I’m in Mandalay this week, cycling around town as usual, visiting friends, bumping into others whom I haven’t seen in years, or meeting new locals. But riding a bicycle — or any type of vehicle — in this town requires vigilance and awareness. You have to be very, very careful on these chaotic streets. Because there are very few traffic lights, and nothing in the way of stop signs, traffic flows constantly, and when you are approaching an intersection, it’s necessary to slow down, look both ways, and look again. Chaos may even be an understatement when describing the streets of Mandalay.
Besides interesting new sights and the friendly locals, I tend to get philosophical when I’m riding around town and seeing all the humanity and development — or lack of it — around me. Despite the boom in construction, there is still a lot of poverty, as well as people who are not benefiting from the upsurge in tourism. Prices for food and other daily staples aren’t getting any cheaper and renting a building, or even a small one-room apartment or house is also getting more expensive. But these people are nothing if not resilient and their attitude remains relatively cheerful and upbeat. Passing one poor neighborhood this morning I noticed a trio of children doing somersaults on some old carpet scraps that had been dumped by the side of the road. Yes, even when they have nothing, kids like this find a way to enjoy themselves.
I keep thinking about the things that we as human beings — especially anyone who has the financial means to do something — can do to alleviate poverty and lessen the gap between the dirt poor and the filthy rich. And it frustrates me and angers me because I don’t have any good answers for that, and I don’t see enough people making an effort to do anything about social and economic problems like these.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep peddling around this wild and wonderful city, and keep ruminating and hoping for enlightenment of some sort.