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Mandalay

Written on: Sunday March 9th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Maybe I should finance the government after all. What a bus ride! I left Yangon at 5:30pm and got off the bus in Mandalay at 6:30am. Thirteen hours isn?t so bad, and being a night bus it should have been possible to sleep. Not so. Although it?s very hot here in Burma, the buses appear to want to compete at the opposite end of the temperate spectrum. They continually pump cold air through their ventilation system so it?s approaching English temperatures onboard, and there?s no control for them to turn it off. The Burmese, obviously used to this sudden climate change were prepared. They brought blankets, hats and warm jumpers. Ever so luckily, as I wouldn?t have got a wink of sleep otherwise I packed my hoodie in my small bag that I have brought with me for the next two and a bit weeks travelling around Myanmar (I stored my big bag with at the Motherland). Of further torture was the leg space only suitable for people with no legs and the way the driver would wait until you?d just dropped off in to the teeny tiniest of sleeps, then put on all the internal lights and bellow out devilish Burmese music, before pulling over to the side of the road to stop for tea.

 

I stopped at the Royal Guesthouse in Mandalay and they, like the Motherland were only too happy to sort me out another breakfast of eggs, toast and tea. I?ve also rather strangely, taken to eating bananas here in Burma. I?ve never eaten a banana in all my life, yet here two are served with every breakfast so I decided to eat them. I think it was their consistency I didn?t like the thought of, or maybe it was just my unadventurous and fussy tastebuds as a child still trying to keep some control of what ends up being swallowed. If you?ve known me since I was a wee nipper, I first admire you for putting up with me and second shriek in terror at you for knowing all about my delinquent eating habits. If I ever went around a friend?s house for dinner, not only did the friend experience me breaking their favourite toy or tormenting their pet, but they also got two Birdseye Potato Waffles, a cup full of frozen sweetcorn and a Tesco boil-in-the-bag beef. My choice of food was about as imaginative as a game of noughts and crosses. Now however it seems I?ll eat anything put in front of me. Back then unless it had waffles and sweetcorn in the title you?d get it pushed right back at you. I did have a fondness for Yorkshire puddings with sugar all over them though, but most friend?s mothers weren?t prepared to cook them.

 

I digress once more as waffles and sweetcorn don?t have an awful lot to do with Mandalay, yet here within just two paragraphs they have appeared. All the reports I?d had about Mandalay had been quite negative. Everybody had said it was dirty and dusty and there wasn?t much to see. All of these observations are reasonably true. All of Burma is quite dirty and dusty. You find yourself walking down the middle of roads as the pavement has the shopfronts spilling out on to them and men sitting around them chew and then spit out betal leaf juice. The betal nut tree is found in good supply in Myanmar and people here (generally just the men) take the wrapped up leaf and chew it which releases a red dye-like substance which is known to provide a bit of a rush. The worse side effect is that the juice dyes the teeth a fierce red, so that you can spot exactly who chews the stuff. After 10 minutes or so of chewing, the masticator (I?ve always wanted to use that word) then gobs out the juice on to the pavement. After negotiating the betal juice on the ground you?ve then got to cope with the dust and it is everywhere. The buses that zoom around Mandalay with good on 30 people hanging in and around it to full capacity churn up this dust further so that you have to cover your mouth and nose so not to inhale too much of it. My bandage on my toe after strolling around the town on that first day had turned completely black from the dirt lining the streets.

 

However, Mandalay I felt had a certain charm. After seeing a few pagodas or payas, I walked through the centre of town and once again met several different people who were so very welcoming in having me just sit or walk with me and converse. One friendly Mandalayan, Khaing Kyi, took me to an interesting paya, around the market and then came and picked me up that night to take me to see the comedy troupe, The Moustache Brothers.

 

The Moustache Brothers are quite an act, so much so that they?ve even made it to Hollywood. They?re talked about in the Hugh Grant movie About A Boy which Lu Maw, one of the brothers who takes the lead as he speaks very good English, is happy to show you on his DVD player. The trio now perform their show under their own roof as their performances have become very notorious because of their anti-government feelings and opinions and the way that they point fun at them during their show. The government banned them from putting on shows in public and also from being hired out for weddings and special occasions which they used to do a lot of. To get around this they opened up the door to their own home. Par Par Lay, the most flamboyant of the three has now spent seven years in prison because of his reluctance to tow the government?s line. Even after this hard time they still continue to preach to foreigners their thoughts on how their county is being run and how they think it should be run, which is a huge credit to them. Lu Maw does this with a fervour not unlike the evangelist that Eddie Murphy plays in Coming To America. He has key phrases he uses throughout, and he tales off at the end of a sentence, holding on to the lasting syllables, before releasing a ?Yeahhhhhhhh? to link it to the next sentence. Their act, which contained a lot of dancing and traditional Burmese music from the wives of the three and Lu Maw?s sister, but also sought to laugh at the country?s current political turmoil in an attempt to make you aware of it. There was only myself, a 60 year old American named Joe, who seemed to have a habit of getting married, a Kiwi who I had met back in Yangon named Dan and another English guy there to watch the show, but the Brothers were extremely happy to have us. They invited us to come back to the house whenever we wanted, regardless of the hour of the day to, chat and drink tea. How very English!

 

I jumped on the back of a motorbike the next day and was taken around some of the nearby towns and villages by a local I had met on the way to the guesthouse. I paid him $15 and he made sure to take me to all the best places around, but take me to them around the back way so that I would not have to pay the $10 dollar charge that the government tries to impose on tourists to visit. We first went to Mahamuni Paya, which has one of the most revered Buddhist images in the country, as it is covered in 15cm of gold leaf. The statue itself sits in the central compound of the zedi, where only men are allowed to enter. They climb the short staircase and then glue their gold leaf to the image. This particular image is so revered that they have put TV?s around the paya that show the central area because the paya becomes so full at certain times that people cannot see the statue to pray. Instead they bow in front of the TV to worship the idol. I walked up to the side of the statue and watched close-up as many men ascended the stairs and took great care in placing their gold leaf. I?d walked in to a small enclave surrounded on both sides with a wall, with the statue ahead of me. I must have stood watching for about 5 minutes, before turning to leave, but unbeknown to me while I was watching a huge crowd of women had arrived to pray to the statue and as I turned around to leave my route out was blocked by about 30 women on their knees, bowing down and praying towards me. It was like my dream come true.

 

Next up we visited the three ancient royal cities of Amurapura, Sagaing and Inwa. Amurapura has the world?s longest teak bridge (teak is an expensive and sought after type of wood, much of which grows in Myanmar). I took a walk along it and met Hans, a 62 year old Austrian who was also staying at the Royal. He was being pestered and was giving in to buying posters and bracelets from the vendors, but convinced me to go and have a sly early morning beer with him. I like him already.

 

Sagaing Hill was a harsh, humid walk up a multitude of steps, but worth the climb when I got to see the panoramic views from the top, but the highlight was Inwa, where I was shown a ruined monastery and the ?Leaning Tower of Inwa? as it?s known because of the very apparent lean to one side of this once royal lookout point. Because we had to go aroundabout way to get to Inwa we ended up going through many villages where people were amazed to see a Westerner. Burma didn?t receive many visitors to begin with compared with neighbouring Thiland for example, but since September there has been dramatically fewer. Riding through these villages whole families come running out as if you are some sort of celebrity to wave and greet you. The sights are one thing, but already after such a short way in to my trip here, I know that it is the people that are going to make it memorable for me.

 

From Lanette on Nov 20th, 2011

Glad I've finally found soemhting I agree with!