...a Road Less Traveled
When I was young over a half century ago, I was in high school. It was an exceptional high school at that time. It ranked 19th of all the high schools in the nation. One of the unique things that the English department did was to require all the students to memorize several hundred lines of poetry each semester during all four years.
I hated that requirement. In my senior year, I had Mrs. Davis for English. She seemed and looked like a teacher that taught Edgar Allan Poe or perhaps James Russell Lowell. She was most exacting. You had to be able to recite for her before or after school precisely the lines of poetry that you choose. I can't tell you how much I disliked that ritual of standing before her. However, a half a century later, I can still recite many parts of many of those lines memorized years earlier. I thank my high school and teachers like Mrs. Davis for what I learned-and still remember. In fact, I went to Florida years ago to thank her personally at which time she gave me her old literature textbook.
Even now, my wife, Ann, and I often take Jack, our 2-year old grandson, to the zoo. When we come upon the tigers, I look at Jack and repeat a part of William Blake's poem, Tiger:
Jack looks at me not at all sure what his papa means by that comment but accepts it as a truth that I will be explain later...and I promise him that I will-someday.
While I can rattle off parts of many, many poems still...decades later, there is one poem that I never liked or even attempted to recite. It was Rudyard Kipling's Mandalay.
Kipling wrote these words after viewing this scene from the Great Pagoda at Moulmein.
This is a video is Kipling's poem put to music.
To this day, I'm not sure what troubled me about Kipling's poem about Mandalay. Perhaps, it was that local slang of many of his words or that he talked about the flying fish at play. Now, before I diss Kipling as an adult a half century later, I will first go to Mandalay and see the rest of Burma (Myanmar). Maybe, I will see flying fish at play. However, I would rather interview Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
I love travel. However, what I really love is what Ann calls bad trips. Ann likes good trips...if there are sunny beaches so that we can leisurely sit at the water's edge sipping some girly drink late some sunny, warm afternoon. On the other hand, bad trips are adventuresome, exciting, trekking through unfamiliar places like Timbuktu or Katmandu. We have plans soon to go to Burma (what is known as Myanmar today), and this trip is called by Ann, a bad trip...and I am looking forward to it with boundless excitement.
My guess is that I know more about Burma than 95% or more of Americans, but previously I knew in reality little about Burma...aside from my total awe and admiration of Aung San Suu Kyi and her carrying on of her father's fight for independence from first the foreigners and now from some locals.
One of the things that intrigues me is that very few foreigners have been to Burma. Mandalay is not a destination like London, Paris or Tahiti is on the world travelers' itinerary. We, especially in the West, don't know about what Burma is like. It has been under restrictive rule for most of my life. Suu Kyi in recent years asked foreigners not to travel there. I wanted to go to Burma when Ann and I went to Indochina a couple of years ago, but we didn't because of Suu Kyi's request. Now, that things are changing politically, I am ready for the journey of my life.
One of the interesting things of world travel is going to a place you have never been...but also imagining what it will be like when you get there. I read and use the Internet, but words, pictures, and videos are not the same as being there. Back in high school, I read Aku-Aku by Thor Heyerdahl. When I went to Easter Island, what I imagined and what was reality were worlds apart.
I am going through the process now of learning, reading, planning, and tweaking our itinerary so that I will know much more about Burma before landing in Rangoon (Yangon). Note: The spelling and pronunciation issue between Rangoon and Yangon is based upon the Western issue with converting the local language into English. It parallels the issue of Peking and Beijing. Both the words of Rangoon and Peking reveal at best a Western problem with pronunciation and at worst a Western haughtiness.
I have been to Burma's neighbors, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam a couple of years ago, but is Burma just like them but merely less developed and with less tourists? My attempt to know before arriving in Burma is exciting. It is a desire driven by the need truly to understand that country and its people. However, I know that no matter what I do, I won't really know Burma until I arrive there. Then I will know that country. That quest of knowing is exciting...it is called learning. Perhaps, that is why I love teaching.
Back to memorizing in high school, what Frost penned was truth for him about traveling:
Therefore, the term, bad trips, is a less poetic means for me describing Frost's truth in my life. At least, it is a truth that I understand. Life is precious especially at my age. I'm no longer some fair haired youth. Time is a precious commodity of mine. Again, I memorized Edgar Allan Poe's El Dorado for Mrs. Davis.
I assure my readers that I will ride, boldly ride as I seek my Eldorado-in Burma.
Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.