Impersonating a police officer is illegal in Yangon

Dressing up like a Yangon traffic cop for Halloween was, if anything, an act of respect.


…I learned this the hard way.

I understand that journalists and law enforcement have been in a serious rough patch lately, but the white-shirted, whistle-wielding traffic police aren’t conspiring to prop up systemic human rights abuses. They’re just trying to keep a semblance of the peace in Yangon traffic. And on the whole, they do an okay job.

Thus, dressing up like a Yangon traffic cop for Halloween was, if anything, an act of respect.

Well, an act of respect, but also an easy-to-assemble getup for the 50th Street Bar Halloween party and costume contest. I didn’t care about the contest, and I would have to miss a chunk of the party to take a phone call with Belgium anyway, but a cop uniform was easy enough: just some dark slacks, a few carboard badges.

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My real mistake was visiting a workplace safety attire shop near my apartment in search of a whistle. One thing led to another, and I found myself showing up to the party dressed in a blue beret, braided lanyard whistle and an actual police-issue baton and holster belt.  

(In my defence, the whole ensemble only cost around K7,000. How could I refuse?)

If a mental alarm bell went off somewhere, I ignored it because I looked good. This was meant to be a half-assed excuse to drink two-for-one Carlsbergs and flirt with expat girls in culturally problematic costumes. But now I was getting startled double-takes from the bar staff and selfie requests from tipsy party-goers, including, to my immense delight, someone dressed like a convict. I looked like a real cop. I felt like a real cop. I might even have a shot at the contest…

My Belgium appointment called. I had almost forgotten. I won’t go into it, but let’s say, for the sake of the story, it was an interview for a freelance contract with a major paperclip distributor. I stepped outside and answered questions about my experience and qualifications, but as soon as the conversation turned to the company and their products, I looked up to see five real-life cops on the sidewalk.

What would you say are our strongest paperclip offerings?

I, uh…sorry, could you repeat the…

Two more officers joined the group, who were speaking with two 50th Street staff and throwing glances my way.

And what would you say makes our paperclips stand out in the market?

Well…their high tensile strength and…um, hang on, sorry…

A friend had walked up and was informing me that, yes, he knew I was on the phone, but those police there – there were 10 now – they did not appreciate my costume quite as much as the tipsy party goers did, and I needed to go ahead and take it off right the fuck now.

The rest of the interview went quite well. I mean, I didn’t get the contract, but at least the interviewer probably never realised I had been navigating their questions while frantically shedding fake police accessories while keeping an eye on the group of officers, which had migrated a few metres closer, and the bar staff, who looked like they wanted to cry.

I didn’t win the costume contest (it went to someone dressed as Speed Racer). But I didn’t add another stint in a Yangon police station to my resume.

Yes, another. Let’s just drop it, OK?

By Frontier

By Frontier

In-depth, unbiased coverage of Myanmar in an era of transition. Our fortnightly English language print magazine is published every other Thursday, with daily news updates online.
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