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  • hardie karges 3:28 am on January 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ayeyharwaddy, , Irawaddy, Mandalay,   

    Burma Up North: The Road to Mandalay… 

    img_1773…sounds romantic and all, but it isn’t so much, really, just asphalt and gravel, like anywhere else. Fortunately there are other options, like the train, plane, or boat. I’d like to say that the boat ride to get here from Bagan makes it all worthwhile—but it doesn’t, not really, though admittedly it is more comfortable than pot-holed roads and betel-chewing Burmese drivers…

    At any given moment the average Burmese working stiff is working a wad of chew that would make a Cincinnati Red pitcher green with envy. But don’t startle him or he may accidentally unload a dollop of spittle your direction that just might ruin your day. At least they don’t drive like the maniacs in Thailand. Burma is chilled by comparison—and the roads simply won’t allow it…

    img_1744But the river trip really has nothing much to see, not until you get to Sagaing, and that’s an easy day-trip from Mandalay, anyway. It’s not like there are loads of cool river villages and towns to view along the way. There just aren’t. So I’d say the river trip is optional—at best. Burma is not cheap, anyway, so save your money for something more worthwhile, like paying your entry fee to selected sites, like the archaeological zone at Bagan or the human zoo at Inle Lake—free sarcasm available upon request…

    But I don’t think Mandalay deserves the bum rap that it sometimes gets. Sure, it’s a big busy city, but I’ve seen worse. At least it’s walk-able, something you’d have difficulty saying about Bangkok, Jakarta, or many other places in SE Asia, or the world, either, for that matter. And what it lacks in charm, it makes up in open space, including a massive palace complex and a commanding hill-as-pilgrimage-site like only Burma really knows how to do it—okay, so maybe China, too…

    What I don’t like so much about Mandalay is that the quality of refreshing innocence available elsewhere seems to be singularly lacking here. And of course, that’s most easily measurable amongst the taxi drivers. Whereas in Yangon the first price quoted is pretty accurate and honest, God bless them, in Mandalay that doesn’t hold true, and in fact they can be as rape-atious as anywhere in the world. They beat me on the price from the boat landing to my hotel, so I was on guard after that…

    img_1777After the long walk to Mandalay Hill AND a long confusing walk up to the top, I somehow managed to come down a different path, despite my best efforts. So that kind of disorientation is always a good time to hail a taxi, so I proffered offers to the local moto-boys. The first one asked 30,000 kyat (about $25), at which I sggested he needed psychological help, and responded with an offer of 3000, which I figured to be about right, walking away to make my point…

    …which is what you have to be willing to do, of course, if you want the right price. Anyway, I walked over, so I figured I could walk back, so that helps. Another bike-boy came up and did the trip for 2500. It also helps if you know the name of landmarks in the local tongue, correctly pronounced and with the right tones. The main market is zeigyo, pronounced zay-joe not ziggy-o. Don’t f*ck with me, m*otherf*cker…

    So yes, Mandalay is guilty of the same crimes as Paris and the same samsara pitfalls as Kathmandu, but it ain’t all that bad, really. But no, Mandalay is not a place to fall in love with, more like a place to bide your time, a place for life to happen while you make other plans…

    img_1779Those plans could include excursions in any direction, though Shan state to the east is the big lure for me, with close relations to ethnic Tais in Thailand and Laos and China, too, the Far east of the state arguably more ‘Thai’ than Burmese, and an open question for me as to whether and how well I might be able to communicate, what with my knowledge of standard Thai, Laotian and northern Thai dialect…

    The Burmese and Thai language have little or nothing in common, unlike Khmer and Thai, unless you count the similarities between the Thai and Burmese words for two-wheeled conveyances, ‘mo-to-cy’ in Thai and ‘mo-to-by’ in Burmese, apparently deriving from a common Sanskrit root (cue laughter)…

    Oh well, I guess it’ll have to wait, unless my meditation retreat in Yangon falls through, something Burma has become known for, apparently, though not the inspiration for this trip. But that’s where I’ll go after a brief stop at Inle Lake, and that’s worth more to me than all the travel in the world. Mindlessness or mindfulness? Tough choice, yeah, right…

     

     

     

     
    • Esther Fabbricante 3:58 pm on January 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Amazing insight.

