Nov 12, 2012


A mooring stop in Magwe, along Burma's great Irrawaddy River, brought with it my first encounter with a trishaw.

The trishaw is a rickshaw crossed with a sidecar. A seat of sorts is mounted on a third wheel that sits out from the right side of the bicycle. A small metal crossbeam allows your foot purchase from whence to lever  into the wooden seat. It's generally padded with a cushion, but if you're well-padded yourself, you might find your rear end squeezed a tad. That's nothing compared to the driver/rider/torture victim, whose job it is to press themselves into the slim gap between sidecar and bike proper, and sink down onto the right peddle in the vain hope his tiny frame can start the thing moving.

You sit, oddly next to your driver, the road in full view in front of you, his legs madly thrusting up and down to attain a speed of 6 to 10 kilometres per hour. Gravity is both a sweet friend and a bitter enemy. Even a small rise in the road will force the rider to dismount and push the trishaw forward. But once over the crest - yippee!

My Gran. She is very, very British.
It's the local transportation mode of choice, perfect for Burma's narrow roads, even putting trams and buses out of business in some quarters. But the country's increasing partiality to Western tourists could have an effect on the popularity of trishaw driving as a job.  The fat dollars may not be adequate recompense for the fat asses.

And I include my own ass in that.

As pleasantly colonial as riding the trishaw was, I felt heart-wrenchingly awful doing it. The poor bloke giving the job of hauling me around was skinnier than a bulimic on laxatives, and, in this devoutly Buddhist nation, must have done something terrible in a past life to be reincarnated as my beast of burden.

I said as much to Myu, the boat's purser, after I'd clambered down and made my way once more for the RV Orient Pandaw. "I felt so sorry for him, having to drag me around," I laughed, making the "Wide Load" gesture about my person.

"Ah, yes, because you are so fat!" he laughed back.

Well, yes, Myu, that was the reason, but you didn't have to go and agree. Where I come from, it's customary for people to feed me sweet lies about how no, I'm not actually fat.  But I looked around, and realised that yes, I've got at least 20 kilograms on the average local, so Myu was being technically correct. The most heart-breaking kind of correct.

Having said that, I did have another five or six locals point at me and utter the word "Beautiful" during my trishaw journey, so unless they wanted me to burst into a Christina Aguilera number, I must have still been a bit exotic 'round those parts.

Or maybe they were just complimenting the trishaw driver on his hauling power.

Sunset over the Irrawaddy River at Magwe.

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