🇲🇲 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.
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