Arriving In Mandalay, A Puppets Show And Kippling’s Road To Mandalay, Myanmar

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Arriving In Mandalay, Myanmar – Trip Notes

I did not know how much I had yearned to be here, until we arrived….

From Bangkok, it was a short one and a half hour flight to Mandalay.
The airport is small, and since we applied for e-visas in advance, it was a quick and simple process to get through immigration.

At one of the airport banks, we changed $500 US dollars and got an inch thick wad of Burmese cash.
The thick stack of cash brought to mind the image of a mafioso, intending to pay a bribe or to make some shady deals…

The heat is overbearing and feels like someone’s left the oven door open.
Jules and I looked at each other and jokingly said:
“Pardon me, can you please turn the oven a bit lower please?…”

Our taxi driver, and everyone else I saw, was wearing traditional Burmese clothing of an ankle length sarong and a shirt.

We had booked a small boutique hotel in the center of the city called ‘Bagan King.’
We booked it because I read that some of the bigger five star hotels in the city get large groups of tourists, and people said that they had to wait up to 45 minutes to use the elevators, just to get down to eat breakfast.

I also saw photos of the swimming pools in those hotels, filled with people like well packed sardines.

Our hotel is oozing old world charm but with modern touches and much comfort.
At the hotel’s air conditioned rooftop restaurant, we sat and ate an early dinner and planned the next few days.
We ate a delicious green tea leaf salad which is a Burmese speciality and tasted wonderful, with crunchy seeds and peanuts, tomato, mild tasting tea leaves and spices.

We also had a green tomato and prawn salad and two kinds of fried rice; Vietnamese style and Malay style.
Both were delicious.

It was not yet dinner time, and I was happy to see the chef, who obviously was on a break between lunch and dinner time, come running to prepare our tasty food.

After a bit of a rest, when the night fell over Mandalay, we walked over to the Marionette Theatre to see a puppet show.

The streets had no lights and no sidewalks.
People passing us on scooters beeped and waved at us hello.
Many stopped with surprised expressions on their faces, and practiced the little English they know.

I saw old skinny men wearing only long, ankle length sarongs tied at their waists, exposing their lean hairless chests.

Jules joked that they probably are NOT expecting the temperatures to drop a smidgen and are not worried about the possibility of being cold, referring to the fact that I took with me a light jacket, just in case the theatre would be too air-conditioned.

I did not need to worry, the small place was almost as hot as the outside night air, with a few fans attempting to circulate the hot and humid air, and a useless decorative air conditioner which seemed to only be there to reassure the tourists.

There were not many tourists in the tiny theater, which is actually the lower level of the house of the puppet master, who is 83 years old now and a great performer.

In front of the tiny stage, we saw the musicians tuning their traditional instruments.
Each musician sat on the floor, and was surrounded by a circular drum set or handmade bells.
The drums were of varying sizes, the smaller ones making a higher pitched tone than the bigger ones.

The musicians smeared a removable thick paste made of rice flour and ash, on the top of each drum skin.
It is used as a mute, to control the sound of the drums to resonate in a specific way.

There were about ten people in the audience and the performance started on time.
The puppets were wonderful, dressed in traditional clothing, each depicting a different character.
The program consisted of a few short stories that provided just a sample of this wonderful puppet tradition of storytelling.

I adore these kinds of performances, and my mind recalled a few other times in our travels when we were fortunate enough to enjoy similar forms of storytelling.

In China, we attended a shadow puppet show in a park, with traditional musicians and puppet masters, and we also saw an exhibition of those shadow puppets, which were intricately carved from the leather of cows or water buffaloes.

In Rajasthan, we wandered into a small rural village one starry evening, and sat on carpets spread out on the dusty grounds of the village square, along with hundreds of locals who had all come to see a performance by elaborately dressed local dancers.

Most of those dancers and actors were transvestites, and the show included scenes from Hindu mythology and comical satire about politicians and daily life.

For the first hour of the show, most of the people sat facing us, the two tourists who had wandered into their village, instead of facing the stage, where the show was happening.

