Saturday 21 March 2020

Burma Traffic

They tell you Burma is different, they are right. Our bus left the airport and plunged us into the traffic of central Yangon.  I have experienced city traffic from Cairo to Surabaya but this was new.  To start with there was the sheer density of cars, buses and trucks.  For reasons best known to itself, the Military Government banned bicycles, trishaws and tuc-tucs from Yangon City centre.  That means there is no space between other vehicles.  You would think that would cause a logjam but the whole lot swirl about like marbles on a tray.  It is terrifying.

Ten years ago, the same Government decided it would be good to change from driving on the imperial left to driving on the revolutionary right.  To be fair, quite a lot of Yangon drivers have got the hang of it by now.

When the Military was in full control people needed a permit to own a car and permits were not easy to obtain. The roads were probably big enough for the traffic. Now no permit is required and there are thousands of extra cars; the roads have not altered.  The influx of new cars comes as bulk importation of second hand cars from Japan where they drive on the left.  As a result, many of the cars driving on the right in Yangon have right hand drive.

Public transport is exciting.  There are lots of tiny taxis, about the size of the missing tuc-tucs but with one more wheel.

Mobs of people at unmarked places signify bus stops and buses plough through the traffic to reach them.  There is no such thing as a route marker on a bus and the conductors hang out of the doors yelling out their destinations like fairground buskers. 

To cross the road, always follow a crowd of locals and submit to your destiny.

It was less exciting in Mandalay.  Cycles and motorbikes are allowed and there is some space between cars.  Unlike his passengers, our one-eyed bus driver was blissfully unaware of traffic approaching from his left.

Monday 2 March 2020

Book Review 'Travel Writer’s Field Guide'

 Travel Writer’s Field Guide

Phoebe Smith and Daniel Neilson

The Wilderness Conspiracy:  £15.99

Review by David Higham

 This fine book starts with the authors’ intention; to combine storytelling with travel.  They say that they will complicate this simple statement by asking and then answering a different question, ‘What makes great travel writing?’

In the opinion of this reviewer, an aspiring travel writer, this book succeeds in answering the question and provides practical guidance on achieving the task.

The authors move on to a history of travel writing and an analysis of what makes the great travel writers so good.  This section covers familiar ground but makes for an inspirational start.

The section on pitching to editors is the authentic voice of experience.  Phoebe Smith was once editor of Wanderlust magazine.  Those of us who aspire to being published in magazines need to read it carefully. What was particularly useful was the advice to understand the purpose of any article which should either be to inform, to advise, to entertain or to inspire.

The practical advice on writing gets into its stride in the fifth chapter, ‘On the Road’. This reviewer particularly enjoyed the section on writing equipment. We all have our quirks about the right notebooks and writing instruments. We are curious about how the professional writers equip themselves.

There is excellent advice on style of writing though there are many more don’ts than dos. That is probably right; there are many more ways of writing badly than writing well.

The book is right up-to-date with advice on not only how to set up and write travel blogs but also how to make them commercially successful.

The Guide is for sale and also available as a series of podcasts at its website:

The design credit for this physically pleasing book goes to John Summerton, the third member of the Wilderness Conspiracy. With its soft but sturdy cover, almost square format and curved corners, this book looks good and feels good. It is well laid out and broken up with quotes, pictures and the charming line drawings by Alex Hotchin. The book seems to encourage the reader to annotate, mark it and to make marginal notes. This is a book to read, reread, scribble in, to keep and return to often.