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No Worries 'Mas o Menos' 2 years on the road, travelling South East Asia, China, South & Central America and who knows where after that... Photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/

Pyin U Lwin and the Moustache Brothers

MYANMAR | Sunday, 3 May 2009 | Views [2779]

Day 7 - Mandalay to Pyin U Lwin

After another sleepless night, with no electricity to work the air con and the hotel generator giving up the ghost so not even the fan worked to move the hot air around, we decided to leave the heat of Mandalay a day early. We organised a share taxi to Pyin U Lwin, 1500m above sea level in the Shan hills, and about 10 degrees cooler, which was really appreciated. The taxi was a 30 year old toyota corolla that the driver pushed to its limits as we climbed the hairpin turns. The car needed a break half way to cool the engine down with a hose. We shared the journey with two Burmese ladies but we became slightly alarmed when the taxi started to drive onto a military base, dropping them off to visit their relatives. We didn't think we would get a tour of a Burmese military camp on our trip, and we sunk down low into our seats to avoid the stares from uniformed officers, but we made it out alive.

Our hotel was on the outskirts of town, in a quiet area with nothing to do. Perfect. We really needed somewhere to unwind from the first week in Burma. All the sights, conversations and experiences, along with the heat and dehydration had overwhelmed us. We were also a bit paranoid about doing or saying something wrong. You hear you shouldn't take photos of government buildings or people in uniform, and I think knowing we could do something wrong or look at a person you shouldn't started to take its toll. We knew it wouldn't be easy here but it was so different from anywhere else we had visited in Asia, such a culture shock. We knew about the conditions and lack of human rights before we came, but after making friends with people who are actually living through this you can see the reality of it all, and appreciate how difficult and depressing it can be to live here. It takes a lot of strength to continue to have hope, as well as just living day to day, not knowing who you can trust. We considered leaving early not knowing if we could cope with four weeks here, and we met a few travellers who all agreed they had the exact same thoughts. Everyone arrives in Yangon and thinks, where on earth have I come to, which is fair as it is a grim place! But it's not fair for us to give up so easily, we came here for a reason and decided to stick with it for the whole four weeks, at least we get the chance to leave the country in the end. Many others wish they had that option but can never leave.

Day 8 & 9 , 10 - Pyin U Lwin

There is hardly anything to do in Pyin U Lwin apart from walk around and observe life. It's an old colonial hill station, where the British set up camp to escape the heat, just like us. The country lanes are full of big colonial houses, people walking and cycling around and dodgy old tractors chugging along.

The town has a fresh produce market everyday.

The best way to get around town when too lazy to walk is by horse and carriage, which we took one evening and made us feel like we were in the wild wild west, so a few yeehaa noises from the back made the driver laugh!

The town is a popular holiday location for Burmese, but only those that have enough money to afford holidays. We were the only foreigners in our hotel, actually it seemed we were the only ones in the whole town, but no one we were staying with was interested in talking with us, we just gained a few stares from them all. I guess it adds another side to the story, and we could see how the richer population in Burma live. Whether they didn't like us being there are just weren't interested in meeting us I don't know but everyone else in the town was happy to see us and we have become professional 'wavers'. We walked through a small village one evening and seemed to be applauded and cheered on our way through, with all the kids running along side us and all the adults looking out the windows with big smiles to see us.

The best thing about the town was a bakery we found with real CHOCOLATE CAKE!!! I couldn't remember the last time I had tasted chocolate and it was much needed after a lot of rice, eggs and noodles. Also, thankfully there was a large Indian and Nepali population in the town so our taste buds tingled when we treated them to Indian food. I know we haven't mentioned Burmese food yet, we have to pluck up the courage to discuss that another time!

After three whole days of relaxing, we had recharged the batteries and were ready to face whatever came next.

Jo & Ryan

Day 11 - Back to Mandalay

Leaving the cool climate of Pyin U Lwin we headed back to Mandalay to get a connection elsewhere. Like the trip there we got a 'share' taxi with a few locals that involved us paying practically the whole fare. This wouldn't have been so bad, but I had to sit in the middle of the backseat and prop the passenger seat up with my knee to provide us with some leg room, while a young child of about 8 sat behind the driver with all the room in the world.

After checking into a different hotel to our first visit, we headed out for some lunch, and were quickly reminded of the oppressive heat. We found a vegetarian Nepalese restaurant, and were treated to some fine cuisine (i think we'll enjoy the food in Nepal!). Like in a lot of eateries in Burma you know that the food is freshly prepared as when you order food, a member of staff will leave the restaurant and jump on a bicycle or moped and race off to the shops, returning before long trying to hide from your eyes the ingredients they've just bought to make your meal.

As we had already seen the attractions in Mandalay we used the rest of the day to sort out our itinerary and change money. For dinner we had our cheapest meal of our travels. At a chapati stand, we both ate and drank until we couldn't eat or drink anymore for US 45c!!


After dinner we caught a couple of trishaws to see the dissident comedians; the Moustache Brothers Troupe. Banned by the government from performing outdoors, they have opened their home to continue their livelihoods and raise awareness of the issues within their country. They are only allowed to perform to foreigners though, no locals can view the performance otherwise they will be shut down. Two of the brothers were sentenced to and completed 7 years hard labour for telling political jokes, with one of the brothers Par Par Lay being arrested for a second and third time for standing up to the generals.

This has not stopped the group from continuing their performances of traditional a-nyeint pwe (folk opera, dance, music, in your face slapstick comedy, political satire and Myanmar history), getting their whole family involved. Jo was given the 'lucky' seat to sit on, the one Aung San Suu Kyi used when she visited them in 2003. The traditional dance and music was especially interesting, i'm still at a loss as to how they perform some of the moves and how they are still able to execute them every night after all this time.

One of the brothers, Lu Zaw, spoke perfect English and had all the idioms, slang, jingoism's and one liners to boot.

When he spoke it wasn't all funny though, when the subject turned to his countries plight. We arrived at the show early and got to have a long discussion about how the generals canceling currency of certain denominations had left many people destitute, due to their distrust of the banks run by the regime. Which in turn had forced many women to secretly cross the border to work as prostitutes in Thailand and returning to Burma with AIDS, which the government deny the existence of the problem in the country. He also showed us DVDs of some of the atrocities and of Hollywood actors calling for help, which he gave us a copy of to distribute around.

He also explained they blame China for the situation within their homeland. How their refusal to sanction proper embargoes and economic restrictions due the amount of trade they do with the generals had allowed them to continue the humanitarian atrocities and flood the Burmese market with their cheap goods. He was very smart and well informed of current events such as the happenings in Bangkok, Somalia and the economic crisis and we were more than happy to support them in their personal stand against the generals.

Ryan and Jo

Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/sets/72157618574056832/

Tags: mandalay, moustache brothers, pyin u lwin


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