I'm fanning the cobwebs of my university memories with today's blog title. But on hitting Mandalay at 4am this morning, my first impression is that Chinese money is taking over the town and its culture.
Mandalay is only 150 years old, not so ancient for an Asian town, so I can understand that there aren't that many glorious buildings to see. It's unfortunate though that the street facades are being updated with ugly Chinese buildings; four-story monstrosities of mirror-like white tiles and concave balconies. At least the British colonial buildings have gradeur and style.
Admittedly I haven't yet visited Mandalay Palace, the residence of Myanmar's last (and quite disasterous) royal family who were overthrown by the British government in the 1940s. But the palace was all but destroyed in WWII due to fighting between the British and Japanese, and apparently it was re-constructed with concrete using forced labour in the 1990s. That makes the US$10 entry fee (which goes to the government) even harder to swallow.
There are many gold, jade and ruby jewellry outlets here, also likely Chinese run, using the gems that are being mined out of Mogok (the name could be a terrible place in a Tokien novel and considering that they use forced labour there too, it's apt). I get the impression that most of Myanmar's abundant natural resources are being dug up, sawn down, siphoned out and given away. Whilst I was in the Inle Lake area, trains of trucks would pass, piled with the old-growth teak wood that is being ripped out of the hills. Myanmar's copious resources of natural gas are apparently mostly send across the borders to China, India and Thailand, the profits of which are lining the government's pockets. Ditto the teak and the gems. And let's not raise the issue of opium.
Myanmar has been eyed off as a golden opportunity by many overseas nations - the British, the Nepalese gurkas on a smaller scale (see previous entry), and now the Chinese. It's so sad to see that in a country so vast in natural resources, none of it is put towards the development of the people.