...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:

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

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.

Rudyard Kipling

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.

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say;
"Come you back, you British Soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay;
Can't you 'ear their paddles clunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-Yaw-Lat jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o' mud--
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd--
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay ...

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-la-lo!"
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek again my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak.
Elephants a-piling teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay ...

But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago and fur away,
An' there ain't no 'buses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay ...

I am sick 'o wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and--
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there ain't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', and it's there that I would be--
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Kipling wrote these words after viewing this scene from the Great Pagoda at Moulmein.

On the Road to Mandalay

On the Road to Mandalay

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:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth...
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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.

Gaily bedight,
A gallant night
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of El Dorado.

But he grew old --
This knight so bold --
And -- o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like El Dorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow --
"Shadow," said he,
"Where can it be --
This land of El Dorado?"

"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied --
"If you seek for El Dorado."

I assure my readers that I will ride, boldly ride as I seek my Eldorado-in Burma.

Burma flag

Burmese independence flag

Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.

An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.