Thursday, July 30, 2009

Myanmar's Other Side

Myanmar was a country with many contradictions and just plain weirdness. There was a person who had law degree from London selling street food, a cab driver with an MBA trying to earn more than the $10US rent for the cab, and people watching the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) on the street. Everyday you would see hundreds of people eating on little plastic kids tables and chairs on the sidewalks watching TV blasting the sound till midnight and then the streets would be dead silent and empty.

Due to the strict laws and severe punishment in Myanmar walking the streets in the middle of the night was very safe. I also heard a bunch of stories about foreigners losing their purse, iphone, and what not in cabs or other places to have everything returned to them. Of course this was mostly due to the fact that the people were mostly scared in getting caught as many foreigners do get watched by the military government.

Nonetheless, one of the most bizarre and funny thing was a place called Power Light. Imagine a dinner show with a huge stage. Now add in a Miss America pageant, without the judges, and you have Power Light. Alright, let me add some foundation info. (my personal theory). Due to the religious culture there were no public displays of affection between opposite sexes. So from this heavy suppression of kissing or even simple handholding men would normally find other outlets such as strip clubs. However, the military government does not allow strip clubs so the culture developed in a way where Power Light became their version of a naughty club. One of my Guesthouse mates told me about Power Light and decided to take me and another traveler to check it out on evening.

Let me take you through our night out at Power Light. Once we arrived we ordered some food and drinks before the show began. On stage there were three girls dressed in workout gear dancing to a routine you’d see in any US high school dance team. Then all the girls came out one at a time in provocative dress, normal for the rest of the world, and each took turns singing. Meanwhile all the men were gawking at the women drinking, eating, and buying the girls presents.

To show the women affection the men could buy “gifts” which included big fluffy colorful boas, hats, bouquets of flowers, etc. The girls and the club would get a percentage of the money spent, and this is how the girls would make money. On a good night a girl could make upwards of $300US a night. For a country where the average monthly salary is about $50/month is was big money.

The rest of the show consisted of each girl coming out alone to sing, more dancing, and other combinations of the same thing. Of course throughout the entire show the girl’s faces were solid stone, like the emotionless models you see walking down a catwalk. However at one point the DJ, a man, came on stage with his guitar to sing and people bought HIM gifts too! It was hilarious, but he was a good singer I have to admit. And if I had some extra money, I would have bought him a hat.

To us, the rest of the world, this Power Light would be viewed as almost wholesome. For the people of Myanmar it was a seedy underbelly of their culture that the majority of the population didn’t know about.

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