Monday, August 17, 2015

Mandalay, Myanmar: BBQ & Dollar Liquor

Another half-day bus ride later, we arrived in Mandalay. Contrary to popular belief (ok, or just me), it is not the Mandalay of Mandalay Bay fame in Las Vegas.  But after a ton of small rural cities, Mandalay was like being back in the big city.

What It's All About:
Mandalay is Myanmar's second largest city after its capital Yangon, and the last royal capital. It's the main city in the upper half of the country, and it borders the Irrawaddy River.   All you need to take away is that it's a big city in the northern part of Myanmar. The end.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Spent a leisurely afternoon roaming the streets and ended up at a big shopping mall called Diamond Plaza, which was filled with the most random assortment of stores ever.  The only word I have for Burmese fashion is erratic. Very erratic. 
Took a "taxi" home from the mall, which was just a truck with a cover over the bed. 
  •  For dinner, we went to a BBQ place - see Meal of the Day below.

At dinner, there was the sassiest little girl selling Jasmine flowers (with a tiny boy assistant). She was so persistent that Stephen finally bought a strand of them to make her go away. After he purchased it, she insisted on draping it across everyone's head at the table and taking a photo with them. It was the cutest. She was the sassiest. 

Here is my photo with the adorable sassy girl
  •  The next evening, we headed to the U Bein Bridge - it's apparently the longest teak bridge in the entire world (1.2km).  (How many bridges in the world do we think are made of teak....?)  It was very cool, albeit kind of wobbly and questionable in safety. 

No handrails and wobbly beams = adventure!

We hired a wooden boat to take us around the lake for sunset #ROMANCE
Boat selfie with our captain Will

Will = not impressed. Also, the "boat ride" apparently entailed him rowing for like 10 strokes, and then letting us float aimlessly around the river for the rest of the time

And then we took glamour shots at the front of the boat

Such romance

Not only is it the longest teak bridge in the world, but also the oldest? Circa 1850

U Bein bridge at sunset
  • Went to see the Moustache Brothers. The Moustache Brothers are a very well-known comedic group consisting of two brothers and a cousin. They started long ago doing satire focused on the corruption of Myanmar and its government, which was kind of not-OK given Myanmar's tyrannical military government that wasn't a huge fan of allowing its citizens free speech (especially for those criticizing them). After a performance in the 90s, two of them were arrested by the government and sent to hard-labor camps for almost seven years in horrible conditions. When they were released (after some campaigning on their behalf), the government forbade them from putting on their show anymore. The only thing they are allowed to do now is perform for tourists, as the government is scared of doing anything to them if they're in front of tourists' eyes. One of the brothers actually passed away a couple years ago from lead poisoning he got from the work camp water systems when he was jailed, so the second brother continues the act today.  The show itself is hard to describe - it's part slapstick comedy, part history lesson/government complaining, part traditional dancing, etc.  Kind of like a variety show. It's held in the garage of the Moustache Brothers' house and involves their entire family; people go today more so to support the cause, rather than expect to be wildly entertained.
Moustache Brothers Lu Maw and Lu Zaw (Par Par Lay is the one who's passed away). They encourage photo-taking to spread the word - you can see from the signs the kinds of things they talk about
Some of the traditional Burmese dancing. The girl in the middle was SO CUTE.

Meal of the Day:
The first night in Mandalay, we were all exhausted and just decided to go to a casual beer place across the street for dinner. It turned out to be a BBQ joint, which is a thing here (beer/BBQ places) - these places typically have coolers full of raw meats, veggies, etc. on skewers and you pick out what you want, and they cook it for you.  It's so delicious and so, so cheap. 

Huuuuge coolers full of everything you could ever want. Mystery meats, ears of corn, and sausages all included.
The finished product: plate of BBQ deliciousness. Not pictured is the enormous plate of corn I had bc I LOVE CORN

Moment of the Day:
We spent our first afternoon in Mandalay at this rando shopping mall called Diamond Plaza. The mall was this totally rando assortment of the strangest stores ever - however, the basement was a gigantic grocery store-type deal (if grocery stores sold bootleg CD's, clothing, cell phones, and shoes, that is). 

There was a section of the store that sold liquor - Stephen and I happened to breeze through, and then did a double-take at the prices. I'm not even kidding, the large bottles of alcohol were about $1. And I mean fancy glass bottles (I always check if bottles are glass or plastic; that is my line in life), large sizes, everything. The wine was twice the price of any of the liquor. Even the whisky was locked behind a sliding glass door that had to be locked by the attendant - AND IT WAS $1.

$1 gin, $1 rum, and $1 whiskey.  Maybe the whisky was $1.50.  But WHAT kind of ridic country is this and how is everyone not an alcoholic?!  

Stephen and I thought maybe the prices were mislabeled, or they were maybe missing some zeroes, so we asked the attendant - but nope, all real prices. It was insane. INSANE. 

And it was not a bottle full of colored water; it actually wasn't bad. Amazed.

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