  • hardie karges 2:22 pm on January 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Bagan, , , Mt. Popa, , stupas,   

    Angkor What? Buddhist Field of Dreams in Bagan, Myanmar… 

    img_1661

    One of many ruins around Bagan…

    The first thing you notice on the bus up from Yangon to Bagan is that the entire countryside seems empty. As Gertrude Stein put it so aptly when describing Oakland, CA: “There is no there there.” Now this may indeed be the new road, so avoiding the population centers directly, but still: in Thailand every available parcel of land would have a ‘For Sale’ sign before the road was even finished, and there would be new developments springing up as fast as the equipment could be trucked in from China…

    But when we finally do get off the main road and into some villages, then you see why. It’s poor, dirt poor. If Communism stopped a clock for those countries that only began ticking again in 1991, then ‘Burmese socialism’ stopped a clock which is only now beginning to tick some quarter century after its Commie neighbors in SE Asia. Better late than never, I suppose…
    (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 12:30 pm on January 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Pagoda, Shwedagon, Yangon   

    It’s Myanmar now, no more Bummer: Welcome to Yangon… 


    img_1572

    The Golden Spires of Shwedagon Pagoda

    I’ve been to the Burmese/Thai border-town Tachilek many times on visa runs, and so have had my eye on the country for years, while never having a pressing need to collect the stamp, just to satisfy my personal mandate to visit every country in the world before I die—or it does…

    And I’ve been to the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot a few times, too, and even though it’s on the Thai side, while the other is officially Burmese, it always felt more truly Burmese to me, Muslim Burmese mostly, refugees I suppose, and complete with nearby violence and cross-border excursions from Karen (no, not her) tribal violence in the area… (More …)

     
    • Esther Fabbricante 3:54 pm on January 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Beyond my imagination!

  • hardie karges 2:32 am on January 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    HARDIE’S HYPER-AWARD for Country with Worst Hotel Rooms in 2016: Malaysia 

    img_0746As previously blogged: “I don’t know where Malaysia, and the Phillipines, and Mexico, and maybe a few others, got the idea that rooms without windows are acceptable—but they’re not. On Expedia, they’re generally specified that way (no doubt from cruel experience), but hostel-booking sites may forego the detail. That’s too bad, because I’m a hostel guy and now their WiFi isn’t even reliable—and that’s the reason I became a hostel guy in the first place! Not to mention the issue of fire escapes and proper egress, a technical term…

    So the first time it happened, I let it slide, foregoing the request to change. After three days of that I needed therapy, and arguably still do. Remember ‘sensory deprivation’ from the 60’s? It’s like that—or prison. This may prepare you for a bleak future, but I doubt it. They’re air-conditioned, though, if that’s your thing, so that’s the trade-off. I’ll pass. So I quit booking hostels here, and stuck to Expedia. Boo hoo. Of course, the problem with windows is noise from below, so pick your poison…”

    And that’s the deal. Many countries have it to some extent, but Malaysia seems to be the worst, which is too bad, since otherwise it’s a very nice country. All claustrophobia aside, imagined or otherwise, you wouldn’t want to be in a windowless room during a hotel fire–case closed. It’s Chinatown, Jake. Good luck out there…

     
    • Esther Fabbricante 3:04 am on January 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Our experience of a room with no windows – is sometimes we play bridge in the ballroom at the country club – and partitions are affixed – thereby making the windows availale for only the outside area. That is tolerable from 9:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. And if we were only sleeping in a windowless room, I think that might be acceptable.

    • davekingsbury 11:01 am on January 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Even if they were free I’d think hard about taking one …

  • hardie karges 12:47 am on January 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Pay Pal, Citibank, credit card   

    HARDIE’S HYPER-AWARD: Worst Credit Card to travel with in 2016: 

    IMG_1530.JPG…would be PayPal, Debit Card, that is, which I only possessed (past tense) as a convenient option, figured WTH, for withdrawing funds accrued, rather than cycling back through to bank. The good news is that they won’t likely refuse the card as you travel around through weird countries with sketchy histories, but that means that if you’re hacked, then they won’t help you much there, either…

    So while checking my e-mail one morning, I noticed three transactions on my PayPal debit card that were not authorized by me, for a total of almost $800, and I’d be able to report the crime immediately, so should be no problem, right? But Pay Pal won’t even take the call, informing me to log in to the website, then informing me a week later there’s no crime, so talk to the dealer if I don’t like my product or service! Ouch! (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 1:33 pm on January 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Biman Bangladesh, , Dhaka   

    HARDIE’S HYPER-AWARD: for worst airline (and airport) of 2016 goes to… 

    peking-waiting-14915662_10211567525522998_1568822102406527730_n

    PEK gives new meaning to the term ‘layover”

    …Air China, of course, and Beijing, for bad service above and beyond the call of duty, a total lack of concern for passenger comfort, and incompetence bordering on malpractice. For that honor, they not only had to totally change my return flight LAX-PEK-BKK, and do it not only with no prior notification, BUT NO NOTIFICATION AT ALL!

