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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Flight to Mandalay

Another day, and as always, the sun is shining. Very early in the morning (5:30 am) a driver from Tourist Burma with a small bus picked us up and took us to the airport for a flight we had to take to Mandalay.

As I was waiting at the airport for my flight to Mandalay, a military security officer from the airport passed by my seat. He was an old friend of Lu Lu and me who had worked in Washington at the military attaché office of the Burmese Embassy for three years. When he saw me he was very surprised, and the first thing he asked me was, "where is Aunty Lu Lu?" I told him that she couldn't get a visa to enter the country. He didn't talk and just said he'd see me later. As I waited for him he never showed up again, but I saw in which office he went. Since it was time to board the plane and I didn't want to be impolite without saying goodbye, I walked into his office.

Sally must have seen me walking into his office and called me to come out. I told Sally that I just wanted to be polite and say goodbye to him, but Sally told me that the reason he didn't come back to see me again was because when he is on duty in uniform, he is not allowed to talk to any of the tourists. Of course I understood the circumstances.

Here was a Burmese friend who had spent many days with his family in our apartment, and Lu Lu had given them many of her delicious dinners. Here I met my friend in his own country, and we couldn't even talk to each other. I am sure that my friend felt terrible, but that was the system of the military government and he was working for it, and he had to live by the laws he was told.

As I was waiting outside the building to go and board the plane, Sally and I were having a conversation about our trip, but on either side of us were Burmans of the secret police listening in on what we were talking about. It's very noticeable that Burma is a police country.

The flight to Mandalay was very smooth. Sally and U San Lin sat a few rows in front of me. I had a Burmese soldier sitting next to me with a loaded gun. He just sat there and never looked at me or even said a word during the whole trip. I didn't like the idea at all having him sit next to me with a loaded gun.

The doors of the pilots' cockpit were wide open. It looked a little unsafe to me, but the Burmese people on the plane didn't mind. The stewardess served us a cup of coffee during the flight and the rest of the time she sat in the back of the plane.

As we arrived at the Mandalay airport a guide of Tourist Burma was waiting for us with a driver and a small bus. The bus was only for the three of us. We drove around Mandalay and visited most of the interesting sites. Just the half a day I visited I could see that this city was loaded with Buddhist history. There are so many Buddhist temples and most were built by the former Kings who lived here in the years of 1800. I saw the Royal Palace (Mandalay fort) which was built by King Mindon. The walls around the palace are about a mile long. All along the wall was a wide moat filled with water. Some of the building structures I could see from inside the wall. Most of them looked like they were built of teakwood. Those building structures looked so extraordinarily different than whatever you would see in the Western world. We didn't climb to the famous Mandalay Hill because our time was so limited. I was told that the slopes of Mandalay Hill are clothed in covered stairways which contain small temples at regular intervals. There are 1,729 steps to the top, but the walk is not particularly difficult. On the bottom of the stairs are two large figures of lion statues. In Burma they are called 'chinthes', demanding the removal of shoes before entering sacred grounds. Not far from this you can see the Kuthodaw Pagoda with so many white marble spire house tablets. Each of them has it's own Buddhist scripture. All of this art structure itself was a wonderful site to look at. I was just wondering how long it must have taken to build all of this.

CONTINUED: Pagodas, Buddhas, and Palm Readers
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index