In these endless times of self-absorption we strain to make ourselves fascinating in the hashtag universe. Even when trading the mundane for the exotic, skirting the Tropic Zone say, there’s the urge to enhance – lookit me, I’m Bond or Bogart or Henry Morgan Stanley. Some film soundtrack insinuates itself. So it was with Mandalay. With the Myanmarese capital’s rich history and romantic Kipling associations (apparently he’d never been there but no matter), the place cried for the epic strains of John Williams, or at least Adele.
So what am I humming in this ancient capital of the Golden Land? Bacharach and Dionne Warwick. A bastardized version of Do You Know the Way to Mandalay? It was all terribly wrong.
Perhaps the vibe threw me. It’s different in Mandalay. Atypical for the country. Atypical for Southeast Asia for that matter. The food was a different kind of spice (more Indian, one of the locals said). I was hearing the first Muslim calls to prayer since leaving Bangladesh. Bordering five nations, Myanmar has fused many outside influences, besides what is uniquely its own.
My hotel featured elevators with seven different welcome mats, a new one every morning with the day of the week emblazoned. It was cute and practical. If I tweeted, I’d have twittered about those mats.
The cute and practical desk staff offered me a city map that laid out the basic grid of Mandalay, and it was easy to get around. The royal palace dominates both map and city, and I figured to case it after breakfast. As a morning constitutional, it verges on extreme sport. The walls and moats a mile on each side and, allowing for the inevitable photo ops, I was four hours circumnavigating the place.