Thanks to Ostello Bello Mandalay in arranging a tuk tuk driver for me,
my final 2 full days in Mandalay were lived fully and well traveled.
After I’ve had breakfast,
I asked to be taken to Mingu, where the white temple is.
To get to Mingu,
before 2018, you could just take a ferry across the Irrawaddy River
and get there in a short and straight line in half an hour.
But now, there is no sound tourism infrastructure available,
no ferries run these days to take visitors across the river like that
So you have to go by car and you’d go through Innwa first then head up north to Mingu.
The cost was going to be 800,000 Kyat regardless of whether I visit Innwa or not.
I didn’t want to visit Innwa because that’ll just be too much in my system.
But I chose to leave it with next time.
Especially as Innwa is full of hills,
and I needed to hire a horse cart for my time there,
as the tuktuk couldn’t go around it.
The cost for the horse cart would be 300,000 kyat.
It’s not that much,
but no, I just didn’t want to see too much all in 1 day.
I wanna pace it out.
Maybe another day, maybe next time.
So off I went right after breakfast.
My tuktuk driver was already ready for me.
I had brought along an extra dress with me,
because the Ostello Bello Mandalay staff didn’t like how my bright pink & yellow dress still has these wide open slits on the side that showed a lot of my legs.
In case of the need to change,
I kept the dress on still for the ride,
but took my favorite green dress with me and left it in my bag.
The road leading away from Mandalay was straight, smooth, and long,
it was also rather unoccupied.
Sometimes it felt like the tuktuk I was in was the only vehicle on the road.
There were people working the brickworks in the middle of the street for the bays,
oxes stood in the shade under the canopy of the trees,
there were a series of fruit stands on the street-side:
watermelons upon watermelons,
stacked and piled on top of one another, layer upon layer.
This explained why Ease Hotel would have watermelon juice at the breakfast buffet.
There were enough watermelon stands for me to anticipate the next stand,
and get my camera ready to take pictures of them.
I couldn’t anticipate people and oxes that passed by though throughout the journey.
Even though some of them were worthy of having pictures taken,
especially the women who walk with containers on their heads or with a bit round plate that could hold a lot of things on their heads.
The driver stopped briefly on the overbridge with triple archways for me to take pictures of Innwa.
Innwa IS beauuuuutiful!
This should really be the centre of Mandalay's tourism!
Several hilltops were adorned with golden or white pagodas.
Then there was the Irrawaddy River beneath the bridge.
So the pictures were very scenic indeed.
I’d love to come back to Innwa on future trips.
But right now, it is too hot and I am too un-bothered to go climbing hills in 40-degree heat.
At the end of the Irrawaddy Bridge was a checkpoint,
stationed there - it felt like - really just to take tips from drivers.
My tuk tuk driver drove on by without needing to give any tips,
but I could see drivers holding their hands out to give the police money in cash.
It seemed like it didn’t even matter how much was given,
as long as they paid, they could pass?? Not sure.
Before reaching the checkpoint,
My driver told me to put my camera away.
Obediently I did so,
because I wouldn’t want the army/the police to take my camera away,
And I wouldn’t want them to come up to me just to check on my things.
I’m no journalist,
I’m just a traveler passing through.
I’m here to appreciate your country,
not to criticise it.
We were in Innwa in no time after coming off the bridge.
And already you’d find yourself going past pagoda after pagoda.
They were just dotted all around town.
What a sacred and serene place!
Immediately this felt like a change from the crazy hustle and bustle of Mandalay streets.
Even the outskirts of Mandalay had lots of traffic and pedestrians,
this felt like an instant breather from the higher population in Mandalay.
On a long quiet road,
my tuk tuk driver stopped to pick up some bottles of fuel.
And I mean, they were actually small plastic water bottles of fuel,
lined up on a little stand on the street side,
looked after by a local lady.
On a long quiet road,
my tuk tuk driver stopped to pick up some bottles of fuel.On a long quiet road,
my tuk tuk driver stopped to pick up some bottles of fuel.
After 10min of a break,
(I sat inside the tuk tuk and waited,
but really I would’ve loved to walk around a bit,
because even just to my left was a temple with a big white pagoda)
the tuk tuk set off and kept driving -
heading towards Mingu of Sagaing region...
