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  Yangon  |  06.06.2008
 
 

Today has been a funny old day.....and a long one too. Fi r stly there is a lot to tell you about my working day and then about our crazy night out.

But first about what happened during the day. Lesh and Manuel went off to the school to plumb in the water tank. As they left for the bus I jumped into a taxi and made my way to chinatown which is where this alleged money transfer place is. I have a vague address which says SS10 on the corner of Strand Road and Lamadaw street. I get dropped off at the intersection of Strand and Lamadaw and go searching for this SS10. The area is busy as this is a wholesale / warehouse type part of town. I see on th e corner of the 2 roads a row of shops all numbered S1-10. I thought the address was SS10 but I pre s umed that was a mistake as there was no SS10 at the intersection. I go inside and am greeted with curious stares by the 3 boys who work there. The main boss man is seeing to a customer and he has 3 young boys who help him out in his tiny box of a shop. The walls are all full of packets of sweets and it is clear this is a candy wholesalers on the surface. Th e young boys ask me how they can help and as discreetly as possible I try to explain that I want to transfer money from Malaysia to here. The boys look at me blankly....something is lost in translation....they think it is wise if I wait for the boss man to finish with his customer then maybe he can help me. I agonizingly sit there for 30 minutes with the 3 boys staring curiously at me. I try to find some clues as to the undercover work of the money exchange. I find what I am looking for when I see a list of useful contact number on the wall next to the telephone. The first name and number on the list is for a Ms Tan and I see a 0060 phone number...so here is my proof I am at the right place. The boys dig into a huge tub of sweets and give me a massive sample of what they sell. I opt for a fruity pin e apple boiled sweet which is actually quite tasty! After 30 minutes it is fina l ly my turn and the boss man turns to me and asks in broken english how he can help. Again I try to be as discreet as possible but since language is a problem this is quite hard. My requests for a money transfer is met with a blank expression and the reply of "but we sell candy here"....hmmmm....I am not sure if he is telling the truth or whether he is just being guarded as I am a foreigner. I decide to check with him if it is the right place and bingo! I find that there is in fact an SS10 and one of the boys will escort me there. I feel like a wally since I just wasted half an hour...but at least I got some free sweets! SS10 is not in fact on the corner of Lamadaw and strand road.....it is right in the middle of Lamadaw. Strand Road is nowhere near. I get dropped off at SS10 which is also a pokey little shop lot but this time it is run by an Indian guy not a Chinaman...so I think I may be on the right track. I forget trying to be all discreet since that got me nowhere in the last 30 minutes an d I say outright that I want to transfer money from Kl to here. The man looks worried and I soon realise that it is because he doesn't speak any english. He recognises the word Malaysia and money and he asks me strangely for my passport which I don't have on me. He takes down my name and starts to make a phone call. I feel totally helpless as I can't even ask him why he needs this information. He makes umpteen calls and in the end he passes the phone to me and I am speaking to a guy with basic english. I explain to him what I want to do and immediately he asks me where I got this contact from. Paranoia. I explain that one of my friends has used their services before and recommended them to me. He seems happy with this and starts to tell me of the address where to go in KL. I t ry to ask him stuff about exchange rates and commissions but these are all too difficult to understand and I am getting worried that I am not finding out everything I need. In the end he suggests that he contacts his boss in KL and gets her to contact Lesh's mum and gives her all the info. This sounds like a good plan to me and so I agree to wait around while he makes the call. I put down the phone and wait for him to call back in 15 minutes. Its a long 15 minutes since the shop keeper can't speak english and we just sit there staring at the walls avoiding embarrasing eye contact. He puts on his pc to do some a ccounts and I can see that his screensaver is Liverpool fc. I instantly think we might have something we can talk about but he seems confused that I w o uld talk about Liverpool while wearing a Man City top....so we abandon that conversation. The guy calls back and tells me that his boss couldn't get hold of Lesh's mum which I thought was very odd. Aunty always picks up her phone. I decide that I will go to the internet café and try and speak to her myself and get her to call this woman direct.

