On the kindness of strangers

Our reporter picked a fight with a Yangon pavement – and lost. As is often the case in Myanmar, it was the compassion of passers-by that made the experience more bearable than it could have otherwise been.


IT WAS bound to happen sooner or later. After more than half a decade of narrowly escaping Yangon’s plethora of death traps – everything from wobbly pavements and loose-hanging electricity cables to rusty barbed-wire strewn across the street – one finally got the better of me on a recent evening.

It happened on a Monday, as I was happily strolling home in the warm glow I get whenever we wrap another edition of this magazine. Distracted by some messages on my phone, my toe clipped a slightly raised paving slab and I face-planted the ground.

It was over in an instant, but I remember clearly the thoughts that run through my head as I fell. “Oh dear, I appear to be tumbling,” was the first, quickly followed by, “Oh dear, this is going to hurt.”

And hurt it did.

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As I lay prostrate on the ground, checking to ensure that no bones or teeth were broken, I heard the beginnings of a chuckle from a friend who was with me, followed very quickly by a concerned, “Are you ok?”

“I think so,” I groaned from the ground.

Pulling myself to my feet, I opened my eyes. They were immediately filled by torrents of blood. The fall had opened up two gashes on my face: one across the forehead, and another across the bridge of my nose.

I was woozy and more than a little disorientated, and as my friend held me upright, two older Myanmar ladies rushed forward to assist, in that helpful manner that Myanmar people so often exhibit.

“Hospital, we must get you to hospital,” said one of the ladies.

“No, I’ll be fine,” I said, pretending to be the manly man that I most obviously am not.

I stumbled forward and the lady insisted that I receive some medical attention. She directed my friend and I to a pharmacist across the street.

The pharmacist recoiled in horror at the sight of my face ­– from the reactions I was getting I must have looked like something out of a horror movie – before directing me to a stall from where she could inspect the wounds.

She applied an antiseptic to the cuts and I screamed (so much for being a manly man). To this, the pharmacist, her assistant and my friend all burst out laughing.

“You’re mean,” I said to the pharmacist.

“You need to be more careful,” she responded. Touché, I thought, but kept my mouth shut.

The pharmacist patched me up and sent me on my way, refusing to take any money for the help she’d provided. In the end no stitches or hospital visits were required, just a few awkward introductions during meetings when I had to explain that the incident had not involved neither fighting nor alcohol.

For the ordinary person walking down the street, Yangon can throw up its fair share of hazards. I was just lucky that there were a few helpful passers-by to help me through the ordeal – and will be taking a little more care when I walk the streets from now on.

By Oliver Slow

By Oliver Slow

Oliver Slow is a Southeast Asia-based journalist. He is a former Chief-of-Staff at Frontier, and is writing a book about Myanmar's transition.
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