🇲🇲 Mandalay really frustrated the hell outta me from the onset.
It's really rare that I'd be somewhere while traveling and rather be somewhere else.
The only other place I felt like that was Cuba, when simply nothing felt right.
Unlike when I was in Cuba,
I have been in Good company here.
People are absolutely lovely,
It's very easy to make friends.
But the vibes on the street...
just don't jive with me.
You know something is wrong with a place when things aren't easy for us visitors.
But at least this country is good enough in the sense that visitors can actually come in & travel
- you just cannot go everywhere,
"There are martial laws here."
This was what the custom officer who tried to get a tip from me said to me.
The 1st evening I arrived and checked in to my hotel - Ease Hotel,
All I wanted was to go see the sunset.
Thanks to bad communication by the hotel staff with the tuktuk driver,
the tuktuk driver took me to the most obscure place on the street for this random-as temple,
when I wanted to go to the pagodas at the top of Mandalay Hill.
I was so mad and just handed the cash to the tuktuk driver
and walked off into the sunset, literally.
I walked towards to the palace and walked along the moat
for my 1st improper golden hour in Mandalay.
while things aren't as stupidly difficult and loosely structured as in Cuba,
things here sure have to follow the daily whims and changes by the military,
and feel like they are quite non-functional,
and definitely lack formal tourism infrastructure that it used to have.
The Chinese jade trader here I talked to today described things in 🇲🇲 as following what in Chinese we call 江湖規矩， which is super apt.
There are No rules ie the military can make whatever the hell rules they come up with.
And you must follow them coz they are the government and they'll charge you a fine or charge you a fee no matter if you don't follow suit.
There are strange popup of barricade here and there that just don't make any obvious sense...
My buddy Thomas who's from Shan has been so generous and attentive
and has been trying to make sure I'm looked after.
He spends his mornings at the jade market,
and the rest of the day he just swipes on his phone watching short videos on WeChat/Facebook.
I assume that it comes down to him being bored and wanting to be helpful.
Because as soon as I say I wanna go somewhere,
He would try to arrange things for me,
for the reason that he is half a local and can find out information from the locals here.
He would also use this walkie-talkie, instead of the phone,
which made me laugh everytime I saw it.
He would call his usual tuktuk driver and asks for update on situations or whether it'd be good for me to go,
which I appreciate,
But I don't need the arrangements from him!
The hostel staff can do it for me.
I don't need him to do it,
He's not a trusted tour agency,
and he's not an actual local who knows everything about Mandalay and its surroundings.
His help felt like a shackle for me.
As soon as I stopped telling him where I wanted to go,
and stopped taking him along to where I was going,
I ended up having a great experience.
So this became a refresher lesson for me
here in Mandalay,
that the rule of thumb for solo-travelers is
wait for no one,
rely on no one.
I feel like 江湖規矩 - street rules - aside,
I can actually utilize my visitor-status,
and play to my ignorance as a vantage point.
Once you have the knowers involved,
I myself end up in a less controlled place.
It's frustrating in the sense that
literally nothing has worked out as long as someone else is intervening.
I'd rather do things myself and go on my own
than knowing someone else has got me covered.
Like - Don't try to take care of me.
I'll be fine myself.
Let me go to places using my own vantage point.
I don't want the local connections.
And it feels like things are like that with the military presence.
I don't want your interference, but the military and their checkpoints just have to be there.
Tuktuk drivers can't even go in a straight line from town to Mandalay Hill, and have to drive all the way around circumnavigating the entire palace - which is hundreds of acres big - to get to the Mandalay Hill which led to me missing the sunset time and by the time our tuktuk fought the crazy traffic and got there, Mandalay Hills had also been closed to entry.
You literally aren't allowed to go up a damn hill.
It's a hill,
how do you close off a hill??
It has several iconic monasteries and stupas up there,
But you just aren't allowed to go up there after 6pm
And it is just for today.
It may be different tomorrow.
You don't know.
Tuk tuk drivers don't even know.
You have to find out on the spot,
Or on the day.
(At least that what the tuktuk drivers said or what I've been told by Thomas.)
