Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Farewell, Lovely Myanmar

November 3, Mandalay International Airport

I'm sad to be leaving beautiful Myanmar without having seen more of the countryside.
It was a very long drive to the airport through green flooded fields, some dotted with egrets, some plowed by ox teams. The road was lined with bougainvillea.

After a second day's drive with our taxi driver to outlying villages and historic sites, that evening we headed to a street-side restaurant we had noticed the night before, which had included a handful of Europeans.  We were warmly welcomed by a beautiful, English-speaking hostess wearing sparkling jewelry and a dazzling blue dress.  A table was cleared from a spot near the edge of the street, moved closer to the center, wiped clean and covered with a clean blue plaid table cloth.  Then we were beckoned to the stove in the center of the space, given small bowls and tastes of 3 bubbling hot dishes.  We chose one spicy chicken dish and one pork and some corn and zucchini and other squash, and were soon seated with those plates plus a huge bowl of rice and small bowls of various condiments.  We were offered chopsticks, spoons and forks, and they kept coming back to check on us.  We also got a plate of crunchy raw cabbage, sweet and delicious of which dared eat a little, followed by a plate of watermelon chunks.  All was accompanied by a shared bottle of Myanmar beer, and everything was very delicious, although I hadn't been eating much in recent days.  It was such fun, obviously a neighborhood spot, where people were queueing for take-home food.  What a great business these folks have! Fast, efficient, friendly, with excellent, fresh,y cooked food.  Total bill, with a second beer was about $8.50 or 8,500 Myanmar kyat.

Street side eatery with lovely hostess at Shan Ma Ma in Mandalay

We were a bit dazed after all the time we had spent in a car that day.  There are almost no traffic lights or stop signs in Mandalay, and traffic moves sort of like a dance, a constantly moving, swerving, stopping, with gentle honking.  Even in the country, there were constant starts and stops, and many potholes and sharp dips, speed bumps, and curves.  The main vehicles were pick-up trucks with covered backs, into which people crammed, some also occasionally riding on the roof.  One young man perched on the tailgate of the truck/bus in front of us, holding on with one arm?  I kept expecting with every jolt and sudden stop to see him catapulting out of the truck to splat on the road where we would surely then run over him.  Then there were the couples, often holding one or two small children weaving in and out of the cars and trucks on motorcycles.  Sometimes the adults wore flimsy helmets, but the children did not.

I haven't had time to write, as I've been collapsing at night. and one night must have fallen asleep with my finger on the backspace, as everything I had written disappeared.

On our first day in Mandalay, we visited the restoration of the wooden palace destroyed by the Japanese during World War II.  And many temples, including those on top of Mandalay Hill.
That evening, we walked to a cake and ice cream store several blocks away, and happened upon a street fair, with fire trucks, food cooked over open fires (maybe that's why all the fire trucks?), and loud music from a traditional band with percussion, but also clarinets, saxophones, and violins, all with electronic enhancement.  It was lively enough to dance to, but only small children were dancing. Several people talked to us and families with children gathered around us and smiled.  Someone told us this style of band, or maybe the original of this band, dated from 1925.

A word about the airport.there were lots of foreign tourists waiting in a huge un-air-conditioned hall when we arrived almost 3 hours ahead of flight time.  There was a little shop at one end of the hall that turned out to actually serve food, so we had tuna sandwiches, pastries, and tonic water.  A fake bouquet of orchids sat next to a floor fan.  At last the entrance to the check-in area opened, and we got to talk to several young backpackers as we waited in line.  We didn't even have boarding passes, just the online confirmation.  When when we finally got through it all, what do you know, there were actually some duty-free shops on the other side! So we were able to use up some of our leftover kyats on chocolates and munchies -- chocolates not such a good idea in hot un-air-conditioned places.

Mandalay International Airport

Inside The third largest bell in the world at Mingun

Royal Palace, Mandalay

crescent of Buddhas 

Boys at monastery in Amurapura

We are now at the end of a busy day in Bangkok, about which I have things to say, but we leave this hotel at 4 a.m. to catch our flight to Hanoi (Hanoi!) -- just writing the name brings a flood of emotions -- so I'd better try to sleep.  Everywhere we've been on this trip I've been reminded of the toll and destruction war has caused over many centuries.  And we're all still at it. I don't get it.  When will we ever learn?  Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha all preached love, forgiveness, peace and reverence for life.  Why is it so difficult to settle differences and create just solutions without killing and destruction?  Even without meanness and pettiness, as I think about our relatively peaceful, but still flawed political process as Americans vote today.

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