Myanmar Diary – Part 6

10 November 15 – Tuesday – DAY FOUR

Every night has been a blackout for me. I sometimes get to sleep before 10 PM (that has been my latest bedtime after dailies and general discussions) and then it’s total unconsciousness until the cruel dawn arouses us. A quick breakfast of fried rice and we’re on set – this time at the ridiculously late (for Gavin) time of 7:30AM. So we are barely getting 8 hours of sleep – sometimes really just a hair over six. There are simply too many things to do.

The stylish notebook into which I craft these brilliant entries

How do I have time to write? In fits and starts, sometimes having to drop everything in midsentence, hoping my scribbly notes tell the story later when I have time to flesh it out. I get a moment to jot down a sentence or a single word, often when Gavin and Sean are discussing lighting or camera. I could pay more attention and attempt to contribute, but I worry about there being too many cooks. Gavin has a specific vision for the film, and he’s not having the best time communicating it to Sean. It’s not the occasion for many brains solving problems, but for the fewest distractions and complications in what should be a clear line of communication. But which, as it often turns out in most cases, isn’t necessarily that. So they do not need my nattering and interfering.

Today I can start to see elements of the true Myanmar, mostly because I’ve been able to relax some and take it all in. Open trench sewers are everywhere. They’re not used for fecal matter; that seems to be closed and carried by some other system in most areas I see. But the open trench certainly carries what we would call “grey water” from washing and cooking.

What look like houses in front sometimes have no backs to speak of, and have only concrete or dirt floors. Even a crappy middle level American house would be something of a palace here.

Goat hangs out while Gavin and HJ discuss the movie

The mix of high and low is surprising, mostly because the highs are not that high and the lows seem a bit better than living in caves. People sleep out in the open under heavy blankets only protected by a lean to. Next to the makeshift dwelling (often made from discarded plastic sheeting from advertisement banners) will be parked a motorbike. It’s like extreme camping for your entire life.

There are lots of people wanting to stare at what we’re doing, and many willing to do work for us without asking for anything in return, just because they are bored and underused. It’s a bit weird. I don’t like servility at all, and it makes all the old white-man-colonial-history come to mind. Like when guys at Home Depot call me “boss.” It doesn’t make me feel good to be called “boss” and be acknowledged as a superior just because I have more money. Less so because I’m white.  It makes me feel like an oppressor. If that’s the idea, to make me feel like an oppressor, then I deserve it – even if I do not directly oppress anyone – because I am accidentally a member of the oppressive white class. I accept that I should pay the price for that. But if that’s not the idea, then I feel much worse about everything.

It’s about 10 AM and there is a mystery problem with the Shogun – we are getting a weird diagonal interference in the video signal. Sean fixes it every time, but we still do not know why it is happening. He theorizes it has to do with voltage and perhaps the external power supply. It’s solved by attaching separate batteries to camera and Shogun.

More driving shots. So hypnotic. Sean actually falls asleep during one of them, while operating. We’re in the back of the vehicle as Salai drives the kids, ostensibly to the Falls for the fun and games before Grandma takes her fall. Gavin wants long, long takes of the driving while the kids sing and play games in the back. These 20 minute shots are so soporific that we have a hard time staying awake. As for me, I’m fine, just listening to the kids sing and play their games. But Sean is nodding off in the middle of the take.

Side street in Pyin Oo Lwin

Even worse, Gavin reports that there has been a drive crash on the Shogun, and the card is not being recognized. We may have lost the morning’s work. Gavin is despondent. We cannot afford to reshoot.

This is doubly ironic, since Gavin’s job on “Modern Family” is DIT. Basically, he’s the guy responsible for data integrity; which means he spends a good portion of his time copying cards to drives for the editor and wiping them for reuse on set.

We eat a nice Chinese lunch in silence. All the while, I’m working on plans to save the drive. My tools are not here, though. I never thought I’d need data recovery in Myanmar – after all, consider Gavin’s paid job on “MF!” The tools I require are on my home machine.

Waiting for news of my cyber-prowess

I figure if I can get to an Internet café and use their wifi I could get pirated copies of things I regularly use fairly fast. I’m slightly worried, as I am in a country still ruled by the military and I’m going to go to pirate internet sites. I know the internet is policed by the Myanmar government, but how much? Would they know what I’m up to if I visit the Pirate Bay? Time to find out. If I make this a regular blitzkrieg I could be in and out before anyone can trace the IP. Nothing in Myanmar has led me to believe that I’ll be under even a fraction of the surveillance I normally endure in the U.S. My confidence is that they will not be organized enough or efficient enough to notice.

The internet cafe is happy to let me plug in to their ethernet for only a hundred kyet or so. A dollar. I race to my black sites and get what I think I need. The torrents go fast, which is surprising. But my first and second choice of recovery tools fail immediately – no dice!