It's just all so random,
If you haven't been to a place which is open to visitors
but won't allow you to go climb a hill,
now you know there is one here - in Myanmar,
this place is called Mandalay.
By the time we left the foot of the Mandalay Hill,
I was already quite mad about the 30min long detour.
Once it turned out that I couldn't even go up the hill,
I asked the tuktuk driver to take us to the next available temple,
which was Sandamuni Pagodas,
and that was shut too,
even though I could see people inside.
So I said, then take me to the next one that might be open,
and that ended up being Kuthodaw, which I'd been already 2 days before.
The tuktuk driver dropped us off at Kuthodaw,
I was just sooooo frustrated by it all...
At least my evening was made up by us chancing upon a night "market"
- with just 1 single food stall - along the palace wall - called "Castle Hill",
Castle Hill had its own a juice stand attached to the business,
and 1 ice cream stall.
Unlike Bangkok, where there is hundreds in each, and many night markets,
It was still so nice~
just to see something nice for local Mandalayans to enjoy.
They were taking a stroll, cycling, eating out.
It was heartening to see that they do have a little something to make their day more liveable
So far, Mandalay has proven to be a place of contrast:
Of undercurrent of tension,
Of people making through life and getting by despite the rubbish they have to put up with
It's a beautiful place, a gorgeous country which you cannot simply travel through and through as easily as you could like a few years ago.
As a visitors, seeing how local people are living their daily lives is our lens into a world - into to a country and a city.
If things are nice and easy for the local people,
things would be nice politically and socially.
If things are difficult and conceited and changeful according to the political climate of the day, or of the month,
Then things can't be nice for neither he people nor the visitors.
The pursuit of the ordinary -- How & why I travel Very differently:
I love site seeing don't get me wrong.
But I Love doing the most common every day activies when I'm traveling.
For me, traveling is not going to see the most epic things.
For me, traveling is appreciating the world and appreciating the people who live at where I'm visiting.
I don't go to places for the glamorous pictures or to show off where I've been.
I spend a lot of effort and a lot of time finding out and learning about each place, the political history and current situation, the environmental state, the social struggles of its people well before going there.
And when I am there, these information I have gathered would always be at the back of my mind, with every step I take in their city, I remain conscious of the backdrop of situations in the city in which they make a living.
So much so that I make sure not to do certain activities,
Not to do certain things ,
So as to remain mindful and careful about what I'm doing.
I have gained this habit I guess not because of me being pedantic,
But because I've done all my university papers through on the places I travelled to, so researching on a deeper academic level became a thing I end up enjoying and making an effort in doing for every trip.
For me traveling is never and should never be about glamour or the pursuit of epic things.
It should and needs to be about understanding first and foremost,
But while traveling, it should just be all about appreciating the world we have and the earthlings in it .
So with me, you may often find me doing the most mundane and rather ordinary things,
like walking through the most obscure park or a beach,
or just randomly weaving through residential streets for hours.
For me, every day when I'm traveling is a day for me to live my life in another place, in as ordinary a way as life could be lived.
Walking around itself feels sufficient and fulfilling for me.
And it's the little moments and the little things, and little gestures from people an exchange with someone, that are the most memorable to me, and will mean the most to me.
It's how Boh here remembered exactly what fruits I like for the smoothie from the 1st day I purchased from her stand, and she remembered precisely how I don't want any sugar nor any ice,
She always recognised me and welcomed me with a smile,
I went back to her stand every day and would spend half an hour looking for parking around old town just to get a smoothie from her;
It's how everyone greeted me with a smile when saying Sabaidee with their praying palms in Luang Prabang, and did not hesitate to listen to my request;
It's how the grey cat at the temple with the big golden Rock immediately reached out to jump into my lap as soon as I sqautted down to greet it with some rubs, it meoweed and meowed and approached me needily;
It's that feeling of bliss when gliding down the Mekong river, cooling my skin with the yellow water on a hot day.
What makes traveling beautiful ks
Not the yachts, drinking alcohol or getting wasted,
Not conquering mountains or camping in freezing cold conditions,
Not surfing huge waves or sailing or sunbathing on remote islands,
not designer fashion
or partying all night longnekth friends.
It's the ordinary seemingly insignificant things that mean the most to me.
