I’ve said it before: the hospitality, friendliness – and general willingness to be be followed around and photographed – of people in small communities off-the-beaten-track, amazes me.
The sun was barely up as we descended over the Mandalay region last September, landing at that beautiful, modern facility in the middle of nowhere: the brand new Mandalay International Airport in Tada-U. Finished in 2000 at a cost of US$150 million, the airport is thirty-five kilometres south of Mandalay, and so necessitated the building of new roads to the city. Wikipedia suggests the whole enterprise was designed to turn the country into an Asian hub for tourism and business. Other sources have whispered that the building of the airport was intended to advantage a powerful general whose lands are located in the area.
Either way, the “largest and most modern international airport in Burma has never met the high expectations; instead it has come to represent the military junta’s money-wasting white elephant projects.”
Of course, as soon as you are off the modern “expressway”, you are plunged back into villages where water is pumped and carried by hand and electricity is a foreign concept. What a contrast!
We were ten photo-tour participants, under the able leadership of Karl Grobl and local guide MM. In a village as small as this one outside Amarapura in the Mandalay region, we were at risk of swamping the local population. In spite of this, villagers stopped to smile, or simply ignored us and went about their daily business.
Before long, we were back in our air-conditioned bus and driving north, and the villagers could go back to their work: pumping and carrying water, plowing the fields behind a bullock, tending the chickens and geese, rowing the boats on the river –
– and smiling.