Sunday, September 24, 2017

Burmese Days 23: On the Road to Mandalay

BY THE old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! "
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!
(Rudyard Kipling, first published in Barrack-Room Ballads, and Other Verses, the first series, 1892)
Well, the river boats don't do any chunkin' any more; instead of paddlewheels, they are powered by smelly Chinese-made diesel engines connected to propellers. And the waterfront is bustling! Oddly, there are very few real docks. The boats tie up to the mudbanks and set up wooden walkways.
My fellow travelers left on a tour of Mandalay Hill and the palace, but I decided to walk around on my own. My enduring impression is that Mandalay is a busy place! People, bicycles, scooters, and cars are everywhere. The bustle and activity remind me of Guatemala City or San Jose. Hundreds of shops sell just about every type of hand-made craft as well as inexpensive commercial products. It looks like many of the factory products come from China. The second photograph above is a pharmacy (I think).
The mannequins are European ladies. I saw the same trend in Nepal, where fashions were displayed on European rather than local forms.
26th Street at dusk is bustling. The street grid and numbering convention is a remnant of the colonial era, which lasted from 1885-1948.
The movie rental store was active. As of 2014, internet was still spotty, so most people rented movies, similar to our old Block Buster stores in USA.
We saw a few internet stores, which also served as business centers (make copies, etc.). As of 2014, I did not know if Burmese citizens had open access to internet or if it was restricted.
Buddhist art and figures are a big seller, especially in the Mahamuni Paya (stupa). I wrote about the marble-carving street in an earlier post.
Scooters are everywhere, unfortunately, belching acrid exhaust fumes. A local gent told me that three years before (meaning prior to 2011), motorbikes were very expensive for Burmese to afford. But as of 2014, cheap ones were imported in mass from China, and a used one was about $500. In Rangoon, the country's main city, the military government prohibited scooters, but the prohibition did not apply to the rest of the country.
The moat surrounding the former royal palace grounds has promenades and trees. I saw plenty of these exercise machines, in active use.
Photograph of the Mandalay Moat from the British Library, with caption:
Photograph of the west city wall and the moat at Mandalay in Burma, from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections: Burma Circle, 1903-07. The photograph was taken in 1903 by an unknown photographer under the direction of Taw Sein Ko, the Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of Burma at the time. Mandalay was Burma’s last great royal capital and was founded in 1857 by Mindon Min (reigned 1853-78), Burma’s penultimate king, in fulfilment of a Buddhist prophecy that a religious centre would be built at the foot of Mandalay Hill. In 1861 the court was transferred there from the previous capital of Amarapura. However the glory of Mandalay was shortlived as it was annexed by the British Empire in 1886 after the Third Anglo-Burmese war, renamed Fort Dufferin and a military cantonment was built inside the walls. The original city was built as a fortress in the form of a perfect square with the Nandaw or Royal Palace at the centre. Its walls faced the cardinal directions and were each nearly two kilometres (1.2 miles) long, surrounded by a 70 metre-wide moat on all four sides. There were twelve city gates, the main gate being the central gate in the east wall, which led to the Great Hall of Audience in the palace, and five bridges spanning the moat. The walls were surmounted at intervals with tiered wooden spires known as pyatthats. This is a view looking along the moat, with lotus plants in the foreground, a bridge in the distance and the city wall at right.
My photographs were taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, with most frames using the 27mm f/2.8 Fuji lens. This is an excellent choice for street photography because it is small and inconspicuous. I processed some of the files with PhotoNinja software.

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