Monday, August 27, 2007

Three Upcoming Dr. Kaung's Salon Dates

My Salon in March 2007, "Who am I?" Painting "Lady Scorpion" and photo copyright Kyi May Kaung.

  1. Friday, August 31, 6:30 to 8:30pm Dr. Kaung's Salon: Kyi May Kaung reads from her new dramatic monologue, "With or Without Womb," based on an interview of a Burmese woman.

  2. Dr. Kaung's Salon: Robin Hood in History, Legend, and Ballad. A discussion of Robin Hood interspersed with several songs led by Stephen D. Winick, a writer and editor at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Friday, September 28, 6:30 to 8:30pm

  3. Dr. Kaung's Salon: A discussion with Elaine Kessler about the work of Women's Education Project in Uganda.

    Space 7:10 at Kefa Cafe. An organic art space exhibiting an evolving mix of contemporary, outsider, visionary, and world cultural artwork. Located at 963 Bonifant Street (near the corner of Georgia Ave., in downtown Silver Spring). A small gallery, a salon series, an intimate performance space. Coffee, gelato, quiche, soup, sandwiches, pastries.

Walking distance from Silver Spring Metro -- Red Line -- Free Parking on Wayne Av. and Bonifant Sts.

Hindu Temple in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Always enjoyed visiting Edison, NJ also, where largest Indian community said to reside in USA. Wonderful Indian sweets, festivals and dances.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Reading my Monolog "With or Without Womb" on Aug 31st, 2007

Photograph copyright Kyi May Kaung

With or Without Womb

Playwright, poet and painter Kyi May Kaung reads from her new dramatic monologue, based on her interview of a Burmese woman.

Friday, 31 August, 6.30 PM to 8.30 PM

Space 7-10, Kefa Cafe, 963 Bonifant St., Silver Spring, MD 20910

Free and open to the public. Walking distance from Silver Spring Metro, free parking on Wayne Av. and Bonifant St.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Burmese Artist Kyee Myintt Saw

He was at same Economics Institute as I was --

a master of pinks and purples, moody blue light at night -- sunlight shining through cloth or canvas.

Shift your Paradigm to Suit the Time(s).

I highly recommend this article -- learned as much from it as from Tom Peter's In Search of Excellence.

Quote: "Obviously, it is useless to be best in the wrong thing." Lewis Perelman.

Note also Perelman's contrasting "the logic of pyramids and the logic of seagulls."

Seagulls have adapted and will be around longer than the pyramids.

Or in a S.E. Asian context, the silk cotton tree will be around longer than the Angkor monuments.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Four Mighty Good Reads

I am not sure if you will like these, but I do -- :)

1. White Mughuls by William Darymple -- true story of a British Resident in Hyderabad, who "went native" and married a Mughul Princess.

2. Twilight over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess -- by Inge Sargent -- Memoir -- written by my friend Mrs Sargent, who was previously married to a Shan prince, who disappeared in 1962 while under detention at a Burmese military base. Univ. of Hawaii Press, paperback.

3. Beasts of No Nation, A Novel, by Uzodinma Iweala. Paperback. This author credits Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, with inspiring his own writing, about a child soldier in an unnamed African country. Winner of LA Times Award for First Fiction, Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and NY Public Library, Young Lions Award.

