Monday, March 26, 2007

Posting a Big Picture -- blogs as websites.

Black Apsaras -- Copyright Kyi May Kaung
"Come share in my colors, as you stare, for I have much color to spare."
Bijan.C. Bayne.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My art show opening for Mostly Burmese Mugs

Chin Woman

"You wonder what I see, and wonder why I smile. How wonderful!"
Bijan C. Bayne.

(All Word and Images on this Blog, Copyright Kyi May Kaung, unless specifically attributed to others.)

March 16, 2007

This is my third one-woman show since 2001 in the United States.

The first two were “Flux,” March 2001 at The Foundry Gallery and “Blotches from Burma,” October 2005, also at Space 7-10, Kefa Café, 963 Bonifant St., Silver Spring, MD

These two shows were of my abstracts, which were compared in my first show by City Paper arts correspondent Louis Jacobson, to the work of Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock. At the time, I had heard of Pollock, and seen the film based on his life, but I did not know who Franz Kline was. I hurriedly looked him up, and then understood what the art critic was saying.

After my “Blotches” show, I suddenly became fascinated by people’s faces. As what might be called a born writer (I knew I was one since about 5th grade, called the fifth standard in Burma), I observe people carefully in public places, short of staring at them rudely. In the years before 2005, I was rather tired of people, especially political people; the euphemisms they use when they speak, the way they are not sincere most of the time, and use dialog to zap you, put you down, or build themselves up.

Now because I am looking at people both as a writer and an artist, I notice much more. The woman who is so excited as she comes onto the metro – she must be in love, she starts each sentence with “he” as she talks animatedly to her woman friend. The Red Hat Society that I saw once, all the women, all shapes and sizes, valiantly wearing far-out red hats. And I didn’t even have the guts to go up to them and ask, “Where did you buy that hat?”

The young woman I saw on the elevator the other day, hair pulled back in a bun, her clothes in black and white stripes, white high heels, and a big dark red jelly in a heart shaped mold decorated with real raspberries. A picture already!

So I started painting portraits in 2005, and now have enough for one and a half exhibitions.

With me and my events, the weather rarely co-operates, and that Friday it was on strike. I packed the Burmese “golden rice” dessert I had made in Tupperware; other things I was taking with me such as spare paper napkins, in plastic bags. I also took a spare cloth bag just in case.

As I got off the train and started walking uphill to Kefa Café, I noticed the icy rain was starting to leave slush on the sidewalk. I walked along carefully in my rain boots, afraid of falling.

Because of the awful weather, only some of my best friends were there. There were about six of us. We had a lot of food, as my Burmese friend brought deep fried spring rolls which were delicious. She brought the fish sauce and lime juice based dip in a jam jar. Lene and Ababe, the owners of Kefa, put out a big pot of coffee and almond flavored bread.

The reception was supposed to be from 6.30 to 8.30 PM. At about 8, I realized my friends were sitting and talking to me so I would not be alone.

At this point I thought, “Wow! This is a bit like a wake.”

But I really did not notice the bad weather outside, because of my friends.

Later at home I thought -- But who gets to attend their own funeral wake, sit and laugh with friends and be surrounded by portraits of fictional characters she/he has painted herself/himself?

I forget which writer it was, perhaps Pearl Buck, who asked for all her published books to be brought onto her deathbed with her.

Not a bad way to die. Or live.


Article about my art show Mostly Burmese Mugs in The Gazette

Human Rights Activist.

All Words and Images on this Blog - Copyright Kyi May Kaung unless specifically attributed.
For Gazette article please see:

Thank you Audrey Dutton and Adam Fenster and The Gazette.

Thank you Amy Kincaid, Lene and Ababe at Space 7-10 Kefa Cafe.

Thank you Tom Block.

Thank you Bijan Bayne for the captions.

Thank you Khin May Zaw.

For all the time and support you have given me to make this show and this article possible.

