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Back to Mandalay

I have returned to Mandalay after an exciting weekend in Pyin Oo Lwin. Sunday morning, I woke to meet Adam at 6:00 o'clock for a stroll through the botanical garden, and we engaged in interesting discussions for the 1.5 hours before we returned to a cup of coffee and being picked up by Eddy, his friend. He took us for a breakfast of excellent strawberry yoghurt -- the area is famous for its strawberries -- and afterwards helped me arrange for my own motorcycle, with which I went touring about the town.

First, I visited the Chinese temple, followed by two Pagodas before fleeing the midday heat to the Be waterfall, where I first tried to get some food. Thankfully I have the Lonely Planet Burmese Phrasebook on me or else I would have had no chance, but eventually I ended up with some vegetables and rice, which at least did the deed. Following lunch, I went for a swim (which you are not supposed to do) in the waterfall pond, joining several dozens of Burmese cooling down. My attempts to dry and read where thwarted several times by excited folks doing almost everything in their power to get me back into the cold water. So I did.

Eventually, the heat lowered and I decided to head back to the city to find an Internet cafe, and meet Adam and Eddy for a visit to a remote village, but the first half of those plans were changed when by the side of the road, I saw an old monk carrying two heavy bags and offered him a lift. He gladly accepted and I took him about 10 miles off the main road, uphill on a dirt track until we reached his village where we were greeted by the other surprised monks, who subsequently invited me for tea. I enjoyed the time, although only the monk to whom I had offered the ride spoke English and did not deviate from his topic how much he hated the Japanese -- he had fought in the war against the Japanese 60 years ago.

On the way back I got lost several times but eventually managed to return the motorbike and make it to the lodge for a shower, before we drove off to the remote village. On the way I learnt that Burma is actually much richer than Laos or Cambodia, that noone in this country has to starve because of the vast amount of natural resources, but that poverty still exists all over the place, even though I found it to be not as extreme as back in Laos when I decided to come back with clothing for the children. But seeing (and being told) that the people in the village we visited were definitely among the poorest in the country, I decided to distribute the clothing I took along, which was well received and even documented on video by Eddy. Still, in the end, I was not completely satisfied because these village people were rich (albeit living in beaten huts and wearing torn clothing) as opposed to the ones who hosted my cousin and I 15 months ago in Laos. However, given that Pyin Oo Lwin gets very cold in the winter and the clothing I took was mostly warm clothing (like fleece sweaters and cord trousers), it was probably a lot better to leave it here rather than to take it to other (warmer) parts of the country. So now I am carrying an empty backpack with me, and the temptation to fill it with the many handicrafts and goods on sale here is almost unbearably high.

That night, Eddy's wife invited us to a traditional Burmese dinner at their house. Unfortunately, Adam felt a little sick and couldn't join, so I went alone for some excellent food and had to drink the bottle of Australian Sauvignon Blanc all by myself. I doubt thought that it was due to the elevated alcohol level of my blood that I thoroughly enjoyed the screening of some videos of traditional Myanmar martial arts, as well as videos from the water festival celebrated in the country at the same time as in Thailand. While Songkhran in Thailand was almost excessive, the Burmese put more value on tradition, and intersperse the soaking with traditional dances, which looked absolutely wonderful. I am sure to return, even though April really is not the month to come here -- it's boiling hot outside.

Now, back in Mandalay, I first embarked on a little expedition to the MICT, which is a computer centre with a bunch of schools in town, to distribute some of the Ubuntu CDs I had brought. It was good to know that most of the folks I talked to had heard of Linux, but that they never tried it because it's impossible to obtain. Now, almost a dozen CDs are with managing directors of various stores and schools, and they all know that they can freely copy them as many times as they like. If it turns out to be popular, maybe Canonical can arrange for a larger shipment to companies in this country, probably via Bangkok.

I am leaving Mandalay tomorrow for Bagan, taking an express ferry at 6:00 o'clock, which should get me there within 9 hours. I am unsure what's next, but after 2-3 days in Bagan, I will either fly to Hohe and visit Inle Lake, then to Yangon, or just make my way on land to Yangon immediately. Flights come in at about $50 each, so while cheap, I am not sure I brought enough cash with me to afford them. You cannot use credit cards or traveller cheques in Burma.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading along.