A Lesson In Driving


I have made many new friends here, but none funnier than K, a wonderful bundle of energy and charm and humor. He and I might do some business together and I am thinking it’s a good idea just because we would be rich in laughter if not gold as well.

We agreed to go to lunch on Sunday when I stopped by his shop last week; he wanted to take me to the nice hotel downtown. I told him I could do Monday or Tuesday as well, if that was better for him.

“Oh no no no. I like the Sunday lunch best.”

And Sunday it was. We were standing by Mr. K’s very nice new car.

“You come over and you can drive okay?” He smiles at me.

Me I wonder to myself, the steering wheels are on the right side here but you also drive on the right, there’s terrible traffic and few stop lights.

“My nephew is gone for weekend and I can’t drive.” He stops as I laugh and tell him:

“I am not going to drive in Yangon K, no way, it’s crazy here. You have this brand new car and you don’t know how to drive!”

He shakes his head vehemently. “Never, never ever drive. I pick you up. Taxi.”

So at noon on Sunday, he shows up indeed in a taxi and not his beautiful new white car and downtown we head for lunch, to be joined by his friend Errol who is Burmese but I later learn was named Errol in boarding school.

“For Errol Flynn, the actor” he tells me over lunch.

I tell Errol the story of the car and driving and then learn the truth as my friend explains more.

“Police are terrible here, they would be very mean to me and get me upset, it would not be good.”

Then I understand. To stay on the right side of the law, to never have to answer too many questions about his business and his work, my friend has made a strategic decision.

Don’t drive.

Because no driving means there’s never even the chance you’ll get stopped while driving. Never getting stopped driving means never having the chance of a problem with the police. So no matter how nice your new car is, and how good you might look behind the wheel, you never ever drive.

Yes, indeed, K is funny and cordial beyond words, but he is also savvy, which is a skill many have needed here to survive. I am equally sure he well knows how to drive, it’s just well, not something he can risk doing here.

K tells the story without bitterness and he certainly is not complaining. He’s just a man who figured out long ago that driving was something that would never, ever be worth the risk.

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