We took a long boat ride up the Irawaddy River to Mandalay, the old capital of Burma and the seat of the last Burmese king.
We got on the boat at 5:30am only to find out an hour later that we were on the wrong boat! We were dropped off on the side of the river where we boarded a second boat.
My stomach has been acting up again, my second bout in two weeks, so on the last stretch of the nine hour trip, which should have been a very pleasant ride, I was miserable.
Mandalay is a nice city. We went to a market and watched with amazement while a woman made Burmese salads from a giant tray. She had a minimum of twenty ingredients stacked up including, grated green papaya, peanuts, fermented green tea leaves, fish oil, and a brilliant tofu made from chickpeas and turmeric. I’ve never had that tofu anywhere outside of Burma. Our hotel was pretty good except for one thing; when we left they turned off the power. Ordinarily, I would be all for energy conservation but the problem is that they never told us they were doing it so one time Rahul and I went all the way up to our room on the 8th floor only to meet darkness. It appeared that when we asked for our key at the desk, someone forgot to turn it back on. So, one night I stayed in the room while Rahul went for dinner. He took the key in case I was asleep when he returned. When he dropped the key off, boom!, off went the power! I was watching an Iron chef type of show and they were just about to say who the winner was when everything went off. Burma needs to iron out some of the details in their new role as tourist destination!
I’ve had several interesting conversations with our Burmese tour guide, Lewis. Lewis, who is christian, entered into a Catholic seminary for two years when he was twenty three. His father built a school in the Shan state and his brother taught there. While teaching there his brother was arrested by the military and accused of bringing weapons to the Shan people, who are rebelling against Burma’s military government. He faced six years in prison and served two of them. Lewis said that he thought they may have done that because they do not want the Shan people educated. The Burmese are scheduled to have their first democratic election in 30 years next year. Rahul asked him what he thought about democracy in Burma and I wondered if he thought there would be democracy. He responded by saying that it would only happen if “The Lady” becomes President. By “The Lady” he, of course, means Aung Sang Su Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner and daughter of Burmese hero Aung Sang. She was under house arrest for 30 years.
Eighty percent of the Burmese population practice Theravada Buddhism which is based upon the first teachings of the Buddha which include the Vinaya. The Vinaya is basically a rule of personal conduct. There are also three tenants of Right Thought, Right Speech and Right Action. It’s very much about self-discipline. I’ve seen how this plays a role in the daily lives of Burmese people.
One day we went to a hill station, which is a concept left over from the British. This is where the British would escape the heat when they occupied Burma. We went to a giant park there where there were numerous things going on, from live music to picnicing to strolling through and viewing the numerous flowers and foliage.
There were people feeding ducks. There were several groups of young people playing guitar and singing. Nearby there was even a Hip Hop Festival! We took our time walking through a gorgeous collection of orchids.