I just came back from my trip to Myanmar (also known as “Burma”) – home to a totalitarian military dictatorship. As a tourist, I was careful to minimise any money going to the government and was warmly welcomed by the Burmese people throughout the country. There is no right or wrong answer in response to whether or not foreigners should visit Myanmar, but those who choose to go should ensure they do extensive reading before and during their travels about the political situation.
In Mandaly I had the opportunity to meet and see the activist comedy trio “The Moustache Brothers”, known for live performances in their small garage that combine satirical criticism of the totalitarian Myanmar military regime (government), comedy and classic Burmese dance.
The Moustache Brothers are composed of U Par Par Lay, U Lu Zaw, and Lu Maw. Lay and Zaw served almost six years of a sentence to seven years in jail, for criticizing the government in a performance at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon in 1996. Amnesty International led a campaign for their release and negotiations by Suu Kyi contributed to their release. Part of the conditions for their release is the fact that they are under house arrest regulations and that they are now allowed to perform only for foreigners, in the small garage of their Mandalay house. Despite several arrests and the fact that they are banned from performing in Burmese throughout the country, as they used to do in the past, the Moustache Brothers haven’t given up their positive spirit and irony.
“One day I had a toothache, so I went over the border to Thailand to find a dentist”, tells Lu Maw during the show. “The dentist took a look at me and said surprisingly: <Why do you come all the way to Thailand? Don’t you have dentists in Myanmar?> I looked at him and said : “In Myanmar, we have dentists – but we’re not allowed to open our mouths!”
The Moustache Brothers have been covered numerous times by the BBC and international press, but they live with the daily fear of the Myanmar secret police (or the ‘KGB’ as the comedy trio calls them) who could be in the crowd watching or filming their show.
Those foreigners who end up in the hidden Mandalay back street of the Moustache Brothers, as me, can happily watch a condensed version of the once-glorious comedy-and-dance show of the trio. “It’s not the same as when we traveled around the country playing to the Burmese,” says Lu Maw. Nevertheless, the brave brothers say that “the show must go on”. And that’s actually happening in the their small garage, somewhere in a hidden back street in Mandalay, Myanmar.