15th March 2006 - Mandalay, MYANMAR - the land of contradictions and contrasts
Okay, the journey by road was actually fourteen and a half hours on the slow coach to Mandalay. It was an experience, and we're glad we did it - but NEVER again.
So, Mandalay is quite different to Yangon. The pace is much slower, the people are even friendlier - everyone says hello - and the city is much smaller, in height as well as size. It is a dusty city, but it is very young so the buildings are not so ramshackle as those in Yangon. People are more keen for a chat up here, even if they can't speak English, and I'm afraid our Myanmar is minimal. However, it doesn't stop you from communicating. Today, we were looking for the jade market and ended up walking through a labyrinth of back lanes. We had plenty of time so it didn't worry us - in fact, it was fun to get lost as everyone wanted to help us. At each corner we had someone guiding us in the direction they thought we wanted to go. We ended up at a very nice stupa nowhere near
the jade market. However, the experience of getting there was far more fun than the jade market itself!
The heat is very dry up here - it is affecting me more than Steve which is surprising as he used to suffer with the heat in Singapore, but it must have been the humidity that got to him. Give me humidity any day!!! The dryness here means your throat is never moist which calls for lots of tea stops. At 150 kyat (10 US cents) a cup, they are certainly not breaking the budget. There is a general haze everywhere as the dryness of the land filters into the sky. It is best to keep out of the sun between 12 and 2, but you can tell Steve is an Englishman at heart as he is frequently the only person out there on the street at that time of day!
This evening we went to see the world famous "Moustache Brothers". They are a very well known act in Mandalay as Pa Pa Lay and his brother were once thrown in prison for 7 years for performing a show where Aung San Suu Kyi was the guest of honor
Mandalay Jade Market
Whilst wandering around the back of the Jade Market (as the Govt charges US$1 to get in, that we were not paying) we got 'chatting' to one of the guys cutting and polishing Jade stones, an amazing process.
that also took the mickey out of the Military Government, they were arrested several hours later and sentenced without trial to seven years hard labour. They were only released 5 years into the imprisonment because of the film "About a Boy" starring Hugh Grant. Remember the scene where the character Hugh plays (Will?) decides to try to use his time for good and has joined a charity fundraising telemarketing group? The chappie next to him says something along the lines of, "...just be glad you're not Pa Pa Lay in Myanmar who has been sentenced to 7 years hard labour just for being a comedian...". Apparently, the military government was so surprised that the western world new about the imprisonments that they released Pa Pa Lay and his brother. He has now resurrected the vaudeville group but manages to get around being arrested by performing out of the front room of his home to tourists only. Myanmars are not permitted to watch the show. However, the show is famous as every taxi or tricycle driver offered to take us there without prompting on both nights we were in Mandalay. The show was certainly entertaining, and we would encourage any visitor
Stupa round the corner
This little stupa was litterally just down a side a alley next to our guest house, after seeing soo many you tend to avoid them but this one had a certain charm
to Mandalay to go to see them perform - and buy the t-shirt!
After the show, Steve and I fancied a drink - it was only 10pm. However, when we left the house, the whole city appeared to be in darkness. A tricycle driver offered to take us to a small bar near our guesthouse, wait for us to have a drink then take us home. So we did this, and I will always have a lasting memory of the ride home. The tricycles in Myanmar are cycles that have two seats attached to the right side - one facing forward, the other facing behind. I sat on the one facing backwards while Steve chatted to the driver, a young man who lived 15 km into the countryside - a long dark ride home for him tonight. Anyway, that cycle home was so .... peaceful. All we could hear was the creak of the bike as we cycled along the dark, broken roads. It was pitch black as not many places had generators like there had been in Yangon. Our driver told us that all bars and tea shops now closed at 11pm; they used to be able to
Steve, Stef and Aung San Suu Kyi
Couldn't resist taking this, that's Aung San Suu Kyi in the picture above us, when she came to watch the Moustache Brothers in thier home as they were under house arrest (and she wasn't at that time)
stay open all night but a new rule was implemented 2 months earlier ensuring they all closed by 11pm. This was particularly hard on those people who drove buses and did night time work for a living. The sky was dark, the road was dark, and everyone was at home as there was nothing to see outside. Most people lived with candles in their homes on such nights. Very few have TVs as firstly you would most likely need a generator to watch television, and secondly Myanmar people have only had TV in the last 4 years, the internet even less.
(Something that I didn't mention about Yangon that has just entered my mind was that there were no motorbikes to be seen anywhere. This is unusual in Asia as most cities have thousands or scooters - more so than cars. When I mentioned this to a girl in our guesthouse, she explained that one of the senior military figures in the Mandalay govt had had a son who was killed on a motorbike, so he henceforth banned all motorbikes in the whole city of Yangon.)
16th March - rather than taking a tour to Mandalay Hill that
Typical Myanmar local bus
We caught a few of these and apart from having to keep an eye out well ahead of your stop, they were actually quite fun
would cost us 7000 kyat, we decided to have the tricycle driver from last night who offered to take us the for 2000 kyat (less than US$2). On the way we drove past Mandalay Fort that is surrounded by a beautiful moat. Apparently it was built 100 years ago to keep out various ethnic minorities such as the Shan. It really is quite beautiful. Mandaly Hill is famous for the stupas that sit atop it and the thousands of stairs you need to climb to get to them!! There are however, many teas stops on the way up, and various buddhas if you fancy a quick pray. Again, the more interesting part for us was trying to get home when we ended up on a jeepny type taxi with a betel-nut chewing "bloke-in-charge" that took us on the scenic route back to where we wanted to go - what a fantastic way to see the city! All for 200kyat! (US$0.20). You meet the most interesting people on those rides - at one stage, a large piece of baggage that wouldn't fit in with the rest of us was plonked on the roof resulting in the tarpaulin roof caving in by
Stef at Mandalay Hill
Sometimes beauty really is in the eye of the beholder
a foot; no-one battered an eye-lid. Not even the monk who was hanging off the back of the jeepny thoroughly enjoying his speedy ride back to the monastry.
After another walk around town, we decided to return to the fort for sunset. We avoided paying the US$10 to enter as it goes straight into the regime's pocket. So we sat at a bar on the corner and drank Myanma Beer (it is superb beer by the way). Whilst there, we were amused by a couple of girls playing on the pavement around us. One girl, about 7 years old, was carrying her baby brother on her hip. She did this even when running into the middle of the road to collect her flip-flop from a game of chicken her sister had thrown out(!). To distract her from doing such things, we called her over and gave her clip from my hair and a white board pen Steve had in his bag that she could use to play with her brother. The next part I will never forget. Steve said to me that I may not want to hear this but the girl was behind me drawing with the pen on her little brother's face. I turned around to see the poor little mite covered in thick blue pen - all over his face!!!!! Steve called them over to explain that the pen was for writing not for drawing on little brothers! Of course this was all done with charades, but the girl took the information on and washed the blue ink off little bro's face. Thank goodness we didn't give her a permanent marker!!!
Off tomorrow to Bagan, the land of 4000 stupas. We are taking the ferry down the Irrawaddy River. It takes 9 hours, so we'll be taking a good book each and relaxing on the deck.
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