October 7, 2015, Yangon, Myanmar — I’ve reached the point of total disorientation about which side of the road to drive on. Half the world drives on the left, half on the right, and in India they just go down the middle and swerve around cows. Here in Myanmar, people drive on the right, but about 80 percent of vehicles also have the steering wheel mounted on the right side, which totally psyched me out when I arrived. Passing is more exciting when the driver can’t see oncoming traffic, but it seems to work.
Most people in rural Myanmar get around by motorbike, which is much more practical. I’ve seen some amazing things balanced on the back of a bike lately: A stack of 15 pink lawn chairs; a live goat; another motorcycle; a telephone pole; a family of five. Motorbikes go up muddy tracks where no Jeep could follow, they burn less fuel, and they always find a good parking spot. You do get a little wetter when it rains, as I discovered this afternoon, but otherwise it’s like running errands on a flying carpet. Helmets, meanwhile, are wall decorations. (In India, Ramit told me he once got pulled over by a policeman for wearing a helmet. “How can I tell who you are if I can’t see your face?” said the cop.)
Gideon and I took his bike to the outskirts of Kalaw at dawn this morning, then parked it and spent the next seven hours hiking a big loop through the hills. We saw many of the usual broadleaf forest birds yesterday so today’s session was focused on digging out the uncommon skulkers. My favorite bird of the day was a Slaty-bellied Tesia, an egg-sized, egg-shaped creature with a piercing song which seems to broadcast from a hole in the ground. The tesia hopped briefly from cover, gave us a staredown, and retreated into the shadows. It had practically no tail. So cute, yet so strange.
I scraped some of the mud off my shoes before we caught the late afternoon flight back to Yangon. By this time tomorrow I’ll be in China, but first, Gideon and I have a date with a few more Burmese birds at sunrise.
New birds today: 16
Year list: 4692