President Barack Obama's recent visit to Myanmar (or Burma, as it's often called) isn't the only sign that things are changing there. The country's principal city just put a ban on Chevrolet buses that have been ferrying Burmese passengers to and fro since before World War II.
As a result many of the old buses, which have been the backbone of the impoverished country's transportation infrastructure for decades, are on their way to the scrap heap.
Known as "Big Belly Buses," the old Chevys are based upon Canadian-built C-15 military personnel carriers left behind during the war. Stripped down and refitted with cobbled together bus bodies, most of them have been in service — in one form or another — since the 1930s. Think Cuba — old machines kept in service for ages using old parts and other odds and ends.
But things are changing as Myanmar shifts from a bloodthirsty, oppressive dictatorship economy to a tourism-based one. They need shiny new buses that wealthy tourists won't be afraid to ride. The old ones, being WWII military trucks with sputtering, smoke-belching engines and groaning timber bodies, probably aren't the sort of thing fairweather tourists expected to inject significant amounts of cash into the economy will want to deal with.
Japan donated a number of new buses, which will be put into service soon to replace the old ones. But the thinning of the old fleet has made the remaining buses, which were nearly worthless a few years ago, a lot more valuable recently as a few people rush to grab a few and fix them up for kitsch-minded tourists who aren't really ready to dive into the full-on third world country bus-riding experience.
But if you want to keep it real and smell unburned hydrocarbons as you rattle down the road, now's your last chance. (Hat tip to $kaycog!)
Photo credit: NBC News