4. Mark Bojanowski, The Dog Fighter. A Novel. Finalist for NY Public Library Young Lions Award.

Here comes my (updated) bio --

Self Portrait, copyright Kyi May Kaung

Ø Ph.D. 1994, University of Pennsylvania, in Political Economy. Created my own theory of why totalitarian countries fail to develop.
Ø Freelance writer, former staff writer/senior research analyst/international broadcaster, Radio Free Asia, and senior research associate, The Burma Fund (affiliated with the Burmese Democratic Government in Exile), Washington DC.
Ø Lots of publication credits including: a. WHO Country Report (commissioned, c. 1971); Coffey Brothers, Sydney Australia – Burma Dry Zone Water Usage Survey, joint quetionaire designer.
Ø Non-fiction and academic articles in Foreign Policy in Focus, Asian Survey, Burma Debate; Lotus Leaf (Asian Art – upcoming Spring 2008), Asian Fortune, The Irrawaddy,
Ø Short stories in Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine Special Fiction Issue, August, 1997; Wild River Review, vol1, #2, Northern VA Review, Spring 2007, The Salween (in Burmese) 2002, Shoptalk (RFA Newsletter), Panamowa (upcoming, Fall 2007)
Ø Poetry in Norton Anthology of S.E. Asian Poetry (upcoming), Poet Lore, Wild River Review, Poet’s Attic, Rattapallax, Poetic Invention, Passport Magazine, CrossConnect.
Ø Poetry and fiction readings: Borders Book Stores, Philadelphia and Marlton, N.J., Robin’s Book Store, Philadelphia, White Dog Café, Philadelphia, universities and colleges in USA and Canada, including, University of PA, Universities of Toronto and Alberta, Canada; University of Boulder, CO; UCLA; Ann Arbor Michigan, Kalamazoo College, with Washington Musica Viva; at Kefa Café, MD; at Suvannabhumi Art Gallery, Chiangmai, Thailand.
Ø Interviewed by NPR (Wisconsin, Jean Ferrera), VOA, Dr. Micheal Hurd Show, Pacifica Radio, Asian Fortune, Boulder Current, Colorado Daily, Wild River Review, Bethesda Gazette.
Ø Hundreds of radio scripts, 1997-2001. Name recognition for my weekly features- Reading between the Lines (Political and Economic Analysis of Burma and S.E. Asia) and Poems of Those who Love Their Country, (international dissident poetry).
Ø Received writing awards including – Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Grant, William Carlos Williams Award of Academy of American Poets, Pew Finalist – for my play Shaman and my allegory in poetry and prose, She-Monkey goes West.
Ø Words of praise for my play from Edward Albee.
Ø Grants: Fulbright Fellowship 1982-1988, Polish Government Scholarship, 1969-70, Burmese Government Scholarship in college in Rangoon University.
Ø Edited: Ph.D. dissertation of my mentor, the late Dr. Aye Hlaing, for London School of Economics while I was still in Burma in late 60s. The Burma Fund occasional papers 2001-2004.
Ø International Conferences: Berlin – House of World Culture, Oct, 2005, as one of 6 invited panelists (S.E. Asian Writers); Cornell University, Spring 2005, invited Speaker; Conference on World Affairs, Boulder, CO – annually – panelist/invitee – 1997-2001; Democracy Coalition, Seoul, S. Korea; Burma Studies Conference, keynote panelist, Gottenberg, 2002 and DeKalb, IL, 2004; Research and Intelligence, State Department, Chair, Panel on Future Scenarios in Burma, 1998; E-W Center, Conflict Resolution in Burma, Singapore, July 2006 etc.
Ø Board member – Burma Refugee Project; Burma Economic Watch
Ø Specialization – S.E. Asia and Burma, International Literature in Translation. Human Rights, Women and Children’s Rights. Social Science topics. Creative writing. Art. Travel writing.
Ø Subject Matter Expertise: Given a chance to do my research, I can write confidently about anything (except sports).
Ø Preferred work – book doctoring and copy-editing – of novels, memoirs, non-fiction about Asia or in fields of social science, human rights.
Ø Years in field – writing professionally since 1997, academically since 1960s, short stories since I was a teenager.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Kalon or Red-Whiskered Bulbul may become extinct

Kalon or red-whiskered Bulbul may become extinct

Independent Mon News Agency
August 17, 2007

Mon community leaders in Tenasserim Division in southern Burma are worried about the red-whiskered Bulbul or Kalon bird, in local parlance, becoming extinct with local people trapping the birds for export to Thailand .

Local people in Yebyu and Tavoy Township Tenasserim Division use nets and traps to catch the red-whiskered Bulbuls or Kalons. Groups of people are engaged in this activity in the Yebyu and Tavoy forest.

The Kalon birds are dark blue, yellow and green in colour. It has a sweet voice and some Thai people keep it as pets at home.

"Most of the trappers are Muslims, some Mon and some Burmese people," said a Yebyu resident.

