I’d just gotten to the good bit in “Paradise by the Dashboard light”, the bit where Meatloaf can’t take it any longer and is about to start praying for the end of time; and my driver put the radio on.
Despite having at least five minutes of the song left I realised that this was perhaps a signal that I should end the impromptu acapulco/karaoke session I’d been conducting from the back of the car for the last hour and a half.
Now to be fair to me, I’m in a country that prides itself in its Karaoke bars, so this deliberate intervention in my attempts to assimilate with the culture of Myanmar came as a bit of a surprise.
To be fair to Win Shwe, I’d already entertained him with all seventeen tracks of “Queens Greatest Hits” from “Bohemian Rhapsody” to “We are the Champions” and also treated him to the extended highlights of Neil Diamond’s “Jazz Singer”, and quite clearly he was with Meatloaf on this and couldn’t take it any longer either.
By the time I’d got half-way through track six of Meat Loafs seminal “Bat out of Hell”, he’d clearly heard enough. Not that he was missing much, the last track ”For Crying Out Loud” was the weakest of the album in my opinion, and anyway I’d slipped in “Dead Ringer for Love” earlier on which wasn’t on the original recording without him even noticing.
Van Halen’s “1984” (that cheeky cherub smoking a fag) was due next on the play list, however with the Myanmar musical equivalent of “Europap” pumping out of his speakers he never got to hear my rendition of “Jump” including the extensive and elaborate Eddy Van Halen guitar solo.
It’s his loss.
This brief impasse in our relationship was during a particularly painfully long journey, we were both tired, me from sitting, him from driving for seven hours, and this was just one of the many long journeys that we’d taken over the eight days we spent together in the car travelling around the region I am working in.
Despite my low boredom threshold for long distance travel on roads that could barely be called roads, and Win She’s apparent low tolerance for 70’s and 80’s rock pop; we actually got on well. I used the tried and tested “give us a clue” method of speaking a foreign language to explain to him English phrases like “Slow Down” and “For Christ’s sake slowdown! OH Shit you nearly hit that bus/car/bike/buffalo” and also more mundane things like “I need a wee” or “I need a coffee”. He used a similar method to explain essential Myanmar phrases such as “Chill out dude this is how we drive here” and “If you don’t like it go and sit in the back, but just promise you’re not going to sing again” and “You wee a lot, perhaps if you drank less coffee we might get 8 miles up the road without having to stop”.
Regardless I managed to teach him the English numbers so we could plan the route “How far will we travel today?” – “30 miles” “How long?” – “6 hours”, (Really? Fuck!”) He managed to teach me the Myanmar numbers “How many police and immigration officials today?” – “five” “How many beers will it take me to get this paperwork sorted” – “ten”, (Really? Sweet!)
Despite our lack of sharing a language, and our mutual disagreement over what constitutes decent music/acceptable speed to travel at/number of wee stops required/and how much spitting was really necessary, (and could you at least warn me so that I could wind my window up) Win Shwe and I had a wonderfully bonding experience together. We visited remote villages, dealt with the police and government officials, and shared many a beer.
The highlight of the trip for me has to be hiking hard for four-hours up a mountain to visit and then sleep at a village whose inhabitants had never seen a foreigner before.
For him, I don’t know, it was perhaps the challenge of the drive, battling through the terrain, fighting the harsh roads, the steering wheel twisting from left to right for hours on end, the two of us building bridges across rivers by throwing rocks into the water to precariously drive across, and the drama of watching in slow motion as unlit lorries appeared from the darkness over the brow of hills on the wrong side of a single lane highway, before we expertly slid out of each other’s way without even a chance to sound a horn.
He did enjoy watching “Shaun of the Dead” on my laptop computer.
Though I think his greatest pleasures came from regaling the days travel, and telling long and elaborate tales to all and sundry over whiskey and discarded chopsticks in every place that we stopped for the night, general hilarity across the restaurant was the common result, and that merriment continued long after I had gone to bed.
I guess he’s seen a lot of things over the years, as a driver, I’m sure he has some great tales to tell.
But I bet I’m the first (and perhaps only) foreigner who has performed “Flash” on his dashboard!
(Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!)
(Can we stop for a wee now?)