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Published: November 8th 2010
Lead member of the moustache brothers comedians Papa Lay has been in prison three times for telling jokes about the regime but that hasnt stopped him
Arriving in Mandalay was a full scale assault on the senses, little do you realise what a universal uniform jeans and t-shirts are until you come to a place where noone wears them. Instead, the longyi (similar to a sarong) is worn by men and women in a variety of styles.
Catching the end of rainy season and a typhoon for good measure we were knee high in flood water. After resigning ourselves to the fact that we were going to get wet feet, we lost our shoes and tried our best to follow the examples of the locals and just get on with things.
During my time in Burma I saw only one official, a police officer doing anything of any value. This was a boy that could be no older than 15 (believe me we saw younger) trying his best to direct traffic through Mandalay's flooded streets, other than that - the police and army were evident at the ubiqutous checkpoints where they would take money from the locals, or behind fortifications doing little of anything.
The buildings were in such a state of disrepair that many looked ready to topple down. People lived in colonial
buildings that had the grandeur of the Victorians but the decay of a century of neglect.
Following the 2007 riots (which began over petrol prices - sound familiar?) petrol stations are fenced behind razor wire and have armed guards. It took me a few days to realise that the people on the side of the road with lots of merky looking bottles of water were actually black marketeers selling petrol - the health and safety executive would have a field day.
Once you get over the initial shock, Mandalay is the founder of some priceless memories, we have now walked over the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world, been dazzled by the colours of the Thanboddhay paya (perhaps even more impressive given that the rest of the country seemed to be lacking paint) avoided the clutches of the monkeys around Mingun's caves, dodged government officials trying to charge entrance fees and played tabled football with a gaggle of monks... (does anyone know the collective noun for monks?)
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