    I caught it in plenty of time, though, worry-wart that I am. But if that wasn’t bad enough, the real problem was that the two flights didn’t even connect, the initial leg due to arrive in Beijing after the connecting flight has already left! Well, they must’ve been anxious to correct that little spot of bother, right? Yeah, right… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 12:25 am on December 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai, hill-tribes, Kwan Yin, Lahu,   

    Thai Holidays Outback Up North, part 3: Six Temples, Two Borders, a Maharishi and a Funeral… 

    Continued from previous…

    img_1475

    Kwan Yin (Kuan Im) festival near Chiang Dao, with many hill-tribe participants…

    So after the funeral in Uttaradit Province, Thailand, I’d like to explore that new border crossing into Laos, but my priest has other ideas, and he’s the boss. I’m the driver. So that means another late night drive from near the Lao border all the way back to the small town of Sarapee near Chiang Mai, finally pulling in to the temple about ten p.m. dead tired and more than a little wired, from twisty windy back-country roads…

    This is all so that we can buy a new truck, to take to the Tai Yai ‘Shan’ people out on the Burmese border where we were last week. Seems they’ve graduated from blankets and dried noodles to new 4 x 4’s. Bizniz is good, I guess. So we do: drive, that is, out again past Pai, into the remote fastnesses of Mae Hong Son province, where foreigners are not usually even allowed to enter, much less drive, but membership has its privileges, I guess… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 1:44 pm on December 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Thailand Outback Up North, part 2: Drive He Said (Buddhism for Sale)… 

    Continued from previous…

    img_1382

    Feast fit for priests at Jaw Jalern Forest Temple

    One thousand baht!”

    Amen!” the crowd roars in response to the emcee’s declaration, hooting and hollering to beat the band, whatever that means, here in Thailand, as elsewhere, taking delight in small pleasures…

    The emcee continues. “And now we have a contribution to Forest Temple Udom Tham, from Chiang Rai Prakan Chiwit, the life insurance that is there for you just when you need them most, for the sum of… Ten Thousand Baht! Ooohhh, that’s nice!”

    Amen!” the crowd answers in agreement, one group from faraway Isaan obviously cutting up and loving it, trying to outdo all the others in their silliness and sober raucousness… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 12:35 am on December 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Mae Hong Son, Shan, Tai Yai,   

    Thailand Outback Up North: Covering Bodies and Bases, Filling Bellies and Logic… 

    img_1362

    They say that life doesn’t always work out like you plan—duh. ‘They’ say lots of sh*t, of course, but ‘they’ seem to have nailed this one. So when I came back to Thailand a couple weeks ago for the many-hundredth time, I assumed that I would likely be an ordained Buddhist monk by now, albeit only seasonally, Thai-style, IF I felt ready enough with my meditation practice, and IF I felt confident enough with my ability to memorize the Pali-transcribed-to-Thai initiation ritual, necessary to seal the deal, and not be a failure nor a joke…

    ‘Nor be a joke’, that’s the crucial concept here, in this fantasy Disney-inspired Thai-land heavily colonized by long-term tourists, short-term customers and random retirees in the late innings of life, all of whom as ‘Farangs’ (western foreigners) constitute the punch-line of many a back-handed compliment or verbal slight, whether they know it or not, usually not. So that’s the reason I learned to dance the lingo, damned torpedoes, for better or worse, usually better, till death do us part… (More …)

     
    • davekingsbury 9:58 pm on December 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      As always, enlightening … in the sense of … oh, you know what I mean! May I ask if these pieces are destined for your travel book, in some form?

      • hardie karges 11:39 pm on December 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        I guess I was sorta’ joking about another travel book, doubt that will happen, at 62 y.o. my travel days are probably limited, except as metaphor and analogy… Zen and the Art of Travel, maybe? 🙂

        • davekingsbury 3:46 pm on December 21, 2016 Permalink

          I’d buy it! Never was interested in motorcycles …

        • hardie karges 1:56 am on December 22, 2016 Permalink

          Ha! I wish I had the numbers to even consider it; more likely a book on Buddhism, in some way, at some point. But I appreciate your support for my humble efforts. Remind me to bring you a copy of ‘Hypertravel, 100 Countries’, etc, next time I’m traveling direct US-UK…

  • hardie karges 4:10 am on December 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , radio,   

    Radio Free Tucson: KXCI 91.3 FM, “no static at all”… 

    img_1297In this day on Internet everything, radio broadcasts may seem a bit old-fashioned, but Justin Kesha don’t know it yet, then know it now: community radio is the hottest ticket in town for modern indie vibes and world tribes. Kanye see Beyoncé force-fed smoke-and-mirror music that dominates the Big Biz of Entertainment, Inc? Try…

    Where else will you hear live music on the radio? We all know the answer to that question. So I need to give a ‘shout-out’ to KXCI-Tucson for making life livable there, in what sometimes seems like a redneck cow-town with too many cowboys and not enough hippies. But that could change… (More …)

     
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