
the buses were packed full, if Ma
June Lay had a seat while her friends
were standing she would help them
by holding their lunch boxes, bags
and books on her lap.
“It is not any bother to hold a
lunch box, but for the person who has
to stand having two free hands makes
it more secure holding the bar when
the bus jumps or brakes suddenly.”
The little gesture is a small
inconvenience for one person, but it
creates a big relief for another. And it’s
something we would all appreciate, if
the situations were reversd.
“I feel sympathy for others if they
get hurt,” Ma June Lay said, adding
her own hand always hurts when she
has to stand without being able to
hold on properly.
She used to waver about whether

Photo: Boothee

or not to ask to look after the
belongings of those she didn’t know,
lest people might refuse her offer, or
think negatively of her for invading
their space. But she takes a more
positive view now. Some people, she
said, hesitate to accept help if they are
new at riding the bus, while others
will say no if they are carrying lunch
containers which are dirty on the
outside, or which could spill and stain
someone else’s clothing with curry.
Those who refuse, she thinks, are
being polite also.
“If you want to know how selfish
people are, try taking a bus,” Ko
Kyaw Zin said. When people are
comfortable, he thinks, they are like
angels, and compete with others to
see who can do more good deeds. It’s
only when they are struggling that
they become devils.
Like any long, uncomfortable,
monotonous experience, the bus is
a litmus test, a way of gauging one’s
character under pressure, Ko Kyaw
Zin says.
“It is hard to be good when
struggling. People don’t realise it is
testing their quality.”
And there are plenty of tests
along the route – as well as some
laughs, if you look at it from a certain
perspective.
Your toes are treaded on
accidently but it feels like a snake
bite and you cry out suddenly.
You’re so concerned about missing
your stop, you rush off the bus as
soon as you can only to realise, as the
bus pulls away, your belongings are
still on it, forgotten on somebody’s
lap.
Sometimes – less amusing – a
baby is forgotten. Or even left behind
on purpose.
Or perhaps, while trying to get
off, your longyi gets stepped on or
pulled off. The conductor smiles
while trying to find it. Those around
are trying to conceal their giggling,
trying not to embarrass the poor
victim any more than he or she
already is.

“Sometimes people are very cruel.
They neglect and turn blind eyes to
someone in trouble,” said Ma Aye
Thu.
When everyone tries to get on the
bus at once and people are jostling and
bumping each other for a place, even
elderly people get pushed around.
“Having a seat or not isn’t
important – but why can’t people
show or practise humanity over
small things?”
For riders like Ma Aye Thu, the
bus is a proving ground, a place of
penance, of moral or even religious
devotion.
“When I have to take a very long
trip or the travelling time is longer
than usual, I feel so anxious on the
bus and have less sympathy for
giving up my seat. But I always try to
practice,” said Ma Aye Thu.

Photo: Wade Guyitt

The law of reflection (kama)
teaches that if you help others out
of sympathy and loving-kindness,
it will reflect back to you when you
need help. That’s why when Buddhist
monks, elderly people, pregnant
women and the disabled get on the
bus, people usually offer up a seat.
On most buses, seats behind or
beside the driver are marked with
signs saying “please favour Buddhist
monks”. Sometimes, if regular riders
don’t give up the seats, the bus
conductors will keep on reminding
them until they do so.
No matter who you do it for,
giving up your seat is a donation,
just like offering alms or prayers.
“Reverence to elders, respect to
peers and sympathy for the young”
– that’s the moral code U Kyi Win

is reminded of when he observes
people’s behaviour on the bus. He
said the point of the saying is to keep
“practising [these values] in your
everyday life – at home, schools,
workplaces, even on the bus or streets”.
“There is no law or force to
help others,” U Kyi Win said,
“but encouraging the practice of
sympathy is a moral obligation to
promote and honour your humanity.”
When people don’t give up seats,
or when they don’t help out others
carrying big loads or push past
others to get on or off, U Kyi Win
sees it as a a sign they are stressed,
uncomfortable or disappointed.
He sees it as a symptom of a
larger problem in society. In the past,
taking the bus was not such an ordeal
– either the routes were less crowded,
or, if they were crowded, the trips were
shorter, due to there being less traffic.
Such conditions made kindness easy.
Today, traffic is bad. Sitting at
lights which never seem to go green
increases the heartrate. It’s hot, sweaty
and smelly on board. Everyone seems
less charitable, and is anxious to get
to their destination and end this
miserable experience.
While traffic is part of the
problem, people are also more
rushed and restless generally, U Kyi
Win thinks. He says what we all
need isn’t just more buses, better
train transport options or special bus
lanes blocked off. These will help,
but if we keep the same attitudes
as we have now, we’ll still be
annoyed and selfish no matter how
comfortable we are. What we need
is the right attitude, in which people
take care of each other.
“If we see bad habits, we should
remove them and restore good as
soon as possible for a harmonious
society,” he said.
A bus ride may seem a strange
place to talk about humanitarian
practices, given the amount of
heartache and strife elsewhere.
But even the smallest acts can help
sustain peace and coexistence in
society. After all, it may not be your
bus, but it is your ride.