Abstract: My three children, who are trained as gemologist, would often travel with me abroad for our diamonds, jade and gemstones business. Learning the ropes on business is one thing, but experiential lessons learnt will put them in a good stead for future challenges. Different countries have different rules. One must adapt quickly. And one must be street smart.
When Calvin obtained his Graduate Gemologist (GG) qualification from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in New York City, I planned a field trip for both of us to be in Myanmar for about 2 months. We would buy jade, rubies and sapphires and other gemstones for our business too.
We would be in a few places in Myanmar, Yangon the capital, a few outlying towns and Mandalay, where jade was traded openly. I had also obtained a military permit to be in Mogok, the fabulous Ruby and Sapphire mines, for a week.
On the first week of our arrival in Yangon, I met up with 3 Londoner Chinese who had some casino business interest in Leicester Square, London. For two days we went to several Ministries to meet senior officials, with a view to set up some business investments in Myanmar.
On the second night, I took 2 of the Londoners to a so-called night club in China Town, Yangon. It was a decent joint but not as luxurious as in some gaming outlets in London. The whole floor with the flashing of neon lights was blue with cigarette smoke. Most of the lady guests were Burmese with their ubiquitous ‘Tanaka” on their cheeks.
They had copious cans of Tiger beers. Calvin just took a can. He was ‘dragging’ his beer to last the night. I was a teetotaller and no soft drinks for me too. To simply order a bottle of local mineral water would be a loss of face. As I often did, I ordered a bottle of Perrier in style. This darn Frenchie “sparkling mineral water” cost more than a can of Tiger Beer.
We left the night club just around 10:30pm. My driver had taken compassionate leave the day before and had gone back to his village. So, I chartered a taxi for the night.
I took the left-hand front seat in the taxi. It was the big ass MTUC right-hand driven taxi, long past its shelf life and had seen better days, dumped and imported from Singapore. Myanmar road was right hand drive. So, it was kinda ought as the left-hand seat was always exposed to the right-hand on-coming traffic. But one would get used to it.
The driver was chewing his “kun-ya”, a mixture of areca nuts, betel vine leaves, cheap tobacco and slaked lime. The two Londoners were quite sober. The interior of the taxi reeked with the obnoxious odour of betel nut and stale beer.
There were still a lot of Burmese on the dimly lit street. The main electricity supply was erratic. Most of the time small shops were dependent on generators to lit up their stalls.
The driver was making a sharp left turn on a T-junction road, when a Burmese man in his longyi ran across the road. The driver swerved hard towards the far right to avoid the jaywalker. Then, suddenly the jaywalker momentarily stopped, turned and double back towards the shoulder of the road.
The driver’s reflex was lightning fast. He slammed on the foot pedal brake. The taxi drifted sideways with tyres screeching and biting the road hard. We were thrown forward. I did not put on the safety belt. It was jimmied up when I boarded the taxi.
The taxi crashed into the Burmese man, flinging him up into the air. He somersaulted and fell in front. Our taxi had stopped, its engine coughing up plumes of smoke from the rear. I didn’t see the Burmese man over the car screen. Probably, he was under the car.
We were not hurt. I glanced behind. Calvin was calm. The two Londoners had some animated conversation between themselves.
A huge crowd had gathered. Our car was surrounded by people. I could see the driver arguing with some belligerent Burmese. Curious on-lookers were peeping inside our car. Rubberneckers were slowing their cars causing the traffic to be gridlocked.
The Burmese were normally quite a peaceful lot. However, when a crowd built up it could get frenzied. All it needed was an instigator, and the mob could go berserk. Moreover, we were foreigners. It was easy to blame us. I was not sure what the driver was telling the crowd. Or whether the victim had any accompanying friends or spouse.
“Let’s get the fcuk out of here, now!” I said decisively.
“Let’s see what we can do to help the victim?” one of the Londoner said, not so convincingly. Two days with them, I could say that they loved to pay lip-service.
I glared at him. “Are you a medical doctor?”
Before he could reply, I trooped out of the taxi. They followed suit. So much for bravery for the Londoner.
“Follow me closely. We are going back to Sedona Hotel.” I said.
I was wearing a longyi, so I could easily be taken for a local Burmese. Mingling with the crowd was not difficult. We just had to slip our way through. Further down the road, I managed to hail a taxi.
After we dropped the two Londoners back to the hotel, the taxi took us back to our small apartment.
Calvin was quite unfazed.
“What is going to happen to the driver?” he asked. I thought that was a smart question. The victim was probably dead by now.
“Knocking down a pedestrian in Myanmar is a serious offence. The driver would probably go to jail, whether he is right or wrong.”
I continued, “Whenever you are in such a situation, when there is a mob mentality, the first thing you do is to remove yourself from the threat. Get away as quickly as possible.
Sometimes it may not be possible. Then you have to stay your course and do whatever is necessary.”
“You have been in this type of situation before? Dad” Calvin asked.
“Yes, much more serious than this.”
“Ho Chi Minh City, a few years back”
“Tell me about it?” Calvin said.
Enough for today.
That would be another story for another time.