Dusty Mandalay

Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
Trip End Jul 15, 2009

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Tuesday, December 2, 2008

        The name Mandalay conjures up many images of splendor.  A total of  four recent kingdoms made their capital in and around Mandalay.  It was also the home of the last King of Burma and the court of Ava, before the Brits unceremoniously ended their reign and a thousand years of tradition, the effects are still being felt today.  Today it shows very little of it's former grandeur, it is nothing more than a shithole.  It is by far the dustiest place that I have ever seen, even your lungs are caked in a fine layer of Mandalay's finest.  Most people try to take in the sites of the ancient cities in a couple of days.  We had our fill after one and were ready to move on.  We did enjoy a few beers and a nice sunset at the longest teak bridge in the world, about a mile long.  It is a very photogenic place.  We spent the afternoon drinking a few beers while getting to know some of the locals.  We adopted a poochie for a while and fed him our fried rice, the worst that I have ever had, he seemed to enjoy it
        That night we had some great Shan food, similar to Chinese.  We then walked through a Saturday night party or some kind of festival.  A few streets were shut down to accommodate the party.  There was a large stage with an awful sound system with some woman singing in Burmese, it sounded like cats in heat.  It was surrounded by ghetto carnival rides that looked like death traps (in America the lawyers would be lining up, ready to sign new clients) and lots of food stalls.  You have to respect the locals and their desire for normalcy, life goes on even under the harshest of circumstances. 
        Another night we enjoyed some Indian street food, delicious curries and fresh chapatties.  We then took in a show of some underground comedians, The Mustache Brothers.  One of them spent some time in prison and they can no longer tour the country or do shows in their native tongue.  They used to be quite famous, but now they are relegated to putting on shows for the occasional tourists in the basement of their house.  We crammed into their makeshift comedy hall and took in the show.  We had heard it was very political and one should brush up on your Burmese history in order to understand it.  However, I think things have changed.  He rarely went political and it was basically a crappy vaudeville show consisting more of traditional Burmese dancing than "comedy."  I can only assume that the government, or KBG as he calls them have "requested" that he tone it down.  It was nothing more than a English as a second language comedian using idioms and sayings to get the occasional cheap laugh.  It is quite sad what this once proud comedian group has been forced to become.  The funniest part of the show was an old man who was constantly nodding off, Ana and I couldn't stop laughing and feeling empathy for his condition.
        On the way back home that sad bike rider who begged us for our businesses tried to scam us.  He wanted to sell us an all day tour of Mandalay, I told him we didn't want to see his city so he tried to lay on the sob story.  He had 6 kids, two in College and he was the only breadwinner in the family.  I thought, Myanmar is such a wonderful country, where a bicycle taxi driver's children could go to University, if only I could be from such a wonderful place with upward mobility so attainable.  He asked for 6 dollars and we gave him the 2 he had quoted us earlier.  There are 6 billion people in the world, a harsh reality and you can't help them all.  It's a thought that often forces itself into my consciousness in order to justify my feeling of helplessness and lack of empathy for the desperation that is Asia.  After a tour of Asia, it takes A LOT to make me feel sorry for someone.
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