On the Road to Mandalay

Willy nilly I’m on my way to Burma-Schmurma. I have completed the first leg of my journey, a 47 minute flight from Boston to JFK. That was fast. Now comes the seven hour layover until China Airlines takes me to Tapei, then Bangkok. After that, I’m in the hands of Bangkok Air. Their job is to make it to Rangoon along with my baggage. What are the odds we’ll both arrive simultaneously. Long, I think. I’ll let you know.

En route China air will stop over in Anchorage for two hours. Time enough for me to get out, find a spray can and write Palin-Schmalin on the airport wall.

Total travel time: twenty four hours in the air and thirteen hours waiting to get up in the air. I need this like another hole in the head.

I’ve been preparing for this trip in my usual way. I’ve had a large Sam Adams and a small Chevas Regal. Not to worry I’m just getting started.

Rudyard Kipling was the poet of colonial Britain. In “The Road to Mandalay” he writes fetchingly:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to 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!

Charming enough, I suppose, until you remember that Aung San Suu Kyi married a British subject, Michael Aris, and that the Burmese military believes that disqualifies her from running the country because she is guilty of diluting the Burman race. This is not a new issue. It goes way back. Remember that in George Orwell’s Burmese Days John Flory had a Burmese mistress and they both came to a bad end.

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-lo-lo!"
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin' my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the "hathis" pilin' teak.

You could almost taste the acid in Orwell’s words as he described the Brits complimenting themselves on their Christian charity as they sanctimoniously bore “the white man’s burden” in Burma while they were “pilin teak” in the holds of the “old Flotilla” and shipping that highly prized because it was termite resistant commodity back to Europe for a tidy British profit.

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay.

Well, here I am “On the Road to Mandalay.” And to think that as a child in the fifth grade I used to sing that song at the top of my lungs whenever the music teacher came around.