Our motorcycle drivers returned at about 10am and we set off for the three ancient “cities” surrounding Mandalay. The first mostly consisted of a pagoda, which pretty much seemed to be the only thing to see in Burma. What was interesting here was it provided great views of the city. I’d be interested in returning in about 10 years to see how much has changed at least in terms of economic development. We then headed to the next town Anwa.
Unfortunately I really don’t know much of the history of any of these three cities only that I roughly gathered they were former capitals but a earthquake in 1835 brought down a lot of the old buildings. To get to second town we had take a boat across a river that was basically an excuse for a group of kids to try and get us to buy necklaces and postcards. Some of them were neat and only 25 cents so we got some, then crossed the river.
Once across the river we were forced to pay for a horse cart and were finally off to see the “city”. There was really not much here besides some more pagodas, which Mike felt the need to go “Tomb Raider” on. Next we got our first taste of the Burmese government ripping off tourists. We had to pay 10 USD for a “tourist card” and were not allowed to pay in local currency. I would assume this goes straight into someone’s pocket and not into pagodas because they were in bad shape. For example we went into a wooden one and there was nothing to really explain what we were looking at. Perhaps the only memorable moment was running across the wood planks in order to minimize the amount our feet got burned.
Next we visited an old watchtower. Once at the top we could see around, but unfortunately there was not much to look at. After the watchtower we looked at one more temple then headed back across the river. En Route to our final destination we stopped off at a weaver’s shop. Mike wanted to purchase a Sirang, looks like this, so he got one for him and his dad. Unfortunately he’s already forgotten how to tie it so hopefully YouTube can help him.
We concluded the touring portion of the day at a 300-year-old bridge. It seemed to be the place to go as people were taking graduation photos and a lot of young people were milling about on the bridge. We walked about half way across the bridge took some photos then were ready to leave. Unfortunately, we could not find our drivers so we started to explore the area. While walking around we were approached by some guy who offered to take us to see the Moustache brothers later that night. After our drivers refused to take us, we agreed and were glad to have sorted out that problem. We finally found our drivers gambling with other drivers down by the lake and they seemed slightly annoyed at having to leave. They eventually finished and returned us to the hotel where we waited for our new driver, Hashish, to arrive.
Trying to explain why our drivers would not take us to the Moustache Brothers is reflective of Burma as a whole right now. Basically the country is transitioning from an Authoritarian Military Junta into something resembling a democracy. The leader of the Democratic movement is the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi daughter of General Aung San. She has been under house arrest since late 80’s / early 90’s and was recently released and elected into office. There are now a lot of t-shirts sporting her image but I got the feeling many people are still concerned the government will crack down again like they have done in the past.
How this relates to the performance, is the Moustache Brothers are a group of three brothers who were arrested and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for lampooning the government. They had been arrested a total of three times and have been visited by US government officials. Because Mike is a Politics major he insisted we go so I figured I would tag along. Before the show our driver dropped us off at a Chinese restaurant. We were in for a surprise when at the end he expected us to pay for his dinner. I found this to be really rude but Mike assured me this was common in 3rd world countries. After dinner we were finally ready to see the show.
The first half of the show was very entertaining with the most militant of brothers insulting the government and saying, “ Burma is a rich country because we have gems and a lot of prostitutes”. After his skit though it started to take a turn for the worst. The family, before becoming involved in politics were originally just a singing and dancing troupe. That may have been interesting when they were younger but it was weird seeing 60-70 year olds doing dances designed for people who were 20. The brother who was in charge actually seemed the most subdued presumably because he had grown tired of fighting the government and wanted to simply spend time with his grandkids. Following the show we talked to the brothers for a little bit, bought t-shirts, and then headed back to the hotel. When we got back Hashish tried to get us to give him more money for his “kids”. Following my mom’s advice about being hesitant about giving away money we simply walked away and turned in for the night.