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My Corona Diary December 2020 - 2021


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A memory of unforgettable days in Mandalay /Burma in February 2020.

Buddha's dust

I am in Mandalay, the second largest city in the country. The royal seat of the Burmese kings in the 19th century; about 1.6 million inhabitants.
My driver Mr. Maung takes me on his moped from my guesthouse towards the big river Ayayarwaddy, which dominates everything here. Our destination is View Point, a lookout point directly above the riverbank. We are in the middle of the dry season; it hasn't rained for months, everything is dry as dust.


We reach the entrance; there is road construction going on, clouds of dust waft through the hot February air of Mandalay. The heavy construction machines cause dust swirls and one is enveloped in thick clouds of dust. My nose is permanently blocked. The earth in front of me is as dry as the Sahara. The viewing platform is a well-kept park of about one hectare, fenced in by a good old, very purposeful chain-link fence.



I enter the park, look around, dig out my camera from my backpack and hang it around my neck. It dangles in front of my chest, ready to be grabbed and snapped.
After a few steps I spot a young girl sweeping the park. Now in the dry season, many leaves fall from the trees suffering from drought. Therefore, the paths of the park have to be kept clean almost every day.  

The path makes a small bend and in a few meters I am at my destination, at the point from which there is a magnificent view of the Ayayarwaddy, of its banks and of what is happening, the boats and the ferries.
There, two girls in front of me with their brooms, cleaning the small children's playground. When the older of the two spots me, she drops her broom, points at my camera with her outstretched arm and shouts, "Pic! Pic!". Picture, I am asked very insistently to take a few snapshots. As I reach for my camera, this little saucy one immediately strikes a pose like a practised mannequin. She forms a heart with her arms and the outstretched fingers she brings to the centre of her head; belly button free, that too.
I'm a bit embarrassed, feeling put in a bit of an awkward situation by this catch-me-off-guard tactic by a maybe 8 or 9 year old girl.  Anyway, quick now, seize the moment. I press the shutter a few times in quick succession and everything is in the can.


Where do the two girls know this gesture, this symbolism of the heart formed with the hands and the arms?


Or this gesture, this sign, the chin placed in the hand opened by the spread thumb and index finger? What does it mean? I don't know.

Two cute young teenagers, right? Could be my granddaughters.



Live from Mandalay  - Burma / Myanmar
Enough for one go.
Stay tuned
There is more to come



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Some important afterthoughts:

I found myself suddenly and unprepared in a somewhat embarrassing or unpleasant situation.
I was asked by the two girls - cheerfully yet firmly - to take a few pictures.
I was immediately aware of the delicate situation: old man taking pictures of young girls.

I hesitated for a moment whether to give in to the girls' request.
I saw them there in front of me, posing so happily and at the same time proudly for me and my camera.
I recognised the childlike, naïve pride, their dignity, their childlike self-confidence that the two girls radiated.
I could not refuse the girls their wish to be photographed; besides, it would have been impolite.

Besides, a thought flashed through my mind at the same time:
When I am back home, write a report about the trip to the Ayayarwaddy view point and send this report to the email address of my driver Mr. Maung, with whom I had become friends during the days of my stay in Mandalay.
He will print out the report in colour with the text and pictures, drive to this park and give the letter to the two girls - or their families who live nearby. I think I'm doing the girls a favour.

That's actually what happened some weeks later.


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On another board, an American posted some pictures of bars in the former Washington Square; namely pictures from the legendary "Texas Lone Star Bar".
These pictures brought back old memories for me.

I have known Washington Square and its bars since about 1998/1999, or so.
The Washington Square area has been demolished around 2010 and new has been built.

Washington Square was located on Sukumvhit between Soi 22 and Soi 24; real-estate-quality part; and thus it is also a part of the Bangkok real-estate market! In the long run, the higher returns prevail over old-fashioned romanticism and individual wishful thinking.
The bars, massage parlours, small shops and restaurants there made too little turnover, yielded too little profit. Then a potent investor comes along and offers a new, rewarding, profitable use. The "new, modern times" have mercilessly wiped out this part of Bangkok.
Luxurious hotel complexes, expensive restaurants, exclusive boutiques for the nouveau-rich Asian clientele have come along with them wiping out part of the old, romantic Bangkok. I cannot make WS a restricted area, a sanctuary of my blessed memories. We all together cannot declare Washington Square a UNESCO World Heritage Site and protect it from the wrecking ball. That is the wistful truth.


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 YES, good old Washington Square.
I discovered Washington Square around 1998 / 1999.
That was when I was still working and spent about 4 weeks on holiday in SEA. I always spent a few afternoons at Washington Square during my stay in Bangkok.
A plaza with about a dozen pubs that settled there from the late 70s onwards.
I still remember the Silverdollar, Texas Lone Star, New Square One Pub, Wild Country Bar, Prince of Wales and a few others.  A meeting place for Anglo-American "local expats" as well as a few Vietnam veterans and Anglo long-term holidaymakers; mostly of retirement age, drinking away their pensions ...
When you entered these bars, you realised that these pubs breathe history. these pubs can tell endless great stories.
During the lunch beer, I quickly got in touch. There were some interesting guys among the Anglo-American guests of Washington Square; unfortunately most of them already deceased. It was always great to talk to them for two or three hours. Among the "Squaronians", the most interesting guy was undoubtedly the Texan Kurt Francis. He spoke English with a broad Texan accent, which I could hardly understand; I usually only understood 50 % of his Texan words, the other 50 % I had to make up from the context. He died shortly before Wshington Square was demolished. He checked out in time, so to speak.
The only one who is still active is Richard Diran. I met with Richard Diran more often in Bangkok from 2014 onwards. Now as a pensioner with a lot of time on his hands.
To commemorate Washington Square, Richard has painted a picture of the Texas Lone Star; he has immortalised himself in the bottom right. On the far left, wearing a hat, is Kurt Francis; plus other regulars and, of course, the girls. He has tried to capture the atmosphere of this pub.


Here is Richard's webpage:

memories, sweet memories ....   oh my goodness, where has all the time gone?


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Mekong and my penis is hungry stop arguing about this minor issue.

I did the girls a favour and photographed them.
And I sent them a letter with the pictures through my Burmese friend and driver Mr Maung.
Mr. Maung told me via email that the girls and their parents felt great fun and joy because of this letter.
Full stop! End of discussion.

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My first trip to LOS/Philippines, my mate and I stopped at a Pinoy village where he was sponsoring a family so their son and daughter could go to school. True and actual philanthropy.

When I showed my trip photos around, on my return, the NZ Women,  all looked at the photos of the sponsored kids and each crone, opined that there must be something dodgy going on.

In later years, I thought that Women's acquisitive desire and self entitlement, to men's money and property, had them genuinely confused, as to why a Kiwi Bloke would give, to a family that was not of his own origins, unless dodgy-ness was in the wind.

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