After my contract negotiations with my school resulted in me getting Mondays off I had the opportunity this morning to complete my boxing the compass from my hotel – west, north, south, and today east. From now on I’m not going to take my camera out routinely with me which may – emphasize “may” – stop me being pestered by motorcyclists and taxi drivers asking me where I am going. It’s possible also that I may become a known quantity on the streets and so (generally) left alone. No telling, really, at this stage.
I spent 4 hours this morning heading a little north but then striking east to the edge of the city. I was not very hopeful because there’s nothing much marked on the map in this region, and the city abruptly ends in farm and scrub land between the built-up area and the mountains. It is, in fact, to my way of thinking, a pretty desolate region. Mandalay is generally spread out because there’s no shortage of land for urban expansion, and so no need to build upwards. Building high-rise buildings is undoubtedly expensive as well, and local builders may lack the expertise for anything elaborately multi-storey.
Mandalay is built on an only semi-logical grid system. Streets in the teens to 40s run east to west, and 50s to 80s run north/south. But, unlike Manhattan, there are named streets in between the numbered streets, so that going from, say, 66th to 68th street is much more than 2 blocks. Furthermore the streets are not all continuous. You can be happily walking west on 37th street and suddenly come to a dead end because there is a walled monastery in the way. Walk around and you’ll find 37th street continuing on the other side. Some streets, though, are much wider than others and act as either north/south or east/west conduits, generally choked with traffic at all hours. There are street lights on these main roads, and people do obey them (usually), but most streets do not have lights (or stop signs) so things just sort of flow. On narrower, less crowded, streets drivers honk their horns at intersections to signal they are coming. Crossing a street on foot follows much the same rules as in all of Asia, although I find them less daunting here than those in Yunnan. The simple rule is to cross one half at a time, waiting for a lull whenever possible. If traffic is fairly continuous you just thread your way through. Don’t step out in front of a car, but motorbikes are a safe bet because they’ll go around you. In any case, the traffic never goes very fast. I’d say about 35 mph is average, and everyone jogs along at the same pace.
I walked north on 69th street until I got to 35th street then turned right (east). Because it was a fairly nondescript, featureless road stretching off into the distance, I cut down some side streets, still mostly heading east, to get a change. One of my father’s favorite sayings was “it’s a long road that has no turning.” Ain’t that the truth. Buildings and people thinned as I got closer to the edge of the city with a few very large new hotels, builders’ yards, and car dealerships taking up huge lots between vacant land. It was all very depressing. When I finally hit the edge of the city I had a clear view of the mountains (the Kumon range, I think). I turned south on the boundary road, the Mandalay-Lashio road, which was pretty dismal walking, so turned inland a bit and continued heading south and west as the mood took me. There were fancy hotels dotted here and there on the edge of the city interspersed with squalid hovels – rich and poor absolutely side by side. It was a bleak final hour in torrid heat until I hit Theik Pan street, the central east/west artery, and headed back west to my hotel which is just off Theik Pan street. By the time I got back I was dusty, hot, thirsty and exhausted. Not going east again any time soon.
Here’s an album for you: