Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mandalay - defiant Moustaches

Our final post on our packed two days in Mandalay is something a little different.  If you read the post about the political situation here, or indeed if you have seen the recent news reports about violent clashes between police and students, you will know that Myanmar is still not really a place where you can get away with being critical of the government. Unless you are one of the Moustache Brothers.

In recent years the Moustache Brothers have been getting away with doing a nightly show that accuses the government of corruption and cronyism. How? Well it is a hard won privilege.

The Moustache Brothers, actually two brothers, Par Par Lay and Lu Maw, and their cousin Lu Zaw, were a successful theatrical and comedy act.  In 1996, they did a show at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, and included a relatively innocuous joke about corrupt government officers. She laughed. The government, however, were not amused and Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw were sentenced to seven years in prison.

Par Pay Lay actually gets a mention in the film About A Boy, when the Hugh Grant character volunteers at a human rights charity and the other volunteer mentions that in Burma you can get seven years in prison just for telling a joke.

 They were released a year early in 2002 after an Amnesty International campaign, with a strict proviso that they could only perform for foreigners in English.  As they were also kept under house arrest, these performances have to be in the garage of their home. With very minimal English, and the help of word boards to make their points, they carried on performing.

When Par Par Lay was imprisoned again in 2007, his brother carried on the shows. He and his cousin are now doing a two man show as Lay died in 2013, which Maw attributes to leadpoisoning from his time in prison.

So some of us went along to see the show, which really is just in the garage of his house.  The show isn't great. There is a bit of slapstick humour, a few jibes about the government, and some traditional Burmese dancing for which he ropes in the rest of his family. But it was an interesting experience, and I guess the quality of the show isn't really the point.

During the show, Lu Maw suggested that the KGB (which is how he refers to the government security people) were watching us and would come and arrest us all. He couldn't have known that as a group we have our own government escorts and occasional police guards too; who knows whether we were in fact being followed that evening. We don't think we were ever followed by the way - it just amused us to think that it could have been the case.

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