Thank you my sons, friends and family members for giving me permission to paint your likenesses (and change them!) --

and encouraging me to paint "in series" and "a series of Asian women."

Thank you all the Activists who have told me your Stories.

Kyi May Kaung

Monday, March 19, 2007

My Recent Publications and Events March-April 07

My poetry profile

Four poems translated from Burmese and one found poem.

Thank you Linh Dinh for posting these.

Thank you Wendy Steginsky and Joy Stocke at Wild River Review.

My current and upcoming events at Space 7-10, Kefa Cafe, Silver Spring, MD.

Thanks Bijan Bayne for captions for Mostly Burmese Mugs and continuous support.

Thanks Amy Kincaid for logistics at Kefa and using my art and photos on Kefa blog site

I was also interviewed by local MoCo TV, Audrey Dutton of Bethesda Chevy Chase Gazette and Ying-Ju Lai of Asian Fortune, which has an on line edition.

Thank you Everyone for this Year of the Pig.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Learning to upload and position images

A friend in Australia (they all say "Oz") says: Find the "Customise" button, then click "add an element to blog."

I found customise, but Help on my blog has a different process.

Mars Ranger-Copyright Kyi May Kaung
So now I am trying to upload Mars Ranger, for which The Northern Virginia Review gave me a Best in Show prize (see article What I Won was Best in Show).

Here goes -- IT WORKED! Now it's so easy, it's scary.

What I Won was "Best in Show"

