Party on the Top of the Bus

Party on the Top of the Bus

Here’s my bad Myanmar bus experience, click here to read about LOCAVORista’s.

Having seen photos of people on top of a bus the world over, I believed that this was the way to go.  Everyone in the photo is smiling and while the bus was in motion I assumed it became a party, no the party, after all the cool kids were on the top of the bus.  Really, how could the top of the bus no be the place to be?  With fresh air blowing versus the smells of your fellow riders and sky’s-the-limit views versus I-will-need-a-chiropractor bends to see out of many bus windows.  It turns out, I was wrong, riding on the top of the bus is not that much fun.

After the sun had set over Amarapura, we were lucky to be able to get on the last bus back to Mandalay.  Not only were the five of us lucky, but also were the other 48 passengers.  Now let me explain, this “bus” wasn’t a bus at all, it was actually a large pickup truck (roughly a Ford F-350) that had benches along each side of the bed and a roof about five feet high.  Having ridden in such a bus before, you can reasonably carry 14.  We had 18 on one in Vientiane, Laos with 4 of us standing and it was very cramped.  As the cab was full we were loaded onto the roof, which had 22 people on it when we got on.

It was just hours ago that I had mentioned how I always wanted to ride on top of a bus.  Two French traveling companions looked at me incredulously and responded, “you’ve never ridden on top of a bus?  It’s not very nice.”  Whatever, “French people and their ideas of comfort…probably upset there wasn’t Duck foie-gras and crepes,” I thought to myself.

I managed to get a seat on the side where I could hang my legs over the edge.  The railing on the edge hurt a little, but I saw that the people squeezing into the middle had it worse, they had to hug their knees and pack in as tight as possible.  A few stops after we got on more people joined the roof party.  At another stop I was handed two large framed pictures to hold for someone that was going to hold on to the back of the bus.

OK, here I am, scrunched with 28 people on the roof of a truck, being handed someone’s prized possessions to hang on to.  In Myanmar people aren’t that well off, they aren’t framing pictures of kittens saying “hang on” or embroideries of bumblebees, no, they are framing things very important that they will hang for a long time.  These were probably family photos, protected only by slippery plastic bags, with very sharp corners.  I had 20 minutes to consider whether he chose sharp corners as a specific framing option or declined a plastic bag to hold both.  “No thanks, I’ll just hand it to an American to hold on the bus for me,” I imagined him saying.

Once I had settled into holding the frames on my lap, hanging over the edge of the bus as not to draw my neighbor’s blood, we picked more people up.  Wisely the driver determined that 28 was the max capacity of the roof, so these passengers would have to hang on the sides.  They would each put one hand on the railing that was cutting off circulation to my legs, which meant that one hand was put on each side of my legs and one between them.  I found myself immobilized by the three hands on my inner thighs and photo frames on my lap.

As we bounced along the poorly paved roads I had time to reflect, what was the maximum capacity of this bus?  In a moment of bus roof Zen I realized the answer: in Myanmar, you can never claim to get the last spot on the bus, because there is space enough for anyone that wants to come.  My ride on the top of the bus couldn’t end soon enough, it was a long and uncomfortable 40 minutes.

Maybe it was my experience, maybe it was because I was there that there wasn’t a party on the top.  Maybe they really didn’t want me to know how much fun they have up there, so they staged this whole thing.  I will have to try again to see.

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Comments

» Dad :
Aug 19, 2011

Having seen this “experience” first hand, I think you were kind in your distaste/comments……it was just as I envisioned and one I am pleased to live vicariously……..well written……peace……bka

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thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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