It always annoyed me whenever my granddad saying that I was out "having fun again", which was his way of saying that I had gone travelling.
But having fun was never a concept for me.
If you knew me you'd find that I'm not into games or enjoy them much,
Having fun was never my aim by travelling.
Appreciation always was at the core.
So selfishly, if I don't get to appreciate a moment or a place or an event properly, I get quite discontent about it.
This is just how I see the significance of traveling and why I travel.
Traveling is when I truly live and live fully. That's why I love doing it - I love doing this thing called life itself.
And there's so much more to why I love it of course, but appreciation is at the centre of my love for travel.
I love being able to be out and about and appreciating this world,
I love living as much as I can in the world.
That is all.
I may not be good at explaining it.
Does that make sense?
Just attended the 2nd ever funeral I've ever been to in life. I streamed in online remotely and it turned out to be incredibly special because: despite the total downpour here throughout the day, the sky magically cleared from the moment the service was due to start through to the last moment as my friend finished his speech for the dearest son that he so loved and lost,
The sun shone and gave the sky a beautiful hue,
which lit up the ocean in front of my room, where I watched the sunrise while listening to the eulogy my friend gave...
It was extremely painful and I wept a lot with him.
Death is not the end of our journey with someone we love so dearly.
But choosing death over life is not the best solution to one's struggle.
If it helps at all, we just need to remember our lives are not our own.
If anyone you know who may be going through an incredibly difficult time and you know about it, please reach out to them in person,
check in with them often, talk to them and hear each other's voice, give them the strength they need through your care and love for them, help them rise above their situation.
There's truly nothing more important in life than giving each other true companionship, attentiveness, and support.
Don't let them leave themselves alone.
it's a difficult subject to broach.
I can't speak enough of how deeply sad I feel, and can only cry for the loss of a beautiful soul.
I don’t know if this is something only fellow travelers can relate.
I REALLY hope I’m not alone here,
because sometimes I wonder if it makes me a bad person living in New Zealand, or if it is something that I also feel when I’m anywhere with a dominating culture when I’m traveling.
It’s an UnEase I frequently struggle with,
PARTICULARLY working here in New Zealand,
It annoys me to the core so much oftentimes.
that I have a second-guess and double-check myself
to see if I’m wrong in why I feel this unease & discomfort,
and try to remember if I ever feel like this when I’m in other countries.
The backstory for this unease is:
New Zealand has 3 official languages,
and officially it considers itself as a BiCultural nation, even though it’s reasonably multicultural
with roughly 9% of Pacific Islanders, 15% Asian,
Out of the 5%:
5% is from India,
4.5% are Chinese
- and btw, “Chinese” is not an ethnicity (this bugs me every time I had to fill out a form,
just like “Indian” is not an ethnicity.
Similarly, “Burmese” is an ethnicity,
but not all of Myanmar are Burmese.
It’s Matariki soon in Aotearoa.
In the fortnight team hui today,
it was centred on learning the stars of the Matariki constellation,
the meanings designated them stars,
what it indicates when some stars shine brighter than usual.
Annoyingly, one of my least favourite coworkers suggested assigning people to a roster to say karakia for future hui.
And our senior staff followed by agreeing to this and said,
“if you have dissent, please raise your hand” or whatever.
I’m not sure if anybody has a right for dissension in this.
Culturally speaking, we’re meant to be respectful.
Personally speaking, I hate rosters and I really don’t want to say karakia when somebody with more cultural authority can.
From my perspective, it’s the same thing as I will never force you onto a roster to say something in Chinese.
In Aotearoa, New Zealand,
Te Reo Maori is 1 of the 3 official langauges.
Don’t get me wrong,
I absolutely love the fact that Te Reo and Sign Language are the official languages.
I think every country should follow this example as a role model for respect for the indigenous culture and for the protection of Maori cultural heritage.
And naturally, countries like the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands,
will have their own indigenous languages as their official language.
Places like New Caledonia in particular is a great contrast to New Zealand.
