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December 24, 2003

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The last capital before the British took over, Mandalay remains as the cultural center and geographical heart. We arrived this morning after a grueling overnight bus journey. Mandalay keeps important monasteries as well as the largest prison, so it covers the spectrum of Burmese society. Surprisingly it's a young city. King Mindon Min founded it in 1857 as the new capital of the Konbaung dynasty. Twenty eight years later the British invaded the 'golden city' (as Mandalay came to be known) and the city slumbered until the economic boom of the last decade. Money flows from three trades known as the red, green, and white lines - rubies, jade, and heroin. Tourism is the fourth line that contributes to Mandalay's economy.

Squeezed oranges and avocado refreshes the body after a jarring ride. The shellshocked guy next to Jill is Colin, a traveler we met on the bus.
Spices perfume the market. Can you believe that shrimp paste is the most popular item?
Sunset over "the center of the universe, the golden city." (Burmese emperors held a high opinion of Mandalay).
At night most tourists catch the act of the moustache brothers, a comedy troupe imprisoned by the dictatorial government for their political jokes. After 7 years and numerous appeals from western groups (even a reference in a Hugh Grant movie), the government decided comedy was harmless and released the moustache brothers. Their act doesn't seem controversial - a few jokes about corrupt police and a paranoid government - yet the government bans these players from performing outside of their home.