Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I Finally Saw the Real Mandalay



I’ve been here just over a month now.  It feels like home, in a good way.  I’m settled, have a routine and am really enjoying teaching.  Up until last week, though, I’d only seen the upscale version of Mandalay.  On the school compound it is clean, safe, well-landscaped and only English is spoken.

When I’ve left the compound it was to go to Diamond Center, an upscale (for a developing country) mall, where I can buy all sorts of imported stuff.  If I’m willing to pay the price.  A tiny, fun-size Snickers bar?  $6.50.  A delicious locally made pineapple “moon pie”?  $.15.  I’m sticking with the local stuff.  Except cheese.  And the other day I found bleu cheese for $2.50, which is cheaper than the USA. 

I’ve also been to City Mart, another upscale store where I can buy Dom Perignon, if I’m willing to pay $131.00 a bottle, which really isn’t that bad, compared to what it costs in the US.  I can also have a cappuccino for a buck.  Bite me, Starbucks.

The only other place I’ve been, twice, is an upscale restaurant called Café City.  It’s very nice, the air con is chilly, the beer frosty cold and the food delicious.  The prices show that it is for the wealthy and foreign but the prices are still low, compared to the US.  I had a veggie pizza and a large beer (with an iced mug) for less than $10.  The pizza was large enough for 3 meals.

Last week, though, I had a couple of opportunities to see more of the “real” Mandalay, which lies literally a quarter of a mile away where the roads become more rutted and the rice paddies begin.

On Tuesday, the lead Montessori teacher asked if I wanted to drive with her to the market.  I was at school, prepping for the day but she assured me we’d be back in 15 minutes.  She took me to a market about 5 minutes away (in her car) which sold fruit, veg, meat, flowers and was clearly where the locals shop. It was a small outdoor market and the people were lovely.  One of the things that impresses me here is the genuine warmth of the people.  They make eye contact, they smile, they nod.  They do not walk past, pretending you don’t exist.

I entertained one guy at the market when I tried the prepared tea salad, made from marinated tea leaves.  I tasted the first and liked it.  The second was very spicy and very sour.  I made a face and the man hanging out with the vendor almost hurt himself laughing.  I bought the first option.
Driving to the spot for our first grade field trip, Nature’s Life,  I saw life in the “suburbs” and rural area around Mandalay.  People working hard in the rice paddies.  Small shop owners.  Stalls by the side of the road selling barbeque and other foods.  People going about their daily lives.

The roads are not in great shape.  Many times traffic had to change to one lane because there were too many potholes.  Even in the outlying areas are trucks, horse-drawn carts, cars and motorcycles competing for space.

The countryside is beautiful but the people are poor.  There are many reasons for that and I don’t want to turn this into a political blog so will let that go.  Many of the same issues that plague developing countries world wide exist here.

One thing that stands out is the friendliness of the people.  I can’t tell you how many times I look out the window of the car or bus that I’m riding in and make eye contact with a stranger.  Who smiles, waves, nods or in some way positively acknowledges my presence.  In one case there were three young men in the cab of a large truck.  As we moved through traffic, we’d occasionally pass each other.  Each time, the passengers in the truck smiled and waved at me.  Imagine if that happened in the USA.  Lots less road rage.

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