Sunday, 5 January 2014

Last day in Burma


I wanted so badly to stay longer in Burma and my prayer was answered by being forced to
stay another 24 hours - and thus scarcely see Peking. Be careful what you wish for because it comes true but I got to see Bago/Pegu and a lot of Burmese countryside. This is a deeply traditional, lovely country and I can easily imagine people loving it. It has no Coca Cola or pepsi, no chocolates or sweets, not even local brands and probably the country has changed little since the 1950s. 

I recommend my excellent Anglo-Burmese Mike (actually he has French and Armenian blood too). He can be reached on
One of the temples in Bago (Burmese Buddhist temples remind me slightly for some reason of fairground rides in the Southend of my youth):

Yet the East leaves me, for some reason, rather unmoved, even in the Havana-like slums of Rangoon where I stayed, or in the bar of the Strand Hotel, sinking rum sours. At the latter I had great fun reading the Rangoon Gazette 1912 Christmas edition containing a story by by my grandfather's favourite author, William Le Queux, set in Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo, fascinating advertisements for tailors and shipping timetables covering the Empire. So recent, so unimaginably long ago.

But the streets of Rangoon are fascinating, especially yesterday when because it was Independence Day, they were used for football matches and children's games. Benches closed the streets to pedestrians. People live in squalid rooms - balconies are full of accumulated miscellanea and washing. There are shrines to the Buddha in side streets.

Even Rangoon airport is charming. It has only five runways and the VIP Lounge - dread words, a quotation from Wallace Arnold that people might not understand is intended to be ironic - does a very good line in various Burmese dishes including chicken and coconut soup and sticky cakes, the ubiquitous weak coffee and much obsequiousness on the part of the ladies who work here. I sit here hammering away at this. My plane is late but the ladies advise me it is best to check if my plane arrives by looking out of the window not looking at the screen. I suppose this was how Asia used to be before the war and the coming of American hegemony.

The ladies gave me bad advice. Other people seem to have an instinct that keeps them in herds and this instinct I seem to lack. When I finally insisted they check that my plane was not about to go their call resulted in a furious Burmese appearing in the VIP lounge, spitting at me 'Flight closed' and forcing me to run across the airport. 

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