The Famed Moustache Brothers Show
The lonely book touted it as a must see when in Mandalay. I had actually never heard of them but then again I never really knew much about Myanmar, which I called Burma, until I came to Southeast Asia. I consider myself worldly but I felt a bit uneducated about the plight of the people of Myanmar whose freedoms were surpress under a military junta for 4 decades.
We left Bagan in the early morning hours to catch what I presumed was a 7 hour river journey up to Mandalay. The song that stated “all roads lead to Mandalay” would be correct if the roads were a bit better.
We opted for the boat journey along with 15 other passengers and 8 crew members.
The sun was rising which gave us plenty of opportunity to take some photos. After that wore off, we went to the bow of the ship to get a front view of the river. To say it was relaxing would be an understatement.
The river is wide.
The land around it expansive and fertile.
The breeze soothing with a comfortable chill.
The river journey from Bagan (Nyaung Oo) to Mandalay actually took over 12 hours. At the first sight of civilization, we got excited and went to snap pictures and videos assuming we had reach the fabled city. We learned that it wasn’t Mandalay but Sagaing. The sight was still amazing as the sun set behind this hilly city.
In about an hour, I feel a slowdown of the boat, I proceeded towards the front of the ship only to be notified that we have reached Mandalay.
It was a quarter to 7.
We had a mission.
Catch the Moustache Brothers show at 8:30PM.
We found a guest house called the Silver Swan. At $50 a night for three people, we checked in, dropped our bags and got a taxi to bring us to the show. The moment the taxi dropped us off, we were greeted by one of the brothers. He had a big smile on his face.
He welcomed us inside what looked like a storefront. We purchase our tickets at C8,000 which equates to about $10 USD. We did not eat in the boat and had some time before the show to get some food at a restaurant across the street.
After dinner, we crossed the street back to the storefront and heard the same welcoming brother’s voice calling us into an alley. I asked myself, what is this all about, do they really need to do this show in secret? I come to find out that the original house the show was performed in had burned down. They were using another home in an alley to continue the nightly performance.
I sit down on a plastic lawn chair very close to the platform. There was about a dozen of us waiting to experience this show.
I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Was this a play, a comedy skit, a talking perspective regarding Myanmar life? As I sat there imagining what would take place, I was given an article from the NY Times that featured the Moustache Brothers. I proceeded to read the article which gave me some clues on what was about to happen next.
Being American, we take our ability to speak freely, for granted. In Myanmar, people are jailed for speaking their minds especially if it puts the military junta or the government at the receiving end. Two of the Moustache Brothers were jailed for saying jokes about the government. We aren’t talking about extreme rebuttal of government policies. Just a simple joke about not being able to “open your mouth” in Myanmar could cause one prison time. While his two brothers were in jail, Lu Maw continued the show and learned english from tourists.
That was then…
…this is now.
As world attention grew, the two brothers were released from forced labor near the Chinese border in 2007 and able to rejoin their family.
The Moustache Brothers help shine a light against the struggles of the Myanmar people against the junta.
In fact, Aung San Suu Kyi have visited the brothers. If you don’t know who she is, she’s been the proponent for a free and democratic Myanmar. She was in house arrest and finally released in 2010 after two decades. This was an attempt by the military government to start reforms and become accepted within the international community.
Ok, let’s get back to the actual show.
Lu Maw hosts the show and narrates in english. I have to admit I didn’t get some of the jokes but there were moments when I laughed loudly.
Lu Maw goes on talking about how in tourist districts lights are on 24 hours a day, but in the local neighborhoods, lights are turned off. No electricity for the people.
And as if it was perfectly queued, the lights in the house shuts off. The room illuminated by battery charged florescent lighting.
That gave me one of those “aha” moments but the show must go on…
…and it did!
There were a couple of unplanned but cute interruptions when Lu Maw’s 1 year old granddaughter joined the performers. I can see how this little girl will continue this family’s show.
To sum up my experience with the Moustache Brothers, its definitely still a must see. Don’t come to the show with any type of expectations. Come to the show to see an art form that may not survive as the country continues its march to join the world community.
Definitely, meet the brothers that have become a symbol for change in Myanmar and see a show that can fill up an hour of your night in Mandalay.
Exhausted and with a stomachache. We head back to our guest house via another bicycle ride.