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City scope: waiting for Li

Nick Walker in Mandalay

 

Mandalay is one of those place names - like Timbuktu and Shangri-la - that is a byword for remote exoticism. And it is indeed exotic. But Mandalay - Myanmar's second city, of 1.3 million souls - is changing. The unhurried rhythm of life here is speeding up as a result of an influx of entrepreneurial immigrants and capital from China. Myanmar is a resource-rich land on the economic rise and its vast northern neighbour knows this well.

Nevertheless, the fabled city remains an enchanting metropolis endowed with an exquisite palace, countless temples and the kind of sepia-tinged charm that compelled Rudyard Kipling's famous and wistful poem simply titled Mandalay.

Unfortunately, the city is located in a seismically active zone. A moderate-strength earthquake struck the region last year, damaging a large number of buildings. Among these were two high schools in the north of the city, in the Thebeik Kyin and Sintkoo neighbourhoods. But morale at the two afflicted institutions was recently boosted with the news that movie star Jet Li was planning a visit, to teach kung fu to students and to donate sports equipment.

On February 1, Xinhua reported that "Jet Li's [One Foundation] will drill basic kung fu skills into Myanmar students at two high schools in Mandalay", adding that, "Upon the completion of students' kung fu course, Li himself will … instruct them in kung fu techniques during this year."

The report also said that the sports equipment would by donated "in the second week of February".

All thrilling news for the students but, since then, there's been no further news on Li's proposed visit or the donations, the date for which has come and gone.

The Chinese consulate in Mandalay did not reply to e-mails and neither were phone calls returned. Likewise the nation's embassy in Yangon. So what is the story behind this mystery in a famously mysterious nation?

Despite his super action-hero image,

Li isn't in the best of health at the moment. In December, he told journalists that he was suffering from a form of hyperthyroidism. Due to his condition, he was reportedly unable to undertake strenuous activity.

So, health reasons may be the reason for the delay. However, hopes remain that the star will soon visit Mandalay, parts of which are still recovering from the earthquake.

Please don't forget Mandalay, Mr Li.

And when you do visit, you'll find it to be an unforgettable city.

 

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