Dear friends, I am nothing if not stubborn, so I fire up TestDisk, the freeware tool for data recovery on flash media and other drives. Testdisk sees the partition immediately (it’s an ExFAT volume). I have to hit the “write” command to rewrite the EFI GPT Partition Map. That’s some serious stuff, and if I goof it up, I will definitely lose the disc. But I take a deep breath (as it stands now the data is lost, so if I screw it up, the data is STILL lost) and hit the prompt.

The drive pops up with all 60 GB intact. I seem to have saved the day, quite literally, and I rush out of the internet cafe before the police could possibly find me, should they ever have known, would that they ever could have traced me, as if they ever cared about torrent traffic in the first place. It strikes me that if they are looking for anything it would be people downloading a copy of the “Spongebob” movie, not someone doing the intense level tweaky computer crap I’m doing.

Gavin is pleased, but not overly so. Come on, man! It’s a minor miracle! Give me some credit!

After that, it’s back to cramped car spaces for more driving shots. On the last one, I even evict myself from the car, as it is too crowded. I leave all the mics on the actors, prop up a boom in the back, start the recorder, and let it go. It really is the best solution, and I’m all about results.

Plus this gives me a rare moment to relax and steadily drip from my nose… Regular applications of Costco’s finest medications are definitely keeping me going, but a couple times I’ve just run like a faucet. I keep overdosing on vitamin C in vain hopes it will help keep the production virus at bay, but I’m failing that mission.

I cannot say it enough; our little actress is just great to work with. I haven’t a single idea how she’s working out as an actress, but she’s delightful to deal with.  But Gavin is tearing up just looking at the playback, so he must be getting what he wants. She is sweet and smart as a whip, too. We all want to adopt her, parents be damned. Because although Tin Mar Aung is at the orphanage, it turns out she actually does have living parents. It’s altogether too sad, but her parents gave her and her brother up to the orphanage because they could not take care of them. The story is that the dad is a bad drunk, too. Everything we know about her makes each one of us contemplate “kidnaping” her and whisking her away so we can continue spoiling her.

Tinmar Aung pretends to study hard

And now I’ve got a low grade fever. I’ve got the aches, chills, and pains that signal something is extremely wrong, plus I’ve been sweating with the least amount of effort for hours now. The back of my neck is slick with moisture and I feel delirious. So that also makes me feel a bit silly, and it takes the dumbest and lowest of filthy jokes from Minshi to make me laugh so hard I’m coughing and hacking.

How to get to FUDO

On the way back from the set we make a few unscheduled stops. The first is to FUDO, a glamorous looking cafe on the edge of town. We’re not sure what to expect from this place. The outside looks “fancy” and the name (which makes us all think it is supposed to be said as “food-o”) makes us laugh. What we get is a sparkling clean, designed space, completely unlike most shops in Myanmar. The Fudo bakery company obviously has some money. With cafes like this in Yangon and Mandalay, it’s the place to go for all your ridiculous ice cream and cake desserts, covered in sprinkles and jellies and what have you. Of course we’re thrilled, but though everyone else at least has some tea if not ice cream, I’m feeling kind of crappy and I demur.

Minshi enjoys FUDO

Next, for reasons I cannot quite explain because I am, after all, feverish, we stop at Ruby Mart. I may have painted Myanmar as being altogether rural and perhaps backward, and this is not the case. Though it appears that most of the country is fairly poor and many people live in rural communities, Myanmar also has its cities and businesses, and conglomerate corporations. Today we were getting all of it, starting with Fudo. The Ruby Mart is Myanmar’s answer to Wal Mart, although somewhat smaller. A giant boxy building (totally out of place in Pyin Oo Lwin) it features a grocery store downstairs and a kind of disorganized cornucopia of mall like shops upstairs. Some are clearly owned and operated independently, and some seem to be part of the general Ruby Mart concern.

Up the street from the Sew Shop…

We’re there to buy snacks for the production – a kind of bottled tea that Gavin likes, cola for me, crackers and assorted treats for everyone, and – to Sean’s delight – popcorn, just the way they make it in Taiwan. Which way, it turns out, is some kind of caramel corn, so definitely not in the slightest bit appealing to me. I happen to be one of those who only want savory popcorn, thank you very much. But Sean and Minshi are very happy with the popcorn at Ruby Mart, and we end up buying quite a lot of it over time.

The creepy anodyne stillness of Ruby Mart

Eric, of course, wanders off on his own, as he is wont to do, and we lose him completely. No one is all that concerned, because he always seems to turn up just before we have to leave. We see him at the bakery counter right by the entrance. Besides his reputation as an itinerant, Eric also has a sweet-tooth. You can always narrow down the possible Eric locations by considering nearby purveyors of sugary desserts. This trip and the Fudo junket before must have been a deadly combination of temptation for Eric; he has already purchased a raft of cream horns.

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