Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mandalay Pole Climbers

The way to get around Mandalay is by pedal cab, the three-wheel sidecar rickshaws are everywhere. If you have to get any great distance, it's worth hiring a cab for a few hours. A cab, I should point out, is actually a small truck with a covered bed. It can hold six people squeezed in tight. I hired a guy from my hotel and we agreed on a price of seven dollars. He wanted more, naturally, but I made sure to check the prices with a few other travelers and with the hotel. We agreed on the spots where we would stop and and where I would end my journey. I've learned to spell things out with such vendors to avoid confusion and, far too frequently, from being ripped off.

Near the end of our journey, the driver asked if I would mind if he made a short detour. I didn't mind. He stopped near a sort of village near the river. A group of locals were up to something near the road. I suggested I would have a look and he could collect me when he was ready.

What I saw was a large group of people gathered around a polished wooden pole (bamboo?) sticking a good five meters into the air. From the top, connected by a pulley to the ground so it could be raised and lowered, was a ring. From the ring fluttered pieces of paper.

As I approached, a group of boys were trying to climb it. They were unable to do so individually, but they soon figured out to form a crude pyramid ladder. This allowed a couple of boys to get closer, but still not close enough. On the ground, someone lowered the ring to encourage a few more to try to climb harder.

The boys wore shorts, but the one who wore a longyi wrapped up close soon found himself in a awkward position. As he clung to the pole, the longyi came loose. He couldn't let go to fix it. Meanwhile, other boys were scrambling over him. By the time he got clear of them and started down, he was completely compromised. What would have mortified me as a boy didn't bother him one bit. He laughed as he got redressed and laughed along with everyone else.

Eventually, one intrepid climber made it to the ring and grabbed an envelope.

Now it was the young men's turn. They were better climbers, but they quickly organized a pyramid. The ring had also moved higher up the bamboo pole. Standing on shoulders and heads, they climbed over each other to reach the ring.

One very clever fellow used a spare longyi and twisted it around the pole. A tight twist enable him to use it as a sort of climbing base. Loosening it, he could slide it up and tighten it again to climb a bit higher. In this way he made it to the top and swiped an envelope.

When he arrived on the ground, he opened the envelope to reveal his prize. It contained a coupon. Some one took the coupon and returned with a new longyi! He was genuinely pleased with the reward and everyone cheered when he held it aloft.

My driver showed up at this point and we went back to the cab. He took me a few hundred meters down the road to a restaurant by the river, telling me it was a good place to see the sunset. I reminded him that we agreed on a different destination, about two kilometers up the road. He insisted this was a good spot, but I held firm. He begrudgingly drove me to my destination.

I got out, counted seven dollars out of my wallet and handed it to him as I put on my camera gear and organized my tripod. He held the money in his hand and looked at me with confusion. I returned the confused look. “Seven dollars” he said. I nodded. He fanned out four bills. I short changed him? Huh! I pulled out three dollars and gave it to him. He got into the cab and drove off as I put away my wallet.

How could I have have miscounted four as seven? I could not recall ever miscounting with so few bills. Miscount one bill? Maybe. Miscount two? Unlikely. Miscount three? I opened my wallet and started counting back my purchases of the day. I could account for every expenditure but three dollars. The sneak palmed three bucks and managed to con me into giving him three more. I vowed not to get distracted when making any sort of payment. I knew there were rip-off artists in Yangon, but I had become too trusting of the regular folks in my travels that I let down my guard. Lesson learned.

See more photos here.

1 comment:

Nakorn said...

Nice story & photos. Hope all is well, my friend.