The YBS bus— red, green, yellow— drives around the city. When it stops to pick passengers, they step in with their umbrellas and their lunch baskets. When it stops again, they get off. A cash box is set near the door, into which passengers drop coins equivalent to the length of ride they hitch. No one checks if they have paid. No one leaves without paying.
How does this work? I ask Bhauju.
I know, she says. Wouldn’t have worked in Nepal. But people here are religious and they believe in virtue. They pay.
We get off and walk around the city and nostalgia comes at me in waves. I feel like I’m walking some forgotten street in Calcutta. The buildings at the Mahabandoola park near Sule Pagoda bear remnants of the colonial era, a street flanked by a church, a mosque and a pagoda, adjacent to one another.
Jostling against this memory of its colonial past, on the other side of the city is the Myanmar Plaza, where the mall rises along wide, clean streets, a reminder of where the country was headed since it transitioned into quasi-democracy.
We stop at an Indian restaurant at the mall that serves the best Indian food. As we slurp our rasmali, I tell Bhauju: This country confuses me. But I’m starting to think of it as the confluence between south and east Asia. Looks like India, but has a different feel. People look like they could all be from Nepal or from Thailand, but they are not.
Asia is like a great, long river that repeatedly flows into itself, no?