"A Kalon bird is worth 3,000 Baht. That is why people catch the bird," he added.

According to a bird catcher they sell it as pets in Suwanabumi Airport Garden .

With more and more people bent on catching the Kalon, local community leaders have asked the New Mon State Party's (NMSP) Tavoy district administrator to stop the practice.

According to the NMSP Tavoy district officer, they had released an order banning the trapping of Kalon birds because it would lead to the bird's extinction.

Currently, the Kalon bird sells for 3,000 Baht on the Thai Burma border and Thai tourists buy it for their home because of its sweet voice and coloured feathers.

For further information please contact to ,,

Contact Editor : 66 (0) 81 3659140 (or) 66 (0) 892 072 825,
Please visit Burma News International Web-site:, in which IMNA is a member.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Quote of the Day --

from writer Elizabeth Null, in talking about nice group we are in,

"Not little prune-faced judges of your every spoken sentence!"

I could do a whole riff on prunes, who are usually prudish.

When I was growing up, one ate prunes to be "regular" and avoid constipation.

Exercise before you go to bed: Try making a prune face in the mirror.

My interview of Elaine Kessler -- Educate the Girls -- in Panamowa

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Angkor Photos from 1994 Endeavor Space Shuttle

Western Baray and Eastern Baray clearly visible, as are Angkor Wat, in center and Angkor Thom, larger and N. of Angkor Wat, and straight lines of ancient and modern roads and canals.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

My upcoming Dr. Kaung's Salon events at Space 7-10

Heated discussions at Space 710, photo Kyi May Kaung

August 10th, Friday, 6.30-8.30 PM. Karen Hanscom (Ph.D.) Exec. Director, and Essence Pierce, Case Manager from Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, featured in Feb. issue of O: The Oprah Magazine.

August 24, 6.30P to 8.30P -- Meena Nayak, author of Endless Rain (Penguin) a novel set in Kashmir.

August 31, 6.30 P to 8.30P, I will read from my monolog With or Without Womb, based on intverview of a Burmese woman.

All at Kefa Cafe, 963 Bonifant St. Silver Spring, MD

Do come.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Burma 14th Most Failed State: What it Means and How It is Calculated.

Poster -- of Burmese Democracy Leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, United States Campaign for Burma -- July 2006

Last year (2006) my country of origin, Burma, was number 18 on the list of Most (Worst) Failed States in the world. This year it is number 14th. Can the military junta that rules it so tightly, do nothing but make it “advance” on indicators that show how awful it is?
The topmost block of indicators in a list totaling 177 countries blares at you from a bright red alert background color. Next comes orange and then, lowest on the scale, which is the best in this case, a cool color – green.
So how does the Fund for Peace measure all this, and what does it take account of? So which are the two worst places, with the most failed states? Your guess is absolutely right and they are – Sudan and Iraq. Daily media images confirm this. But wait a minute, how do we exactly measure Sudan and Iraq against each other? It’s done by using social, economic and political indicators, and in this case it is not a statistical sleight of hand. The indicators are probably based on sample surveys or interviews.
We could ask a refugee from Sudan and one from Iraq – which of your plights was the worst, do you think? Starving and the militia in Sudan, sectarian violence and bombs going off all the time in Iraq? But we have to aggregate the impressions and rank them in order.
Here are some of the 12 indicators used to rank 177 countries: Among the social indicators –
I-1 Mounting demographic pressures – this means limited physical resources, including food, transportation etc to look after an increasing population. And/or not enough resources for people.
I-2 Massive movement of Refugees and IDPs (Internally Displaced People) -- Ah! Burma for certain has this, as do the Sudan and Iraq.
I-3 A legacy of vengeance, especially between groups.
I-4 Chronic and sustained human flight. This is very important as an indicator. It means it is not only chronic, that is, very bad and going on all the time, but also kept going by continued bad conditions, severe oppression and so on. In the Burmese case, since the SPDC now wages war on the minorities year round, no longer “resting” for the rainy season, and other oppressions have continued, the number of refugees and IDPs is increasing daily.
Famous Nobel Prize Winning economist Milton Friedman, who in the 70s, with his wife Rose, wrote the popular TV series and book Free to Choose, stated that this “voting with one’s feet” was very significant. As in Hungary after the clampdown on the revolution of 1956, people cannot stand it any more and walk out to a freer place. Burmese refugees and exiles are now everywhere, most of them in countries such as Thailand, India, China and Bangladesh, which share borders with Burma. The IDPs, estimated at one million in a country of 50m, are displaced by the SPDC’s relocation campaigns, rural exactions, forced portering etc and are tramping around within the country. Among them are child soldiers and/or orphans.
Among the economic indicators used to calculate the Failed State Index are:
I-5 Uneven economic development along group lines.
There is great economic disparity between the rich and the poor in Burma. The rich are either the army or the “pariah capitalists” or new rich, who have worked out some kind of détente with the Burmese junta.

