We get out into the dusty dirt streets of Mandalay for some eats. Not much traffic in the evening. We meander about for a bit but there doesn’t seem to be much open. We do find one place called The White House and it is filled with locals. That’s usually a good bet, go where the locals eat. Plus, “I always wanted to eat at The White House.” #thnxobama
We get some weird dark beers called Armory and take a gander at the menu (Spoiler alert: They are dark and terrible and taste nothing like all the other shit beer in SEA). I order up some spicy pork and it’s delicious. Not overly spicy but has a really unique taste in the sauce. Between coughing fits I throw some down the gullet and then try to smile and not look like death for this pic.
Well that was the narmz, time to find some night life. We head towards the fort. In the middle of the city there is a walled palace with a moat around it. We figure there must be some bars with patios or something facing that thing. We come to the street by the moat and the wall and.. nope. Just a through-way. Hmmmm nothing here at all. Well that was a bust. Ok, we go back a street and head west. From the rooftop at Ostello Bello it looked like the highest concentration of neon lights was in that direction. Flip on the bardar. We’re on the case.
Fuck sakes! There’s nothing over here. We’ve walked for blocks at this point and can’t find a single thing that resembles a bar. Some streets are paved, some are dirt. Most are stained red as well with the telltale signs of a healthy betel nut habit among the locals. There is hardly a soul around and it’s hard to tell if it’s just dead, sketchy AF, or what. Starting to get a strange vibe from Mandalay. We decide to find a cabbie and get some intel and maybe a lift.
A few blocks later we finally find a cabbie. He is a disheveled drunken mess hanging out on the sidewalk and he stumbles right over to us with a huge red smile. My betel nut hypothesis is completely on point. Teeth all red with chunks of the betel nut all through em. Looooooking good. We ask him where we can find some bars. This takes a while to communicate what we want, which is funny because we want what he’s already got. He basically describes that there aren’t any. Or maybe none open. But he also offers to take us.. somewhere. “Oh no no, we’ll just walk”, “<Drisdelle whispers to me that we’re definitely not getting into a cab with this drunken disaster who can barely walk>”, “Yeah, we’ll just walk, thanks”, “<Drunk guy mumbles something about 81st street>”, “Ok great thanks!” Drisdelle already has it pulled up on his phone. “81st? Hmmmm doesn’t look like there’s much over there”, we get some distance from Drunky McBetelnut and gather around the map. “What about over here, there’s a few bar looking thingies?”
We head ‘over there’ for a while but everything is seriously closed, like metal garage door closed. Or there are no bars or restaurants or something in this area. We keep getting our hopes up with these tall lit up buildings with the Myanmar Vice neon lights but they always just end up being banks or hotels.
The tootsies are getting tired and we are lost and have no options whatsoever. Maybe our bardar is broken? We spot a light on in a place and bounce over to check it out. Ahh shit, it’s just a tiny convenience store. We ask the guy for some info though and he ends up speaking English pretty well. “No, no places open now. I have beer if you want some”, it’s only 11pm. Damn, I guess it’s a bust. What’s going on Mandalay? We grab some beers from him and sit to consider our options, if any.
The corner store beers get the alcologic wheels churning, “Well that drunk dude did say 81st street”, “Yeah and he was drunk, so he obviously knows how to get drunk”, “Yeah, right?” And with that solid bit of deductive reasoning we had a new plan. We grab some beers for the road from corner store dude and set our bearings for 81st street.
And things get sketchy real quick as we cross some train tracks and start heading under a bridge by some possible homeless stuff and there’s barely any lights and.. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Drisdelle is on Maps.me, “Ahhhhh… yeah, we’ve got this. I think.”, I snap a pic in case it’s the last one I take.
We come out from under the other side of the bridge and can hear a sound nearby. What’s that? Ok let’s do it! The sound leads us down a narrow alley. What is that? Music? We get closer to the sound and it looks like it is a temple. A little closer and, yep, it’s a temple. There are speakers outside and they’re cranking some monk chants out into the midnight air. Well, not exactly what we’re after.
We exit the alley and are somewhat close to 81st street now. Come on Drunky McBetelnut! We see some places that are marked on the map as bars or restaurants but everything is closed. Well he was somewhat right.. oh wait, more music. Ok this actually sounds like legit music this time. We come around the corner and there is definitely a band over there somewhere. Sweet! Our pace quickens towards the sound.
A little closer and we’re not really sure what is happening. There’s a roadway half blocked by some wooden structure through which we can see a couple of fires and some lights. The music is coming from in there. This could be an outdoor concert or some political movement, hard to tell. We go under the structure and it opens into a large area with tons of people gathered. Can’t quite see what’s going on but there’s definitely music.
When we walk in we instantly start getting the “What in the fuck is this” glares. We are the only white folks here. What have we stumbled into. People don’t look too happy to see us here. Nevertheless, we keep trucking towards the music. Yep, there’s a stage and a singer and some backing music that must be traditional Burmese tunes. Not too lively in the crowd everyone is just staring and seem mesmerized by the song. The ones that aren’t mesmerized by our presence here that is.
We take it in for a second but are instantly accosted by a group of super drunk teenagers ripe with red betel nut smiles. They rush us and grab our hands and now Drisdelle and I are in some awkward dance circle with these dudes holding our hands above our heads and jump-dancing up and down. These guys are tuned up and one full on slips backwards into a parked motorcycle almost knocking it over. MacKay somehow avoids the first wave of jump-dancing but once the teen drunk gets back on his feet they’re hand in hand rotating in a circle to the music. Some of the crowd is cracking up over this spectacle, some deepen their furrows in disapproval.
We last for a little while on the outskirts of the crowd but are definitely feeling out of place and the stares are making us uncomfortable. “Get the fuck out of here?”, “Get the fuck out”. We start back tracking towards the wooden scaffolding but MacKay spots a sign on a building and is intrigued. “The Mustache Brothers? Wait, I’ve heard of these guys..”, the sign reads ‘If you haven’t seen us dance you haven’t been to Mandalay’. We definitely have to check this out.
MacKay describes that the Moustache Brothers are a live comedy trio here in Mandalay. Very political/satirical in their antics, well received by the public but not by the totalitarian military government of their heyday. This should be interesting.
We walk into the place and it’s just a small narrow room really. There are pictures all over showing the Moustache Brothers performing on various stages around the country. There’s a picture of ‘The Lady’ with one of them as well (‘The Lady’, as people refer to her here, Aung San Suu Kyi, is a storied and highly highly respected political figure here in Burma and worldwide (Honorary citizen of Canada, Holla!). A fascinating backstory that I won’t even attempt to summarize in the blog but is well worth educating yourself on when you have time).
While we’re milling about a pregnant girl comes up to us and smiles. “Are you looking for Lu Maw?”, “Ahhh, we don’t know”, “I’ll go get him.” And in moments a distinguished old Burmese guy with a sweet handlebar moustache comes down the steps in an orange robe and the manskirt we’ve been seeing on people here in Mandalay.
He’s animated as hell and basically runs up to us to shake our hands and find out what we’re about. He speaks great English and is dropping hilarious puns on just about every sentence he makes. “There’s no show tonight because of the concert outside. Tomorrow, tomorrow you should come back.”, “Yes, of course!”. Wow, what a find, this guy is great.
He starts to show us around the room taking us to some of the pictures and describing them. The Moustache Brothers: Lu Maw, Lu Zaw, and Par Par Lay. He’s very proud of the one with him and The Lady. There’s another of his brother in jail. He describes how their comedy was not well received by the government, “But that’s the whole point! We won’t just sit and do what they say. No, we fight! We fight in our way”, man I love this guy.
Lu Maw describes to us how Par Par Lay was arrested for their anti-government comedy acts. The poster on the wall says ‘Par Par Lay arrested. 2007’. “He died. He’s dead now. Kidney disease. From the prison water, you know.” Damn, that’s sad. A moment passes but Lu Maw is quick to rebound with a joke and a new idea.
He runs over and turns on a nearby TV. He jams a tape in (yep, VHS). It’s a highlight reel basically of a bunch of major performances they’ve had. None of it is in English but we get the idea. They are a troupe of goofballs it seems, throwing down puns and political humor, taking a stab at the man as best they can, wrapping in satire with lots of slapstick and old timey kind of humor. And they also mix in some traditional Burmese dance and music. There are some girls up dancing with them on stage. This is pretty great. Definitely coming back for the show tomorrow.
“Look look, The Lady”, Lu Maw and his brothers are on stage in this video segment making some political joke. He loves this moment, you can tell. He’s very excited, “You see! We joke about the government taking our money. They’re thieves! And see, see! She’s laughing! She loves it!” And sure enough the camera pans to Aung San Suu Kyi in the audience and she’s doubled over laughing.
The girl that first met us here is actually Lu Maw’s daughter. She offers to take a picture and Lu Maw runs off to get some props.
Ok that’s pretty good but Lu Maw wants something more dramatic. He grabs MacKay’s hand and quickly explains that he wants to arm wrestle. Haha, alright and 1,2,3…
Awww man, this is awesome. One of our best stumble upon moments of the trip for sure. That drunk cabbie absolutely nailed it. 81st street. Lu Maw tells us that his daughter gives tours of Mandalay. She comes over and is happy to take us. “Where are you staying? I’ll pick you up in the morning. My husband and I will take you on a full day tour of Mandalay!”
She takes us outside and shows us a pimpin’ van with Moustache Brothers written along the side in giant block letters. This looks like some futuristic secret service kind of van. There’s a man in a skirt leaning against it smoking, “My husband”. He waves. Amazing. Looks like we’ve got tomorrow all planned out!