On the road this week, spending most of the time in Mandalay, one of my very favorite cities. That’s an odd proclamation, since most travelers to Myanmar will tell you that Mandalay was perhaps the least interesting city they visited. But many of those tourists do a typically “too quick” pass through town, only spending two or three days to see the supposed highlights of the area. And in the process, at least in my opinion, they miss out on the real interesting stuff to see and do here.
This week, for example, I’ve hung out in teashops, taken a group of 17 children to see the sights on Yankin Hill (and later to a swimming pool), ridden my bike all around town, stopped and visited monasteries and talked to monks, dined with locals, played putt-putt golf at a makeshift neighborhood “course” (basically a big pile of sand that these kids cleverly engineered to accommodate one hole!), and weighed in on the big Barcelona vs. Manchester United football match, which was obviously THE biggest event of the month as far as the locals were concerned.
I’m off to Nyaungshwe and the Inle Lake area on Thursday, hoping to make visits to Pindaya and Taunggyi while I’m there. Once again, this has been a thrilling, humbling, and challenging trip. My language skills are frustratingly still not where I want them to be; most of the time I have to repeat myself or I leave my listeners scratching their heads in bewilderment. But when it clicks, it’s very satisfying. And that’s enough to keep me trying.
Besides the oppressive heat, and the frequent rain storms, the biggest downer for me was hearing that Gil Scott-Heron had passed away a few days ago. This news has really, truly depressed me. Gil Scott-Heron was one of my favorite, most cherished musical artists, one who I’ve followed and listened to since I was in my late teens. Even though his output was negligible the past few decades, his passing will leave a big void in the music world.