Today I looked out the window and saw a mountain standing over the city, defining the horizon, for the first time. I have been in Yangon, Myanmar, for six days. It’s monsoon season.
The word “monsoon” used to -still does- bring up images, in my mind, of natural disaster, hurricanes, torrential rain. However, that hasn’t been my experience of it so far. It rains every day, sure, but the heavy showers are generally short and far between. It’s fun to explore the city without an umbrella. It’s like a little game; to follow the rythm of the wheather. If I get caught in the rain going from one place to another, I stop at the closest shop, teahouse, or restaurant and hang out there for a little while. When the sky clears up (when the clouds are slightly brighter), it’s time to keep walking. When the rain hits hardest, it’s time for lunch.
I’m on the top floor -the eigth, I think- of an old, narrow building in a city of old narrow buildings. The place only has two sounds; rain and traffic. At night, you only hear the rain, coming from the windows, far away, unless it hits hard, then you also hear it banging on the roof, very close. I go to sleep late, doing things such as writing this, so I’m awaken at around noon by the heavy traffic down below. It’s a noisy street, next to the port and a busy bus station, but I’m high up enough that it wouldn’t matter, if not for the local’s love of honking. Let me tell you: They love honking over here.
Apparently, there weren't any street lights at all until just a few years ago. There still aren't in most streets. People cross whenever they see a space; even if there's continuous traffic. For the first few days, the only way i could safely cross the road was by shadowing and mimicking the locals, putting them between me and the incoming traffic. However, it's not as dangerous as it would be in Europe because drivers are more mindful of people and each other. If they notice you from far away they usually slow down to let you pass; or honk to signal the opposite. Here is where the honking language comes into play; the honking that fills the streets on a busy day here is not that of annoyed commuters, but a conversation, a back and forth involving cars and pedestrians.
The most common type is a quick succession of honks, lasting two to four seconds total; this is merely notifying those in the proximity of one's intention to accelerate. Roughly, it could be translated to "hello! coming through!". It's a popular way to signal changes in trajectory on a busy day as well. The single, short, sharp honk, which would be an insult or a sign of annoyance in Europe, is here commonly used by taxis to ask a person adjacent to the road if they would like a lift. The driver honks as they approach, they slow down a little and try to make eye contact with the potential passanger.
Of course, expressing annoyance is a job well suited to the car horn, but I've only seen it once so far that I could tell. I was in a taxi travelling a relatively short distance, but we suddenly found ourselves in a massive traffic jam. After a while without moving, the driver pressed the horn for a solid ten seconds and spoke angrily to himself.