I –6. Sharp and severe economic decline.
Among the political factors:
I-7 Criminalization and/or delegitimization of the State.
I-9 Arbitrary application of rule of law and widespread violation of Human Rights.
Sadly for Burmese, these are self-explanatory.
How do some of Burma’s neighbors in S.E. Asia do in these rankings? The second worst failed states are in “orange alert status.” They include, and we would expect this, Laos and Cambodia, but also Thailand and Vietnam, and among former communist or still communist states, Russia and Cuba.
In a failed state such as Burma, the state is not looking after its citizens as it should be, but is looking after itself.
I-10 Security apparatus or apparat is functioning as a state within a state.

Which are the world’s best states? Which country is it best to be a citizen of?
A family friend of mine, let’s call her Sann Sann, was first in Norway before her refugee journey brought her to the Unites States. Her husband says, she always talks about, “Norway, Norway.” In this case she is correct. Norway, number 177 in this table, has the least failed state, that is, the best government. Overall, the 3 Scandinavian countries are the 3 best countries to be a citizen of:
#177 Norway
#176 Finland

#175 Sweden.
(#174 is Ireland, #173 is Switzerland, where allegedly, even the former dictator of Burma, the late Gen. Ne Win, kept his Swiss bank account).
It is probably not an accident that The Democratic Voice of Burma (Radio) is based in Oslo, Norway.
Nor that Carl Sandburg’s famous poem of 1942, “The Man with the Broken Fingers” is about a Norwegian freedom fighter who had not only all his fingers but his entire body broken and died as a result of torture during the Nazi Occupation.
The Gestapo wit and craft had an aim.
They wanted it known in Norway the Gestapo can be terrible.
They wanted a wide whispering of fear.
Of how the Nazis handle those who won’t talk or tell names.
“We give you one more chance to co-operate.”
Yet he had no names for them.
His locked tongue, his Norwegian will pitted against Nazi will,
His pride and faith in a free man’s way.
His welcoming death rather than do what they wanted ---

I translated this poem into Burmese and broadcast it on my program, Poems of Those who Love Their Country, in 1997.
The countries with the best governments, saving the best for last, are thus Switzerland, Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Norway. Their citizens are all well known for their independent mindedness.

For the actual tables, please see

Kyi May Kaung was born in Burma, and has 4 degrees, including a Masters and a Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. Her doctoral dissertation is about the terrible affects of centralization in Burma and other countries. She was a Sr. Research Analyst at Radio Free Asia and The Burma Fund from 1996-2004. She lived in Burma till the early 1980s.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Author Meena Nayak will read from her book Endless Rain

At my Dr. Kaung's Salon, at Space 7-10, Kefa Cafe, 963 Bonifant St., Kefa Cafe, Silver Spring, MD

August 24th, Friday, 6.30 PM to 8.30 PM

Do come! Or watch this blog for updates and reports.

Meena A. Nayak will read from her new novel, (Penguin), which takes place in Kashmir, India."Endless Rain" is Meena Nayak's fourth book. She will talk about how she came to write about Kashmir, and her research trips there. Meena teaches Creative Writing and Mythology at Northern Virginia Community College.
Come and find out more about Kashmir -- a place of political turmoil as well as unrivalled beauty, so often featured in world-class writing out of India, especially in the novels of Salman Rushdie. What happens when a writer is compelled to write about a place but knows the research for it could become life threatening?