When I get to the internet café the power is out and they are running on generators which I think is what makes the connection mega slow. It took me 40 minutes to log onto gtalk as my gmail won't load and every few minutes the connection drops out and I have to try and reload it. This makes talking to my mum very stressful. Its been ages since I have managed to have a proper talk with her. This morning time sessions are ok but its not really a proper chat since both her and Jossy are getting ready for work and school. When mum leaves for work I decide to abandon this internet café and go to the one I like at the New Aye Yar hotel. Sure enough the connection there is much faster and I wait for Mum, or Regina or Lesh's mum to come on line. Finally Lesh mum comes on and I instantly start trying to ask her about what she has found out from this lady. But it is a weird conversation. Everytime I try and ask aunty about what has transpired she replies with strange paranoid answers that I must be careful and how I shouldnt say anything...?!? I am wondering if it is really aunty online as it doesn't sound like her at all....I manage to get the contact number for the hotel and give it to Aunty so she can call me and perhaps shed some light on the situation. It seems that someone had spooked aunty out with stories about how it is dangerous to communicate as you never know who might be listening in or reading your messages. However at no point where we ever talking about anything that could implicate us in any way which is what I found so frustrating! Aunty was not 100% ok with the process having spoken to the woman as she also found it difficult to get any information from her. So Uncle will go and spec out the place and see if it seems ligit. On my way back to the flat Auntys paranoia had infiltrated to me and I found myself looking over my shoulder as I walked back to the flat. I bolted the door and waited for the boys to come back. When I told Lesh what had happened he also wondered who had spooked his mum out with mumbo jumbo about us being in danger of being locked up for what we were doing. I kn o w we aren't doing anything wrong but I totally felt safer once Lesh was back.

The boys tell me about their day as plumbers! They had installed the water tank all by themselves, without the help of any pr ofessional . The day had still had its hitch es ...as the y fumbled their way through installing the tank they did break 2 existing pipes while digging a place for the new pipe. So although the tank is done they have to go back and fix the old pipes now! But apart from that they all did really well. We decided to go and celebrate the tank success since it is Manuel last weekend in Yangon. After debating different types of food, we opt to go down Chinatown to the beer stations there as they do excellent bbq food. I eat some plain pasta before I go as I am adament I will not touch the dirty street food.

Me and Lesh think Chinatown is buzzing but Joseph and Manuel say that it seems quite tame compared to how they have seen it before. The street itself is closed off to traffic and is full of tables and chairs full of people drinking beer and eating bbq. The road is disgusting and muddy and it does not strike me as a hygenic place. The guys order loads of food to be bbq'd and when it comes I can't help but try a little bit. I don't touch any of the meet but instead try the ladys fingers, quails egg, sweetcorn and baby spuds....and the food is very very tasty! I end up eating quite a lot and we even order seconds! As we sit round talking we have 2 tables either side of us with local men sat round who are drunk as skunks. One guy is drinking beer with gin inside and used to live in Malaysia for 3 years and insists on talking in malay to Lesh all night. C onsidering Lesh's malay is quite bad at the best of times...he really struggles to understand a guy off his head on beer and gin. With the malay speaking guy is a man who is in suit pants and shirt and tie with a briefcase. His english is impecable except for the slur due to the beer. To our right is a table with a rowdy bunch of men who are wasted. The ringleader is full of tattoos and catches our attention when he keeps shouting at the top of his voice "eff the government!!!" maybe not the best company since I was feeling slightly paranoid from this afternoon . However they are insistant on having our company and we join tables and chat to them for the rest of the night. It is really entertaining since they are all so wasted. One guy hardly speaks english but latches on to Lesh and thinking that Lesh is some big time business man in KL , he keeps trying to convince him (in very broken english) to help him export jellyfish to Malaysia?? We keep asking do you mean squid...but he is insistant that no it is jellyfish! I am not sure if it is a delica s y round here but I have never seen jellyfish on the menu in KL. Aparently it is becoming big in Japan and Korea due to dwindling fish stocks...maybe this guy is just ahead of the times but I am not sure Malaysia is ready for jellyfish sushi. But this drunk guy is like a dog with a bone and no matter how many times Lesh tries to explain that he knows nothing about importing jellyfish into Malaysia they guy wont listen! Meanwhile Joseph is getting very close to the main tattoo guy. This guy is a sea man and is hard as nails. His english is very good and he is very animated in his conversation...whether it be about how Chinese women are cheap compared to Japanese women...to how he hates Filipina women cos one broke his heart! He is married to a Mexican woman and has 2 kids who's names are tattoo'd down his arms. The drunker he gets the more he lolls on Joseph - tho the whole time reconfirming that he is not gay and has a wife (probably in every port...) we have some photos taken with the guys and arrange to have breakfast with them on Sunday. I am not sure they will even remember meeting us never mind our breakfast appointment! Lesh also makes an arrangement to go running with one of the guys on sunday morning at 6am. I though t Lesh was quite sober till he made those plans....maybe I was wrong.

It has been a great night, thoroughly entertaining! It was nice to get out and mix with the locals and we certainly chose some colourful locals to mix with!!!

 

 
 
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