A month at the Phaung Daw Oo School
19th street in Mandalays Dawnabwa Quarter has been my home of the last month. I am beginning to feel quite at home as I get used to how life operates here.
The traffic even though its heavy and chaotic has a general logic that it follows, it’s not absolute carnage as I first thought. Its loud, a constant cacophony of blaring horns but it's how they announce, “I’m here and I’m going forward”. No one ever looks around, only forward, if it’s clear they go. The traffic has grown exponentially in the last few years with cheap Chinese imports of scooters, they suddenly became affordable where previously everyone used bicycles. This meant that the that distance people could travel, the speed at which they could travel - the good and the noise they could make when they traveled and the pollution they could generate - the less good all increased significantly.
It all makes a trip outside of the monastery gate an adventure. You become part of the traffic every time you walk on 19th, slow-moving, without a horn or lights but traffic none the less. There’s no side walk, well there is but that where the street vendors operate. You generally go with the flow, like most of the traffic goes with the flow but there’s a dedicated few who insist on going against it, Mandalay’s traffic anarchists. They will never become part of the herd.
If walking in the traffic is an adventure, crossing the street is the pure adrenaline rush. You start looking at your opportunities, your brain churning the algorithms, calculating your odds for each potential opening. Where’s the break, is it both lanes, can I make it all the way, the longer you wait the more likely you are to opt for potential suicide, the middle. There’s no real middle, no physical line, it's the place where traffic changes direction, like the tide it ebbs and flows, but you can define it if you’re brave, if you're willing to stand there.
There it is, your break, you go but the other side’s suddenly busy, you become that island in the sea of horn blowing traffic. The new middle. No ones going to stop, that not in the rules, there will be no biblical parting of the waves to let you magically finish your journey. The chaotic flow of bikes and scooter and cars and trucks miraculously alter course to avoid the new obstacle; you. Time slows, it feels like an eternity, stood waiting for the next break, your opportunity to go again. Questions start thrashing in your mind; Can everyone see me? Can they avoid me? How long can I stand here? And just as all hope is fading, there it is, the break, your break, your freedom in another few moments and you’re across. You crossed 19th street barely 30 ft of tarmac, it took a mere 10 second and half a life time.