From Dr Hamid Akbari -- Events in Chicago to commemorate Burma's 8-8-88 Anniversary

Azar and Danny and I would like to invite you to join us and others to hear the respected and tireless activist, journalist and author, Maura Stephenes, US spokesperson for the International Campaign for Freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma and a humanitarian campaigner and writer on Iraq since 2003, for any or all of the following events:

On Friday, August 10 at 7:00 p.m., Maura will speak on Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi's struggle for democracy and freedom in Burma on the 19th annivesary of August 8, 1988, the notorious day that witnessed the massive killings and widespread violent suppresion of the peaceful democracy activists in Burma by the ruling military junta (SLORC).
The No Exit Cafe, 7:00 p.m. North GlenwoodChicago, IL, 60626 USAPhone: (773) 743-3355

On Saturday, August 11 at 8:00 p.m., please join us for a dinner with Maura at Cafe Suron. We will also hear about Maura's recent work on Iraq and she will also answer any questions about her work on Iraq and Burma. For Maura's latest work on Iraq, please see
Cafe Suron, 1146 W Pratt, Chicago, IL 60626 - Telephone 773-465-6500
(Please let either Danny or I know if you're coming so that we plan for the seating. There will be a fixed price for each person attending).

On Sunday, August 12 at 2:30 p.m., Azar is hosting a gathering at our home in honor of Maura in order to organize a Greater Chicago Women's Group for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Democracy in Burma. Please let Azar and I at ( know if you would be interested in attending this event and we will send you more information about it.
We hope you would not miss the opportunity to meet with Maura and be inspired by her commitment to peace and justice in Burma and Iraq. Please spread the word about these events to your interested friends and colleagues and we hope to see many of you at one or more of these events.
Azar Khounani,
Danny Postel,
Hamid Akbari,

Basket Makers from Save the Girls (Uganda)

Photo Elaine Kessler

Interview of Elaine Kessler, Co-Founder of Save the Girls (of Uganda)

