I’ve been making a point over the past week of walking around the city a lot when I have the time so that, as quickly as possible, I can get to know my way around and locate places that are useful, such as convenience stores. On work days I have not been able to do much, but yesterday and today I was able to put in 7 hours, yesterday in two stints and today in one go.
Today I set out after breakfast at 7 am to take advantage of the relatively low temperature – “low” meaning 32C/90F !!! It’s always hot here. I headed back in the same direction as yesterday, but when I reached the palace I turned left rather than right – heading towards the Irrawaddy river. The street leading to the river was the usual mixture of modern shops selling electronic equipment and other consumer goods, and broken down buildings. I was surprised by the number of people out and about so early on a Sunday.
Close to the river there was a large and thriving street market selling fruits, vegetables, and flowers. It was teeming with people coming and going. The area in town by the river was a swarm of activity with vendors of all sorts set up right on the river bank, and with boats jamming the shore as well. I had decided before I set out to go north along the river bank for several kilometers and then go east towards the palace. Very quickly the market activity on the river bank thinned out to be replaced by men, women, and children working with bamboo in various ways. It took me a few minutes to figure out the process, and the album link I give below should explain. Bamboo is harvested upstream, cut into long pieces, and floated downstream where it collects in large rafts. People haul the bamboo out of the river, saw it into suitable lengths and then split it either into long, thin lathes, or flat pieces, which they then weave into various shapes for different purposes. There are even whole shacks along the river made from woven bamboo.
I was accosted pretty regularly by young men asking me where I was from and where I was going. By now I’ve developed a standard answer. “I’m from Argentina, home of Messi and Maradona, and I am just out walking; I am not going anywhere. I am not a tourist; I live here. I am a teacher.” The last bit impresses them, but the idea of not being on the way somewhere inevitably bothers them. I have to be on my way somewhere. I cannot possibly be walking for pleasure alone. Actually, back at the market one guy who stopped me said, “I saw you walking yesterday” and I thought, “It starts.” Pretty soon I’ll be known on the streets. It happened in China; it will happen here soon enough. I don’t mind chatting for a minute or two with people who are just curious, but the endless stream of men on motorbikes offering to take me somewhere is starting to annoy me, especially the Indians who pull out a fat notebook and show me the names of people from Argentina they have given rides to in the past. This is a very Indian thing. They are hung up on “credentials” of any sort which they pull out at the drop of a hat. In this case, “See I have taken people for rides who come from all over the world, including people from your home country.” Yes, yes, very nice – now go away.
Eventually I got to the NW corner of the palace and walked along it with a view to finding a cluster of pagodas at the NE corner. By this time I’d been walking for over 4 hours and was getting pretty tired. For many years I’ve indulged in this kind of daily jaunt to new or unfamiliar places. The pattern of the day tends to be the same. I start out feeling a bit heavy hearted, a sort of here-we-go-again feeling. Once I see things I want to photograph, my mood shifts and I get in the swing of things. After 3 or 4 hours of walking I find a place to sit and rest for a while and regather my strength. Then, despite the promise of new sites, I go into sensory overload mode and just want to go home and sleep. I was very nearly at this phase when I turned left from the palace smack into Sandamuni pagoda. It’s actually a sprawling collection of sacred buildings all heavily decorated. Opposite is Kuthodaw pagoda, a world renowned Buddhist stupa, and above it all towers Mandalay hill topped by a pavilion.
I could have spent hours wandering around the various parts, but I’m going to be in Mandalay for up to a year, so I took a raft of photos and headed down the east side of the palace for home. Photos of my whole day are here:
The thing is that when I am getting to know a new city I lug my camera around and shoot off hundreds of photos. But once I have my bearings and know the feel of the place, I leave the camera at home and just drift around. Without my camera I also look less like a tourist and tend to be left alone more, which suits me fine. As it happens, apart from the hopeful motorbike riders and the occasional interest youths, I usually get left alone. There are very few Westerners in Mandalay apart from in heavy tourist spots, but, even so, I barely get a second look from the locals, if I even get a first one to begin with. It’s quite unlike Yunnan in that regard.
And so to bed. . .