Copyright Kyi May Kaung 3-8-07

Tuesday March 6, 2007 dawned with the wind still going “woong” in Burmese round the corner of the oh-so-tall building I live in. It came in the slight spaces between the sealed window and the window frames. It was frigidly cold and I had a sinus headache.
By about noon, I had to start to get ready to go to an awards ceremony in Virginia. I sneezed in bouts of 3 to 6 at a time, my whole body seeming to convulse with the force of my sneezes. I remembered a friend of mine who was a nurse saying “We Asians have smaller nasal cavities and are more prone to sinuses.”
A colleague of mine from Thailand – he is a Burmese refugee activist poet also, called to say he would have to walk about 30 minutes to the metro where a board member of The Northern Virginia Review was going to pick me up, so he would not be coming. It was too cold. He’d try to come to my art show opening. I said I understood. I would have stayed in bed myself also – but I was the one receiving the award.
Connie picked me up at the metro an hour before the ceremony was scheduled to start in Annandale. She waited for me at the foot of the escalator, not the top as she had said, because of the wind. I was so relieved to see her – and felt I knew her so well, after all she was a fan of my short story Black Rice, and had selected it for an award. I rushed up to her and hugged her. In my heavy wool coat and with a shawl over my head, I felt like a Russian bear.
It was further to Annandale campus than I had thought. During the drive, Connie flipped her right hand, I thought at the beam of sunshine coming through the windshield. I am convinced that with global warming there is hole in the ozone layer over the greater Washington DC area. The sun is too glaringly bright, brighter than it has ever been before and I don’t think it is my aging eyes. Connie said, “It’s dog hair.” I thought of two dogs, a St. Bernard and a Border Collie, that I am very fond of.
At the Ernst Cultural Center, Connie parked her car and told me she had made a trip to the Punjab, to study Sikhism. I told her again about hearing that my cousin, Ah Par (one of fictitious names I have given him) recently passed away in Rangoon. My character Black Rice in the story is partially based on my cousin Ah Par, who was nearly executed during the Karen Uprising in 1948, but the revolver jammed. He was rescued by a Karen officer whose name he would never reveal. In 2004, a Karen leader told me the name of the man who had rescued my cousin, but I forgot it again. By now the fiction has become more real to me.
I wrote the story in Philadelphia about 10 years ago. My marriage was disintegrating, I was browned out after the Ph.D. and I was trying to get accustomed to the loss of my country. The clampdown on the pro-democracy movement had started on Sept 18, 1988 and continues to this day. I wrote poetry every day and worked part time at Annenberg Center as an assistant house manager.
The day I finished my dissertation, I felt so empty I started my creative non-fiction memoir. Black Rice was in the middle of the novel, as an elder cousin who had brought the political realities of Burma into my young life, by telling us stories on his visits.
I wove Black Rice, the character in my short story (well, actually it is a novella) out of at least 3 other stories and my observations of the Indian “maestry” or mason/supervisor and his Indian worker. Kalama (Indian Girl) in my story became Black Rice’s Indian mother. The “maestry” changed color too, and became a rich Chinese contractor.
I took out Black Rice from the memoir as a free-standing piece in 1997, and sent it to the Philadelphia Inquirer. They liked it, but at the time, they had just run a report on Burma. So I sent another story Band of Flesh, about conjoined twins, and they published that in their Sunday magazine. Then Black Rice must have grown pale, in the piles of mss in my apartment, while I moved to DC, worked in radio, worked for The Burma Fund, traveled all over and wrote “other things.”
Due to a friend, B., taking a great liking to Black Rice, I started sending it out again about 6 months ago, and The Northern Virginia Review accepted it, then they also accepted a painting of mine Mars Ranger, then they told me I had won a prize.
So, the awards ceremony.
The keynote speaker Meena Nayak, author of Endless Rain and other novels, was riveting. It was so easy for me to relate to her going to Kashmir to research her story that it was scary. Are we, as one friend of mine charged, addicted to danger?
It was good to meet the editors Dorothy Seyler and Steve Drasner. Fortunately, Dorothy mentioned the number of different prizes they were handing out in her introduction. So I was not too alarmed when it wasn’t Black Rice which was awarded the short story prize.
What I won was what Dorothy called the Best in Show, that is, the best in this annual edition #21. I felt like a pot of tulips in full bloom at the Philadelphia Flower Show. You know how bulbs are forced to bloom early in March – layers of bulbs are buried in big pots and watered and kept at about 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit, until they all bud and bloom at once for the show.
I won for Black Rice, as well as my painting Mars Ranger, done without a brush.
Prizes are always nice. And it’s always nice to have people come up and say how much they liked your story. At the buffet, another board member, it must have been, said to me, “I love your Black Rice.” For a moment, it felt as if she was praising something I had cooked, and I looked around at the tiny spring rolls, the dainty quiches 1 ½ inches in diameter in green and yellow, the juicy brown meat balls and the cake, with light beige chocolate icing and “The Northern Virginia Review” piped on it in white, and thought, Where is the rice? – before I realized she wasn’t talking about the food.
Another writer friend Marianne Villanueva, told me in Berlin at the House of World Culture where we were fellow invitees that “writers need an ego boost now and then.”
I felt so good for the affirmation TNVR was giving me.
I talked non-stop and invited Meena to do a book launch at my Salon in Silver Spring, and she accepted, and I talked some more with Tanya Gupta, who won a poetry prize. The taxi Tanya called for never came, so Steve Drasner took us back to Vienna metro and Tanya and I talked some more on the train.
Today, I am making a brown colored pressed rice dessert for my art show opening Mostly Burmese Mugs.
But this rice is only brown from the brown sugar in it.
Black Rice is a glutinous rice that is black-purplish naturally – and is very popular in Burma as a breakfast food with fried dried fish and crushed sesame seeds and oil. It is also the basis of a Portuguese sweet in Burma called dohl dohl. (The Portuguese first came to Burma in the 16th century as mercenaries with guns, cannon and gunpowder).
I cooked the rice for the dessert Shwe Htamin (Golden Rice) in the rice cooker, and have cooled it and pressed it down in a tray using aluminum foil and all the tin cans I can find.
Why is it rice and everything else cooks so much faster here than in Burma? Is it because I can just switch on my stove, I don’t have to blow at firewood or hot coals, or is it because the rice itself is more modified and cooks faster? Or it is time that moves faster as I age?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Excellent 30 min video documentary/commentary on Burma (1962-2007) -- Highly recommended

From Khitpyaing (New Era) Journal based in Bkk.