Elaine Kessler, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed about your organization, Educate the Girls, and yourself.
Here are some questions:
1. When did you and Nancy set up Educate the Girls, and why?
We incorporated in 2002 and got our exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service in 2004. But we began informally several years before that. When Nancy’s husband John Veldhuis was working in Uganda she went to visit and met a group of women in the village who had organized with the purpose of earning money to send their daughters to school. They made and sold baskets to do this, and Nancy began buying baskets there, selling them here to family and friends at her church, and telling about girls who were overlooked as far as education was concerned. Several people, including myself, volunteered to sponsor a girl’s education. I had been volunteering with Women for Women International for a number of years, and saw it almost from its beginning grow into a major nonprofit organization. So I suggested we could do something much larger than sell a few baskets and sponsor a couple of girls.
2. How did you and Nancy meet?
We were both divorced when we met when it was good to find a single friend to do things with.
3. How many women have you helped educate so far, in how many countries?
We currently work only in Uganda. We would like to expand, but we want to get our program firmly in place and successful before we expand.
We have helped about 40 girls and young women so far.
4. Why is it “better” or more urgent or more important to educate girls or women?
It is more urgent to educate girls because they are more likely to be last in line for an education when money is an issue, as it is in this poor area. Educating girls has many benefits, not only for the girls, but for their future families and communities as well. Educated girls are more likely to seek health care and less likely to marry too early, before their bodies are ready to bear children. They will be more likely to have prenatal care and their children will probably receive health care. Their children will also go to school. And money that an educated woman earns will go towards their family’s welfare, rather than be spent in cafes, according to some of the women I have met. They will also have AIDS education.
5. What sort of education do you provide, who provides it?
We provide funding for primary and secondary school education. The students choose their schools, which are usually Anglican, Catholic, or Muslim.
6. Can you tell me a few instances where education has saved or changed a woman’s life.
When the woman’s group we work with, in the village of Kononi, learned of a 14-year-old girl from a poverty-stricken girl who was “sold” into marriage with an older man, the women raised the money to “buy” her back and put her in school.
7. Specifically about Uganda, where you are going, it has had such a bad reputation as the country of dictator Idi Amin. As a foreign owned and operated non-governmental organization working in Uganda, how much red tape do you have to deal with? Was it difficult to get in and is it difficult to send money, to operate on a daily basis? Is there much interference from central government or regional authorities?
I have not had to deal with red tape in Uganda; we have a representative who handles everything there. I have not heard of any problems. The government is pro-education, and very much for girls being educated. We wire money from our bank here to a bank in Uganda. In the U.S. our organization is run by volunteers, but our Uganda representative is not a volunteer. The money we receive goes from our organization to Uganda and is distributed to the women to pay the girls’ school fees. It does not go through any third party.
8. What sort of culture towards women, and women working outside the home, do you think Uganda has?
Women’s status is not on the same level as women here. The women’s group we work with has a man at the head, because it is felt officials will more readily deal with him. There is not the same force to require men to support their children if their marriage is not intact, or if they take another wife—polygamy is legal—and begin another family.
9. Are they rural or urban based women, or which ethnicity or tribe?
They are rural women, often without the education they seek for their daughters. I have not heard people speak of tribes, so I don’t know if that is a great issue for them.
10. Which particular scholarship, for which particular recipient, are you most proud of?
I am most proud of Annet, a girl I helped sponsor in secondary school. She was told by her local school that she should find a more challenging school, and she did—and continued to find even more challenging schools. She wanted a government scholarship to Makere University, but when her time came the government had cut back on the number of scholarships it gave. She went to see the king of Buganda to make her case and she got her scholarship.
11. Do you provide subjects such as basic computer use, accounting etc.
I don’t think it is part of the secondary school curriculum, but I know computer courses are available during school breaks.
12. As an artist myself, I am particularly interested in the basket makers.
What are the baskets made of? How long does it take to make a basket the diameter of a dinner plate?
The baskets are made of sisal, and dyed with natural dyes. It probably takes a day or more, although it probably depends on making the dye, obtaining the sisal, etc.
13. What would you say is the “tipping point” in terms of US $, that is needed for a girl to get a High School diploma?
School fees are about $200 a year for primary school, and around $450 for secondary school, which is often a boarding school, so the girl will need bedding, all toiletries, etc. in addition to school supplies.
14. For the benefit of overseas based readers, can you explain briefly what 501 (C 3) status in the USA means?
The 501(c)(3) status is the section of our tax code that allows contributions to charities to be deducted from income tax.
Thank you, Elaine.

Burmese Contemporary Artists: Paint it the Way You See It.

