We are finally finished with our guided tour of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan (a requirement for Tibet and Bhutan). As wonderful as our guides were – being told when, where and how goes against our rebellious little selves.
We flew from Bangkok on Air Asia. Only 25 of the 180 seats were full, 15 of them were foreigners. Mandalay International Airport was crowded with 2 planes, a 30 seat twin and a 35 year old fixed gear Piper single engine.
Outside the terminal there was another surprise. They drive on the right from the right. Now that’s confusing.
Burma opened up to foreign travelers just last year after decades of sanctioned tourism after nations pulled out and/or closed their Embassies due to Burma’s human rights violations. It is now ripe for the picking – virgin grounds – not yet ruined by the tourism trade.
Our comfortable hotel is located just off the busy main road filled with street front shops cars, motorcycles, bicycles, broken chunks of cement sidewalks and open sewer lines with blackened water.
The urban city feels like a suburban neighborhood 2 blocks removed from the main road. Although garbage is spread as far as the eye can see it is overshadowed by the simplicity of daily life unfolding before our eyes.
Newer concrete homes tower over the traditional wooden or woven bamboo homes. Each block has a public well resting on a concrete platform where buckets of water are pulled up for bathing and clothes washing. This morning the wells were in full use.
The traditional dress worn by 95% of the people consists of a large piece of fabric, ankle length and wrapped at the waist with Western shirts. Bathing, swimming and fishing are done fully dressed by women while the men enjoy the luxury of removing their tops.
We stumbled upon a group of men playing a rudimentary board game with colored shells, bottle caps and a checkered homemade wooden board on the street corner – turning the shells like dice.
A man drove up with a 12′ bamboo ladder on his motorcycle – stepped on the kick stand, removed the ladder and climbed up the street pole to make a repair with his rusted wrench.
The construction of a new building included women carrying cement on their heads to the 4th floor. Just think Dad – women hod carriers!! You wouldn’t get any work done.
Every 20 yards or so are one man motorcycle and bicycle shops.
Men and women sort through trash at what Bill likes to call a refuse transfer station. Not sure where it is transferred to!
Men, women and children’s faces are painted with light yellow mixture of sap from a local tree and water used to prevent sunburn. Of course, we thought it had some religious significance.
Unlike the rest of the world, only a handful of people have cell phones. What a welcomed sight! People actually engaged with each other. If they want to make a phone call they can utilize one of street side phone stations, like a lemonade stand, complete with a corded desktop house phone.
We even stopped by the Catholic – that’s right a Catholic Church in the heart of Buddhism – to see a nun we met on the bus. The gentleman there said the only time they get new members is when a Buddhist marries a Catholic.
We have talked about how friendly everyone in each country is but Mandalay might win the gold medal. Everyone is quick to say “hello” and down right surprised when we say “mingalabar” resulting in huge grins and stares of wonderment.
I often think how we, in our own country, are so calloused. We pay zero attention to foreigners. Is it because we are already multinational? Too busy? What do you say?