Thursday, February 4, 2010

Leaving Mandalay

So, January 31st rolled around - I was on my last day in Burma, still in Mandalay, and not yet out of cash... At 2:40 in the afternoon, I was getting on my flight for Kunming, in China, so in the morning, I borrowed a bicycle from my guesthouse and headed off for nearby Mandalay Hill.

The hill itself wasn't really all that interesting - a few nice temples and a not particularly exciting view over the city. A few pictures:

A nice golden standing Buddha pointing to a prophecized location of the new capital. Right on prophecized schedule, capital was moved to Mandalay

Morning clouds over the hill

Now, this one was interesting - a sign in the center of the city: amusing and not particularly well concealed propaganda all the way. In English only - obviously targeted squarely at the foreigners

The picture might be too small to be legible, so a recap:
People's Desire
* Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges, holding negative views
* Oppose those trying to jeopardize stability of the State and progress of the nation
* Oppose foreign nations interfering in internal affairs of the state [subtle...]
* Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy

Now, it is somewhat funny, but mostly just very, very sad for the local people who get to live with this...

Well, on this note, I headed back to my hotel and off to the airport. And what an airport it is - big, brand new, shining with glass, and ... completely deserted.

Airport view from the runway - notice anything missing? The airplanes... None are here.

Really, the airport is the microcosm for the state of Myanmar today - even when the government sinks a bunch of money into doing something right, it still goes wrong because nobody wants to deal with the government. For one thing, the airport is an astounding 25 miles outside of town - that's further away than any of the towns I had visited the day before, so not quite a suburb. When I walked in, I found an entire, dimly lit, hall full of check-in counters. One (and only one!) of the, at least, twelve was occupied by my flight - China Eastern Airlines to Kunming, processing the forty odd passengers very slowly. Then the plane was late and I got to wonder what would happen if my flight got canceled - my finances were down to about $30 and $10 worth of Burmese currency, but the plane arrived, parking a loooong way away from the terminal. Maybe because it was Chinese. Maybe it's just the way we do things. Maybe because it was a jet - there were two other planes at the airport at the time, both propeller driven, neither showing any plans to fly; there couldn't have been any more flights scheduled for another 3-4 hours at least... if at all that day.

Eventually, we did all get onboard and depart though. I comprised the entire Western contingent on board (and got the English-language instructions all to myself). Everyone in Burma, whom I told that I wasn't leaving via Yangon - local and tourist alike - had been astounded. I don't think tourists know that there's an international flight out of Mandalay.

An hour an a half later, communist China greeted me. It's so Communist that the first thing I did upon landing was go to an ATM, a seemingly rather Capitalist symbol... There's also a Walmart a five minute walk down from my hostel. I've been in China for four days now - haven't really done much, I've been focused on getting my trip to Tibet sorted out, and I now have, flying up there early Friday morning. I've also learned how to circumvent China's filters just enough to be able to occasionally post... The other thing that struck me about China was that the time was all wrong. At the end of January, sunset is after 7PM, while sunrise is at almost 8AM. I like this schedule actually (except for the persistent bitter cold in the morning) since I'm more likely to be up late at night than up early in the morning, but it is odd. It's just what you get when you give the country the size of China a single time zone, centered on Beijing, of course. So, Kunming, some 2,000 miles West gets to be a little screwy. In this sense, China is still perfectly Communist!

A few pictures from China:

Yuantong Temple in Kunming. Side note - in three days in Kunming, I didn't see a single cloud.

A deity at the temple - judging my the large number of hands, looking surprisingly Hindu?

night over Kunming

With the Tibet trip all sorted out, it was off to Chengdu Thursday morning, just to fly up to Lhasa, Tibet on Friday. Chengdu brings faster internet connections than Kunming, and the Giant Panda Breeding and Research station:

A panda munching on bamboo

A baby panda studying the crowds

Playing with the surrounding world

And that's it for now - by the time you read this, I ought to be in Tibet, where internet access will likely be even slower...

PS. As for demographics... the tourists you meet in China are also a different sort - there's a few backpackers, but most people are studying/working/teaching English in China, just taking a little time off to see some outlying parts of the country. This rather more purpose-driven sort of travel appears to attract quite a few more Americans than your standard life of a backpacking vagabond.

1 comment:

b mathew said...

Nice work Alex, glad you made it out of Mandalay! Can't wait to read about your Tibetan adventures!