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Today's quote:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Golden Land

Perhaps one of the most evocative phrases ever written by an Englishman about Burma belongs to Kipling's poem 'On the Road to Mandalay':

For the wind is in the palm trees, an' the temple bells they say:
'Come you back, you British soldier, come you back to Mandalay!'

Which makes it all the more curious that Kipling never went to Mandalay and that he visited Burma in 1889 on a ship en route from Calcutta to Japan, and stayed only three days. He spent one of those days in Moulmein, and 'Mandalay' is based on a pagoda he visited there, the Kyaik-thanlan Pagoda.

When Kipling visited this pagoda, however, he had other things on his mind: 'I should better remember what that pagoda was like had I not fallen deeply and irrevocably in love with a Burmese girl at the foot of the first flight of steps,' he wrote in his travel journal. 'Only the fact of the steamer starting next noon prevented me from staying at Moulmein forever ...'

Which is perhaps why Kipling begins his poem with the words:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl-a-settin', an' I know she thinks o' me.

Shirley aka Daw Khin San MyintI came to Burma in 1975 and, like Kipling, fell in love with a Burmese girl but unlike Kipling, I stayed for a whole year and married the girl, Khin San Myint.

But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago an' fur away,
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay

... and for that matter, there are no buses from Batemans Bay either!

P.S. The ‘road’ to Mandalay in the song is in fact the Irrawaddy River – which makes some sense of the 10 lyrics about flying fish.