The money exchange in Myanmar

The trials and tribulations of exchanging money in Myanmar (Burma)'Min-gala-ba' beamed our taxi driver with a sky wide smile and bug-eyed enthusiasm. In clear opposition of his perceived natural congeniality, he had greeted our arrival with indifferent duteousness by splattering the pavement with the juice from a chewed betel nut, distastefully graffitiing it a spectrum of dark reds. 'Where you want to go?,' he spluttered through stained red teeth. 'Downtown, how much?,' we replied.After a failed bout of bare tooth and knuckle haggling, we jounced fast and furiously, like a runaway train into the frantic, repressive and toiling fervency of central Yangon. 'So, where you from?, where you stay?,' he blurted in disjointed but amiable English.Sensing his rushed effort to engage us in the universally recognised taxi small talk we conversed, but then paused in preemptive readiness for the conversational non sequitur.'So how much Kyat do you need?' And there it was.'About $600, is that doable?'.'No problem my friends!,' his foot red lining the needle on the rev counter.Moments later we screeched to a halt. 'Jump out', he remarked.Upon opening the door, standing uncomfortably close was a young man, dressed in the traditional Longyi, a type of sarong.'How much you need?' he snapped superciliously, ignoring any need for friendly formalities.'$600', I replied tersely. 'Ok Ok'.With a cursory glance here and there, he miraculously pulled innumerable bundles of Kyat from behind the waist knot of his longyi. Nervously clutching our crisp dollar bills I held them aloft for his dutiful inspection. 'Too dirty with many creases, I give you only 860 kyat per dollar, Ok?' 'Sounds reasonable' I murmured, acutely aware of the sheer brazenness of the black money market. Unfettered and with a decisive assurance he hastily flicked through hundreds of kyat notes before our very eyes.'Its all there, you count!'. Meticulously self counting, the bundles fell 60,000 kyat short. 'Look look, I count for you again', adjusting his longyi in the process. Mesmerised by the dynamic dance of his dextrous fingers we counted with him, his numbers proving flawless once again.'Give it here!'.Its still 60,000 short!,' I exasperated frustratingly, baffled by my own mathematical inferiority and swelling suspicions. 'Look, I already show you 2 times, the police will be here soon, we must be quick!' Sensing his increased anxiousness, the deception hit me. Displaying an immaculate sleight of hand, one revered by many illusionists, he was cunningly slipping notes behind the thick knot of his longyi. Sensing our rage at the unravelling of his deceit, he snatched his money like a petulant child and attempted to run, but ironically, the longyi, his accomplice in crime, restricted him comically, to a slow, shuffling and hip swinging gait. Our driver, now standing amidst the juicy remnants of his betel nut, shrugged his shoulders and with an envious cleverness, announced, 'They say black money runs through the fingers faster than clean money, in this case no words are more true!'

T Smith

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