This video documentary/commentary soberly moves back and forth between footage of recent notorious gala wedding of Gen. Than Shwe's daughter -- "Ph.D. candidate, Shanghai Univ." and conditions in Burma.

Rare footage includes:

Shots -- also gunshots and wounds -- from 1988 -- some first aired on Nightline with Ted Koppel.

An aged Gen. Ne Win saying, "When an army shoots, it doesn't shoot in the air. It shoots to kill."

-- in roughly serial order -- sales of Burma's natural resources, including jade, pearls and gemstones, teak,

-- the gap between rich and poor

-- the plight of women

-- rape as a weapon of war

--an army officer expounding on high yield paddy (rice) and the rice production targets (note someone moves silently and deliberately out of the camera's field of vision)

--the importance of food --

(the crowds lined up for food -- the little boy who spilled his rice --

are being fed in a SattuDeeThar -- a special charity where all comers are fed.)

On a personal note:

To: D.S. who wrote my part on the Burma sanctions debate in Foreign Policy In Focus was
"poignant and personalized,"
the anonymous commentator who said my use of a video documentary as evidence was "ludicrous" and D.B.V. -- who vociferously defended his website as non-political,
pl. consider this my reply.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Burmese in a Cold Climate

Copyright Kyi May Kaung

Burmese in a Cold Climate.

Just a few days ago it was 60 degrees F. A good day to do my grocery shopping, have my hair cut. The barber shop where I usually have my hair cut, owned and run by Vietnamese – is packed. About a 15 min wait. I use it to observe the other customers and work out what conflicts there might be among them. After all, I am primarily a fiction writer – conflict is the basis of all fiction.

