For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say: "Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!" – Rudyard Kipling
"This is your train," the station agent in Bago, Myanmar, said as he sent an impressive wad of betel spume onto the tracks beside us. "You have sleeper car?" he asked, tilting his head on his folded hands in his best impression of angelic sleep. Patty and I nodded as we watched the ancient Burmese train rumble its way into the station, realizing that sleep would be a difficult bargain on this trip.
The station agent led us to our berth, a battered, windowless closet with just enough room for a pair of bunk beds. "That does open," the agent offered, pointing to a metal plate on the far wall, before shutting the door and leaving us in complete darkness. "This will be quite a trip," I said to Patty.
With a wounded whistle, the train came to life and our journey began. The countryside rolled past us in the fading light of dusk and we began to enjoy the ride, snapping photos of the landscapes and each other. "Time to celebrate?" I yelled at Patty over the clatter and bang, pointing to our stash of beer. This would prove to be a fairly big error in judgment.
With night fully descended, views out the window became impossible, so we retired to our bunks by 8 p.m. "Only another nine hours to Mandalay," I said cheerfully.
By now, the train was in full flight and any changes in speed meant it bounced hard enough to lift us off our beds. Within an hour, the beers forced my bladder to surrender. Wobbling on unsteady legs, I found the bathroom in the next car, which jerked madly in front of me like it was going through an exorcism. Leaping into the bathroom with a flair that would have done Indiana Jones proud, I was confronted with my next challenge: a squat toilet that amounted to a hole in the floor. With the train rollicking along as it was, I would not come through this unscathed.
To avoid returning to my berth looking like a child who had just wet the bed, I spent the next 20 minutes perilously pressing my crotch against the open window next to our cabin. I hoped the breeze would dry me off before anyone came along – my motivation could be easily misunderstood.
Pants now somewhat returned to respectability, I crept back into our room and crawled into my lower bunk. The glow of my watch face showed 10 p.m.
I groaned. Seven more hours to Mandalay. I hate you, Rudyard Kipling.
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