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 CafĂ© 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.