New Caledonia certainly doesn’t make Karnak its own name, like New Zealand would refer to itself by Te Reo as common practice -- as Aotearoa,
and it certainly doesn’t make the Karnak Bislama/Creo its official language,
this is not because Karnak people are not the majority of the population,
they very much are, and by far greater proportion than Maori in Aotearoa,
but because of the inherent diversity of Karnak people,
there are linguistic variabilities and perhaps aren’t as ethnically united as tangata Maori these days.
Vanuatu has hundreds of different languages and dialects,
so much so that Bislama varies from village to village,
kinda like in Papua New Guinea.
But then it doesn’t mean Vanuatuan Bislama shouldn’t be considered the main official language side-by-side with French and English,
because all 3 languages are used in a typical church service.
All in all,
I support and encourage language inclusion for countries with indigenous populations.
What I’m not entirely comfortable with
is I guess what NZ does to me is what the Chinese government has done to other ethnic groups in China -- forcing Te Reo practice onto me like the Chinese government has forced Han Chinese onto the indigenous ethnic groups in China.
I am passionate and deeply care about indigenous cultures.
Learning the language is 1 of THE most important aspects of learning a culture.
And because I live in New Zealand, I have been so embracing of Maori culture.
But I never said I wanted to learn and speak the language.
That is not what I signed up for.
The only thing that hone in my I Want To Do What I want mindset back at work is my grandmother’s final word of advice to me before she passed:
Adhere to the values & do what the people do in the country that you live.
There’s great weight in this wisdom of my grandmother’s.
When I heard it, I liked it, even though immediately I thought of the whole Maori cultural imposition on all migrants when I heard it.
In New Zealand, using Te Reo is an inescapable aspect of daily work life.
If I work alone with my own business, in some non-profit, I would have been spared;
but in the government, I can hardly have a breather from a non-Te-Reo day.
I HATE it.
I LOVE Maori culture from a distance.
Just as I’d dive into any indigenous cultures when I visit their countries,
I would learn as much as I could,
pick up a few words here and there and speak it as well as I could,
But I would never want to be FORCED to do anything.
I can understand and agree with my grandmother’s advice,
that if I live somewhere, then respect the locals' ways.
But there’s a difference between respecting local’s ways and doing as what local people do.
What if I’m not one that is suited for following orders, or wanting to do what the majority does?
I NEVER like to do what I’ve been TOLD to do.
I’ll very likely ignore you if I don’t go & do the very opposite.
I also don’t believe in the wisdom of the crowd.
I’m not a bird in a flock
that jumps and takes off at whatever life-threatening/ non-threatening situation that may come up, triggered by another bird who got frightened by whatever movement or sound.
As people, we are individuals,
and can live and BE as individuals.
When traveling, you’re often confronted by cultures and languages that are vastly different from your usual ones.
You approach it with respect, even if you may find aspects of disagreement.
But when you’re traveling,
you don’t need to worry about adopting the local ways.
You’re an outsider, you’ll be gone in no time.
Even if you may stay there for some time,
you don’t need to feel forced to adopt local ways.
Here in NZ, if you’re a traveler, it would certainly feel like that, too.
But it is not the case in daily life living here as a migrant.
Whether you’re here on short-term visa, or permanent like I am,
you will be shoved in the face with demands of karakia,
and now imposed onto you, like is the case in my team, thanks to my annoying coworker.
I have dissent, but I can’t speak it.
It’ll make me an alien,
or risk being considered that I disrespect the politically correct culture of respect for Te Ao Maori.
By no means do I have any disrespect,
I simply don’t want to be imposed of it.
That is ALL.
I’d rather practice Japanese, than Te Reo Maori. Okay?
I’d rather than Hebrew, than Te Reo Maori.
That is all it is to it.
I can understand the need to know the local ways,
but whether or not I have to follow it, should be my own choice,
especially as an individual living in a democratic society,
unless this is NOT a democratic society.
This is how I concluded that perhaps,
because I consider myself a global citizen,
perhaps I prefer to remain an outsider,
not to become one of them - to become one of anywhere.
I have places where I feel strong sense of belonging,
and that place certainly isn’t New Zealand.
The solution for my frustration is probably:
either find a workplace that isn’t so try-out in-your-face politically correct,
move to a country where it’s politically multicultural rather than bicultural,
so that I don’t have to be forced to practice another culture when I don’t want to.
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