Belated RIP to Par Par Lay, Moustache Brother #1.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to see this incredible political comedy act with all of the original Moustache Brothers.
Here's the obituary from the Democratic Voice of Burma:
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Friday, January 4, 2013
If you haven't guessed already, we are in the LAND OF TEMPLES! Holy Cow! (Or should I say, holy dragons, guinea pigs, clown birds, elephants, and snakes!)
That is me next to a guinea pig and an elephant, figures from the Burmese Buddhist horoscope (I'm a dragon)
We haven't quite reached the point where they are all starting to run together, but we have certainly reached the point that you all should be seeing some of these amazing pictures. Yesterday I was trying to imagine whether or not we have equivalent monuments in the United States, and I think we came to the conclusion that there are absolutely no grounds for comparison.
Cobra Dragon outside of Botataung Paya, Yangon
Each act of devotion is a performance in itself. Here are a few that we have experienced.
At Sule Paya, in Yangon, you could put offerings into a little boat that you cranked up to heaven (a little shrine in the pagoda). I'm pretty sure that these offerings went towards the upkeep of the pagoda itself, since each shrine had its corresponding offering box, all devoted to construction and maintenance of the temple, wherever we were.
Ric with our offerings.
Boat to Heaven
Central pagoda at Sule Paya
Many of the smaller Buddhas could be washed. At Shwedagon Paya, you were supposed to wash the Buddha that corresponded to your birth day of the week. We were both Saturdays, so we washed the Buddha by dousing it with 8 cupfuls of water, then one on the spirit behind it, one on the post behind that, and one on the dragon at the base.
Here is a man washing a Buddha at Sule Paya
Buddhism isn't the only religion practiced in Myanmar, although it might seem that way - about 70% of the population is Buddhist. Other religious groups are legally recognized and have temples, mosques, and churches in most major cities.
Hindu temple in Yangon
However, tension between religious groups is a growing cause for concern, as was evident in last June's violence in Rakhine state in which a violent mob of Buddhist citizens killed 10 Muslim men after the rape of a Buddhist nun. I learned through speaking with a specialist on AIDS prevention in Myanmar that rape is sadly common throughout Burma, and that it was her opinion that this particular incident of interreligious violence as provoked by the high profile that the rape of the Buddhist girl by a Muslim man received in the media of this country that is still grappling with issues of ethnic warfare and human trafficking. This is what I mean when I say that it is difficult to reconcile the awe inspired by the spectacular temples with the plight of the people living in Myanmar.
Shwedagon Paya in Yangon with the moon rising in the background - staggeringly beautiful - a picture doesn't do it justice
The original pagoda of Shwedagon Paya, currently undergoing renovations
A temple ruin in Bagan
River temple of Bupaya in Bagan, currently being renovated
Bagan at dusk
A practice that seems to be common among Thai and Burmese Buddhist temple-goers is a three-times circuit around the central stupa. According to the Thai woman we were traveling with yesterday, it is considered good merit for the world and for you. Let's hope our circuits put some good energy back into the world, and Myanmar in particular - we all need it!
Thursday, January 3, 2013
We basically lost email for most of our time in Burma. And, then we got a little sick again. So we're a little behind on our blogs. But, we did see some interesting, thought provoking, beautiful, heart-breaking scenes while we were there, so please stay tuned for those reports.
For now, please enjoy this assortment of images from our "Burmese Days"
For now, please enjoy this assortment of images from our "Burmese Days"
Coconut Nat (household spirit) in northern Burma
A bowl of Nats in Mandalay
Graffiti in Yangon
Cobra dragons at Shwedagon Paya, Yangon
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
“Take pictures. Free of charge. On the house. Put them on the internet. Put them on your blog. Let them know that we are alive.” - Lu maw, Moustache Brother # 2
This is the quote that is repeated time and time again by Lu Maw, “Moustache Brother Number Two”, from the ground floor performance venue of Mandalay’s Moustache Brothers. They are a family vaudeville act that mixes traditional dance demonstrations with comedic dance numbers with an education in Burmese history of the last hundred and fifty years, with Lu Maw’s bittersweet sense of humor.
Lu Maw, explaining how things work (or don't) in Myanmar
Like everywhere else in Burma, Obama’s recent visit was a leitmotif sprinkled throughout the established routine intended to amuse and educate a primarily Western audience. And it did that very well. The show opens with Lu Maw’s audience patter. He asks people where they are from. If we were from the US, he referenced Obama, and also pointed out a poster of Derek Mitchell, the first Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, appointed by Obama. If we had been from Italy, as some other audience members were, his response was, "Italy - Dario Fo," naming another outspoken political comedian.
He sprinkles pieces of information about life in Burma under military occupation over the last thirty years throughout the patter, but just to be absolutely clear (he also occasionally spelled words and used placards to drive home points throughout the show), he began with a video of celebrities who shared facts about Burma (Jennifer Aniston, Woody Harrelson, Will Ferrell, Sylvester Stalone - did you know that Rambo V was set in Burma? I didn't. Ric did...). Facts such as that Burma has the highest percentage of child soldiers in the world. Horrific anecdotes (dramatized in Rambo V) about how the government had used civilians to clear landmines before sending soldiers in to raid those same civilians' land. Facts about poverty, wars between ethnicities, internal slavery, and prostitution. This was the shorthand so that while we were enjoying the dancing, we would also understand the suffering that the people of Myanmar had been enduring for the last thirty years. And also so that we would understand signs and Lu Maw's acerbic jokes.
Par Par Lay, Moustache #1, who was imprisoned for his political comedy act
Their show is outspoken because they openly state inside of Burma that things are broken. But perhaps a more interesting aspect of the show is that it truly is a family vaudeville act. Between the jokes and the political anecdotes, Lu Maw's wife, sisters, sisters-in-law, and Lu Zau (Moustache #3) perform traditional dances, as they have been for the last thirty years or so, as evidenced by a photograph of Lu Maw's wife on the cover of an old Lonely Planet.
All of them 60 plus, the family show endures, despite regime changes and the ever-present KGB (a sign that Lu Maw particularly enjoys threatening the audience with - a mark of the show's longevity). It's a sincere introduction to culture and politics of Burma. We should have begun our trip here, since the show serves as an excellent reminder of the hardships that Myanmar's people face, even as the country attempts to market itself as a tourist destination. The Moustache Brothers remind the audience that everything in Myanmar should be taken with a grain of salt. You should go if you ever get a chance - and put it on your blog!
Moustache Brothers troupe performing a traditional dance of the Karen people