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On the way back to Mandalay from Namhsan, we stopped at Kyaukme, a small trading town in the Shan hills. There was a festival, like a county fair, going on in town. A local man who wanted to practice his English accompanied us to the festival. There were plenty of games, shows and food, like a small-town fair anywhere. One of the highlights was a large Ferris wheel powered not by a motor, but by people. Men would scale the rickety girders, and then hang off of the sides in unison to start the big wheel turning.

Elsewhere there were games of skill and chance. Some people were rolling bicycle tires in a large, dusty area peppered with “islands” of prizes. Winning required getting the wobbly tire to fall around the goodies. Most of the prizes were bottles of booze or soda. First prize might be a bottle of “ Myanmar ” beer, followed by bottles of rum and whiskey, then soft drinks. At other stands were more traditional games involving skills of knocking down tin cans or bowling pins. We looked for a noodle stand to have a snack. Sitting across from out table was a group of young boys, not more than 10 or 11 years old, drinking from a small bottle of Burmese whisky they had just won. Hunched over small glasses, they tried their best to swagger and act like adults as they swilled the booze.

Pwe Singer Pwe Singer

Later, it was time for the show. There was traditional music and dancing on a makeshift stage. Several contestants danced the peacock dance with cloth and bamboo tail-feathers attached to their backs. The band played cymbals, gongs, and a long Burmese drum. Another nearby stage had more contemporary music: pop songs with live singers. Our friend took us immediately backstage to watch a “Shan fashion show”. Couples, dressed in outfits from different regions in the Shan state, paraded onstage with parasols and performed little dances for the spectators. Then a pop-singing duo, both man and woman wearing thick makeup, came out to croon syrupy love songs. We were prodded into walking out onto the stage to place tinsel wreaths to put around their necks while they were doing their number, a real crowd-pleaser!

Homemade toys in the local market