The streets of Yangon flood in the monsoon. I was once in a cab that up and floated for a few feet in the turbid water. I was on my way to work one soggy morning. I took a cab every morning. I hated it. I hate taxis, and I double hate taking taxis in countries that don’t do the whole meter thing. Every morning, bright and early, I had to negotiate with some money hungry fucker who saw a foreigner and saw dollar signs. My work paid for the taxi, there was no public transportation to speak of from where I lived to where I worked, and they were cool with paying for it. Even though it wasn’t my money, it was the principle of the thing.
One day after my negotiations, perhaps made more contentious because I was standing in water, in a rainstorm, and the taxi driver realized that. We headed out towards my work, through the new traffic of Yangon. The city had prevented the import of cars in any significant numbers till about a year before I moved there. The city was in no way equipped for this new phenomenon of the private car. Traffic was already bad, though manageable. From what I hear it’s exponentially worse now. We turned on to a street that was a line of cars in both directions, slowly moving through what could have been a lake traversed by lines of those weird aquatic cars. We slowly crept along into deeper and deeper water. The cars and trucks going the other way kicked up wakes in the brown murky waters. I watched as the water slowly crept up the sides of the door, but by some miracle the doors seemed to be more or less water proof with only a small amount coming in.
I knew the engine would die if the tailpipe ended up below the water- or at least that’s what I’d been told. My mom once had a car die in a flash flood somewhere between KC and Lawrence, Kansas. That’s what she claimed: you can get through if the tailpipe stays above the waterline. Well there was no way that was going to happen here. Like clockwork the engine started to sputter and the orange battery light came on on the dash.
Now I wasn’t in danger, and I’d imagine my job would be cool with me coming late due to such circumstances. It wasn’t exactly unheard of. As the engine began to die a truck drove by and picked up a strong wake. I thought this would be the coup de grace for the car, but in a moment that showed how poor my knowledge of hydrodynamics is, the car floated like a big weird surfboard as the wake came by. For the few seconds we were floating the cabbie and I seemed to come to a mutual understanding of confusion mixed with concern. We returned to terra ferma in a slightly higher place on the road and the engine stopped sputtering. We looked at each other and laughed a nervous- what the holy fuck just happened- laugh, and we set off towards my job.
On our way there, though, I saw a Burmese Army soldier directing-ish traffic. Mostly he seemed overwhelmed at the task. This was usually a job for policemen, but maybe with the flooding he was voluntold to take care of it. He was soaked to the bone, and, by all appearances, was miserable. That made me smile. Not that I take joy in human misery, but this was the Burmese Army. A force that was at that time (And again now) still in control of the country, and though it was paying a lot of international lip service, it was still most certainly brutal. Seeing one of its members soaked made the whole adventure worth it. That and it’s not everyday you go for a sail in a taxi.