Sunday, 1 July 2012

J to L (Continuing with the alphabet challenge)

J is for JJs

Considering that I've spent the last month rotating two pairs of trousers and four t-shirts in order to keep my legs and the tops of my arms covered so as not to offend the locals in Burma, who are always dressed in ankle-length longyis, it was difficult to decide what to wear to Yangon's one and only nightclub. We had planned to go to JJs to celebrate Nina's birthday so eventually the three of us decided it would be ok to wear dresses as long as we made sure our legs were covered with tights or leggings. As it turned out, we needn't have worried.

When we arrived at JJs it was like stepping into a different world. Men opened the doors of our taxi and helped us out; excited staff members ran to shake hands and welcome us and a whole group of workers accompanied us up in the elevator, explaining the club's 'facilties' to us. After paying our one pound entrance fee (turns out it was ladies night) we entered the first room and got the shock of our lives. I have never seen so many short (and I mean short short) dresses in my life. The place was absolutely filled with girls - some who barely looked over the age of 16 - in tiny skirts and dresses and tottering heels. I think what made the sight even more surreal was the extreme contrast to the very conservative style of dressing we'd experienced over the past month. I don't even know where you'd start to look for a leopard print mini in Burma.

We were ushered to a table, where six waiters stood in a protective circle around us. I think it's the closest we'll ever get to VIP treatment. Drinks were expensive - it was three pounds just for a coke - and as we looked around we realised that none of the girls were actually drinking or dancing, or, as a matter of fact, doing that much at all. They just seemed to be sat or stood around in groups, waiting for some rich men to appear. And when they did, they flocked around them, trying to be the girl who got their attention. It was actually really sad to see.

We were instantly swooped on when we tried to take photographs of each other and told that it was "against the law" to take pictures inside. Presumably to protect the girls whose families did not know they were there or, more likely, the men who were not supposed to be frequenting the place. A security guard then parked himself near us.

As we watched the strange scene in front of us we wondered how the girls actually got to JJs in their skimpy dresses. I can't imagine they'd blend in on the walk to the club. The answer was explained in toilets, where a mountain of bags reached half way up the wall. Girls sat on the floor, applying makeup and sticking on false eyelashes. They looked like teenagers who had told their parents they were staying at a friend's house before sneaking out for the night.

The waiters were keen for us to hit the empty dance floor, where Western music blared out, but we were waiting for the 'fashion show' we'd heard about. At 11pm it began and it was probably the most bizarre thing I've ever seen in a nightclub. As each piece of music began between six and ten girls would take to the stage, each wearing exactly the same dress. They would then parade up and down in a routine, occasionally bumping into one another as their timings were a bit off. I think they were all trying to achieve 'moody model' looks but most of them just looked bored. Some were so shy they couldn't take their eye off the floor. There appeared to be some kind of system that if a man liked one of the girls he could pay for a garland to be put around her neck and at the end of the night the girl with the most was named Miss JJ - a title she kept until the following night when it happened all over again.

In between the catwalks two dance groups entertained the crowd. The dancers had crazy hairstyles and clothes and did energetic routines (which some had got the hang of better than others) to songs by artists like Lady Gaga. While you couldn't fault their enthusiasm it all felt a bit like sitting at a school show. We finally decided to call it a night as pounding dance music brought everyone onto the dance floor where the security men tried, quite unsuccessfully, to stop the boys dancing too close to the girls.

It had been a really funny, surreal, evening and definitely one of the strangest things I saw during my time Burma. As we ventured back out into the real world we discussed how on one hand it was sad to see the girls trying so hard to get the attention of men, already knowing what a difference money would make to their lives. But on the other hand it is the first place, in a society which is still heavily controlled, that we had actually seen young people, particularly girls, being able to express themselves. Something which we so often take for granted at home.

Nb. No picture I'm afraid, due to 'privacy' laws.

K is for Kandawgyi Lake

I'm not sure walking an hour and a half in the scorching sun, risking crossing six lanes of traffic en route, before discovering that a) I didn't have enough money to pay the entrance fee to get into Kandawgi Lake in Yangon and b) that there were no English signs anywhere to take a photograph of, is going to go down as my best travel story ever. But still, that's K done!
This may or may not say Kandawgyi Lake.
L is for Lucky Seven

I think one of my previous posts made it clear just how much I love the teashops in Burma and Lucky Seven in Yangon is the best of the best. I went there on my last day in the country and ordered a plate of samosas and a cup of tea. Sitting outside in the courtyard, which was filled with plants, I watched the three middle-aged ladies gossiping in front of me and the couple next to me who popped in for a quick lunch, and thought about how much I'm going to miss this country. Its kind people, its quirky customs and its simple way of life.

As if to emphasise my sadness, thunder grumbled in the sky and the heavens opened. I decided to stay put under the shelter, as the streets around us instantly flooded due to the shocking drainage systems. With my flask of tea and a book, I couldn't have been more content. Eventually after a couple of hours I decided to squelch my way back to my hotel and as the teaboy handed me my 40p bill, I added something else to the list of things I'm going to miss. 

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