I still have photos of that event with hundreds of traditionally dressed people, squatting in front of us, closely examining our every move and our manner of being.

That night in Mandalay, the music and the puppets felt magical to me.
I felt elated to be here…. my heart wishing that I would never have to go home…. To a culture that has no visible soul and knows little about how poor it really is, and how much it really lacks……

People come to Mandalay and stay only a few nights, because other travelers say that there are only pagodas and temples to see.
They mention the dust and the broken sidewalks.

I feel so different about this place….
After the show, we bought two handmade puppets to take home with us.
One of them is the puppet of the Alchemist, a master who can fly in the air, and with his magical stick can grind herbs into healing potions.
The other puppet is a good spirit who is there to help people in their hour of need.

I love it here and feel so much enchantment…
A toothless old man in a sarong offered us a ride back to our nearby hotel.
Jules initially refused since it was not a long walk, but I wanted to ride on his rusted bike and to give him the job.

We climbed on his tricycle, which had a passenger seat divided into two small parts, one facing the front and the other facing the back.

As he pedaled the creaky bicycle, he kept on thanking Jules for giving him the opportunity to earn money. Lightning played across the distant sky, and he told us not to worry, that he would get us home to our hotel safe and dry.
I gave him almost double our agreed upon fare, which amounted to $1.50, as he dropped us at the entrance to our hotel.

I love being here and I cannot explain why do I feel so much enchantment…

Perhaps the words of Kipling in his poem “The Road to Mandalay,” will do for now.

Now… I paraphrased the poem for those of us who do NOT speak the “British-English.”
I inserted the poem as it was written, in the original words of Kipling, on the very bottom of this post.

Kippling  only visited Burma for a few hours, and spent no time in Mandalay, but an artist’s imagination is better than life….

The Road to Mandalay

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-setting, and I know she thinks of me
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say
“Come you back, you British Soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”

Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay
Can’t you hear their paddles clunking
from Rangoon to Mandalay?

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flying fishes play,
And the dawn comes up like thunder
Outer China across the Bay!

Her petticoat was yellow and her little cap was green,
And her name was ‘Supi-Yaw-Lat-Jes’ – the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
And I see her first a-smoking of a whacking white cheroot,
And wasting Christian kisses on an heathen idol’s foot.

Blooming idol made of mud
What they called the Great God Buddha
Plucky lot she cared for idols
When I kissed her where she stood!

On the road to Mandalay
When the mist was on the rice-fields and the sun was dropping slow,
She’d get her little banjo and she’d sing “Kulla-la-lo!”
With her arm upon my shoulder and her cheek against my cheek
We watch the steamers and the Hathis piling teak.

Elephants are piling teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence hung that heavy you were afraid to speak.
On the road to Mandalay…

But that’s all shove behind me – long ago and far away,
And there ain’t no buses running from the Bank to Mandalay
And I’m learning here in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve heard the East a-calling, you won’t never heed naught else.”

No! you won’t heed nothing else
But them spicy garlic smells,
And the sunshine and the palm-trees and the tinkly temple-bells
On the road to Mandalay…

I am sick of wasting leather on these gritty paving-stones,
And the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Though I walks with fifty housemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
And they talks a lot of loving, but what do they understand?

Beefy face and grubby hand
Law! what do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay…

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there ain’t no Ten Commandments and a man can raise a thirst
For the temple-bells are calling, and it’s there that I would be,
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea.

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flying-fishes play,
And the dawn comes up like thunder,
Outer China across the Bay!

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

The poem as it was written, in the original words of Kipling.

The Road To Mandalay

“By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say;
“Come you back, you British Soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”

Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay;
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles clunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-Yaw-Lat jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud–
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd–
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay …

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-la-lo!”
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek again my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
Elephants a-piling teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay …
But that’s all shove be’ind me — long ago and fur away,
An’ there ain’t no ‘buses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay …

I am sick ‘o wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and–
Law! wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there ain’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, and it’s there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”

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