A woman has straight blonde hair, and to my eyes her new cut looks perfect. But she keeps looking at herself sideways in the big oval mirror that the petite Vietnamese hairdresser, is holding up for her. I cannot figure out why she is so worried. Hair is hair, right? When she stands up, I notice she is about 6 months pregnant. Her husband is about 40 years old, and seems to have put on much more weight than she has. He pays for himself, and the owner of the shop jokes with him, “You have not paid for your wife.” She says something I can’t hear, and he says, “This is the last time you’re coming with me!”
Couple on the verge of a marriage breakdown?
I pay my $20 hair cut fee, with $2 for the hairdresser. She didn’t hold the mirror long for me. She didn’t even dry my hair properly. But no matter. It is colder. I am glad I brought one of my hand-made scarves, made with my own hands as I watch TV.
I worry as I always do, if America will get too expensive for me to retire in.
I think about Chinese economic growth – the stock market fall.
How should I price my artwork?
When stocks fall, will people buy more art as they did after the last crash?
In the grocery, I try to remember not to buy more than I can carry on the Metro. When I travel, I also try not to take more than I can manage.
Fruits and vegetables are quite expensive. The bunch of coriander leaves is $1.00
How much is a bunch of coriander in Burma now?
With two bags of groceries, I go to La Madeleine and treat myself to a puff pastry – a chicken friand stuffed with ground chicken, and smothered, absolutely smothered, in a light brown mushroom sauce. Yummy. I also get a custard with photogenic red strawberries and big blueberries on top. Quote from T.S. Eliot – “The roses had the look of roses that are looked at.”
To top it all up and really pig out, I ordered a diet coke. There!
Two days later it is so cold – maybe 20 degrees but the wind chill is nasty.
The wind goes “woon” (in Burmese) around the corner of the 30 storey building I live in. It seems to shake the building and force its way in past the sealed windows.
A Burmese colleague emails me to look at his blog site – but I cannot open the Burmese font, which instead of being the Burmese script of round interlocked and open alphabets, is now empty small squares. I look at some You Tube, to see, as my colleague says, “the way the mind of young Burmese work, but I am older.” I am even older than my colleague, but at some point you stop worrying. I look at Picasso’s paintings. Picasso advocated growing younger every year.
The young Burmese on You Tube look too westernized to my eyes. Why are the Burmese sites called “Myanmar Blogs?” Does that mean they are on the side of the Myanmar junta? Or is the host a Myanmar concern inside Burma. I feel quite “gingerly” as a friend from Jaffna in Sri Lanka used to say. She always urged me to use “gingerly oil” as a balm. I never figured out what she meant. It does not have anything to do with ginger, as far as I know. I could never make her appom – which are Burmese ah-ponn; light lacey, crispy, wafer thin, reverse dome-shaped “cakes” with a puddle in the middle – in Burma the puddle is filled with a whitish coconut sauce. She also taught me to make “string hoppers” which were nothing string-like, and did not hop, but more like the steamed rice cake we eat in Burma called monn sein paung. Only the Sri Lankan version is savory and eaten with meat curries. In Burma we never made these cakes at home, and so have no recipes, nor any idea how to make them. We always bought theme either in the morning bazaars or the evening, night time pagoda festival markets. Now after 20+ years “in a cold climate” I rather miss Burmese pagoda festivals.
B. says I am having a good year. Last Tuesday, Montgomery County TV’s Coming Attractions interviewed me and Amy Kincaid about the Kefa Café art space, Space 7-10, that Amy runs, and my upcoming wearable art show. Fortunately, it was not so cold then. I wore one of my jackets made from cut up portions of my own and my mother’s clothes. The host practiced pronouncing my name and I thought to myself, maybe I am forgetting the pronunciation of my own name. It sounds much harsher in real Burmese.
The Gazette reporter Audrey Dutton interviewed me on Thursday, and the photographer took pictures of me and my anonymous portraits. They are not really “anonymous.” They are fictional.
“Min Gun, Burmese Revolutionary” started as a copy of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s photograph. But at some point, the neck started to look masculine to me, so I put away the reference photo and proceeded from there. I decided to name him “Min Gun” after the world’s biggest bell in Burma, and in honor of very young boys and girls, some teenagers as young as 13, who joined the pro-democracy movement in Burma.
Tomorrow I will receive an award from The Northern Virginia Review for my short story Black Rice, written over 10 years ago, partially based on my late cousin, who was nearly executed, but the pistol jammed. He was then saved by a Karen leader whose name he would never tell us.
Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for in this Year of the Pig.

My Upcoming Events in Silver Spring, MD. March-April 2007

March 13 through Saturday, April 7, 2007.

Exhibit titled "Mostly Burmese Mugs" featuring "mostly anonymous, ethnically ambiguous" portraits and painted ceramics by artist and poet Kyi May Kaung. Provocative captions written by historian Bijan Bayne accompany the artwork. Explore those questions about race that decorum forbids we ask strangers on the street. March 16, 6:30 to 8:30pmArt Opening Reception --

Kyi May Kaung March 30, 6:30 to 8:30pm

Real Clothes for Real People. Trunk show of wearable art jackets handmade with Asian fabrics by Kyi May Kaung and modeled by café neighbors and regulars. Open call for volunteer models.

April 6, 6:30 to 8:30pm. Dr. Kaung's Salon: Who is it? Art as a Mirror of Pre-Judgment. With historian Bijan C. Bayne and videographer Tomiko Anders.

Kefa Cafe -- 963 Bonifant St. Silver Spring, MD 20910
Junction of Bonifant and Georgia Avs.

ph. 301 589 9337 Free Parking on Bonifant St, at underpass or on Wayne Av.

One block from Silver Spring Metro, Red Line.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

From a Young Burmese -- I recommend this site.

I've met Kyaw Min Htun briefly at conferences and seminars -- but do not know him well. I did not know he had arrived in the United States so recently.

This site, in both Burmese and English, is really very good.

It gives a different perspective than "mainstream media" and allows one to pick and choose what to listen to --

It's a pity that as his personal website, he does not present a daily digest of all broadcast pieces about Burma --


My archive at IISH, Amsterdam--