Mandalay is a much more attractive city than Yangon. Many of the streets are lined with trees, and bustle with people who seem happier and a little more prosperous than in Yangon . Large portions of the city have good middle class houses. Downtown is more like a downtown as we know it, with many streets full of shops, and a few selling named brands that are definitely high end. There is even a small shopping mall and a few neon signs, although the latter seems rather superfluous because of the lack of power to turn them on.
There are many motorbikes and thousands of bicycles that appear to take no notice of the rules of the road.
Road junctions and cross roads often have a policeman in the middle directing traffic, but no one pays them any attention. Cross roads are quite terrifying, and we sit white knuckled in our car, clinging to the back of the seat in front of us. I try closing my eyes, but it is impossible to keep them closed with all the noise around us.
This is the first place we have seen taxis, but they are not geared to the tourists. They are Mazda pick up trucks built in the 1940’s. They are amazingly small, looking like children’s toy cars. The passengers sit in the back of the pick up truck. You could perhaps squeeze two Americans in the back, but they would be very unhappy. But up to 10 Burmese somehow manage to ride this way.
We are pleased to see that there are many more monks here than anywhere we have been so far. The Mayor of Mandalay refused the Generals orders to kill monks and so Mandalay escaped much of the crackdown. But once the uprising was crushed the Mayor was fired from his job. There are also many nuns, who wear pink robes, and, like the monks go out in the morning to collect food from the people. However nuns can only go out twice a week and can only accept rice and vegetables.
We visit several craft houses, all of them working without lighting. We watch as women stoop over their embroidery doing the most intricate work in semi darkness. Three men noisily beat gold into gold leaf. They will be deaf by the end of their worklife.
Like the rest of the country, electricity is limited. Here they receive power for three days, and then just for 6 to 12 hours on the other four days. Water too is problematical. Each household has to pay $200 for the connection, a large amount of money to most families. On top of this they pay a monthly fee based on usage, but during the dry season there will often be no water available. Few have hot water, and sometimes the mornings are too cold for them to take a shower. If they live in houses and apartments that are more than two stories high, very often the water will not pump up to the higher floors.