Since 1988, while the clampdown on political activity inside Burma has continued and even ratcheted upwards, businessmen and visual artists have been allowed some degree of freedom, so long as they stay within unspoken boundaries, that is, they don’t do politics. As the even slight loosening of direct controls has produced a good deal of economic activity, albeit among families who have worked out deals with the power holders, in the visual and molded arts (paintings and sculpture) also, post-1988 has seen a blossoming of Burmese art. Some artists have even achieved commercial and personal breakthroughs in their art, perhaps setting up some degree of envy among exile artists such as myself, who now have to compete in the outside world.
In the early 90s, when I was still a graduate student in Philadelphia, I met two Burmese artists, Sonny Nyein and Min Wae Aung, who were on a USAID tour. In the decade since then, Min Wae Aung has become a highly successful Burmese artist, maybe the most successful Burmese artist, with his pictures of back-lit monks, viewed just so from a strange but engaging angle of 35 degrees looking downwards. He has also done similarly well with the intriguing back views of his friends; what might be called reverse portraits. The only danger artistically for Min Wae Aung is that he may settle for churning out copies where he “imitates himself.” He has already spawned too many imitators inside Burma.
I was also happy to see Sonny Nyein, sculptor, has been similarly successful with his sculptures exhibited in Chiangmai, Thailand. Burmese artists have so much to contend with, as do artists everywhere. They deserve a break.
For the last couple of years, with trips to Thailand, I have been fortunate to see more Burmese contemporary art. And some of the work is astounding.
The ones I like best are Zaw Win Pe, painting his large fauve (“wild beast”) style landscapes of, I was told, the Shan States. The colors are gorgeous and the strokes bold, some laid on the large canvases with a large palette knife. Zaw Win Pe told the owner of Suvannabhumi Gallery in Chiangmai that he had always wished to paint this way (boldly), and now (with the availability of materials) he was able to do so.
I am not quite sure of the economics of painting in Burma these days, but when I was there, during the socialist BSPP period (before 1988), art supplies such as canvas, primer, brushes and paint were extremely scarce. This and the fact that rewards such as prizes (though I have only heard of state literary prizes, not prizes for fine art,) are set by the military government, produced a stasis in art. A concern is the lack of aesthetic taste on the part of the generals, which can only be said to be kitsch.
Now after 1988, I have the impression that for a price, art materials can be bought or imported, artists can travel outside the country to some extent, and may be allowed to earn foreign exchange, which must be kept, apparently, in a government bank.
In any case, I am happy artists can do what they are best suited to do – make art.
Another painter whose abstracts have a purity and finesse about them is Bogie (I hope I am spelling his name correctly) which I am told, is pronounced “Bo Kyi.” In any case, the abstracts, on a creamy textured ground on canvas, are of “falling blocks” that have a refined sense of minimalism. It is like very calming music.
At a recent exhibition of Burmese paintings at PlanB Gallery in Washington, DC., (May 16-June 17, 2007), I looked for but did not see work by Min Wae Aung or Bogie.
However, I was happy to see a big fauve landscape by Zaw Win Pe, and a square 46 x 46” canvas of the Sunday Corner at the Shwedagone by Kyee Myint Saw, the night scene depicted in an erie blue light. The architectural details, including the half concealed face of the mythical Manok Thiha, Hpin Hna Khwa (Monok Thiha – or “lion with two rear ends”) are painted in boldly with a baroque touch and a lot of gold. I particularly like the artificial light from above falling on the folds of the white shirts of the men praying in the foreground; the pale aqua light, brushed in with horizontal brushstrokes, in the shrine alcove to the right.
There is a sense of stillness and calm with a vague sense of unease or impending doom, somewhere beyond the bold square format.
The other paintings in this show were less impressive, though all innovative in their own ways. Nan Nan, the only woman in the exhibition, showed big canvases featuring an over all design with Buddhist themes.
I liked the least, the back lit pictures of Burmese women fixing their longyis, which to me appeared unnecessarily coy and teasing, a half measure for not being able to paint nudes.
These are of course my personal reactions. Art is a very subjective thing and you either love something or hate it. If it elicits a lukewarm response, then it is hardly worthwhile to paint.
I am glad Burmese artists for the most part, are able to paint whatever they want and are starting to be recognized internationally. I wish for them all, the grand art tour to see the art of their international contemporaries.

Kyi May Kaung (Ph.D.) has had an abiding love of the arts and has painted since childhood. Since 2000, she has shown professionally in the Greater Washington DC area. Her exhibition of abstract expressionist paintings will be on display at Suvannabhumi Gallery in Chiangmai, Thailand, July 14 to 20th, 2007.

Former Deputy PM of Malaysia Anwar Ibrihim spoke out for Daw Suu and Burma

Anwar Ibrihim at the Cosmos Club --
Photo copyright Kyi May Kaung
Iron gate at Cosmos Club, Washington DC.

Photo copyright Kyi May Kaung.

At an Asian Voices Seminar at the select Cosmos Club in Washington DC, on June 8th, 2007, sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, USA, former Deputy PM of Malaysia Anwar Ibrihim spoke out strongly for democracy and for Burma and imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mr. Ibrihim was recently Distinguished Visiting Professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and Visiting Fellow, St. Anthony’s College, Oxford University. Previously, he was Distinguished Visiting Fellow at SAIS (School of Advanced International Studies) in Washington DC.
He began his notable political career in Malaysia in 1982 when he was elected to Malaysia’s Parliament and subsequently was Minister of Youth, Minister of Education, Minister of Finance and Deputy P.M. He founded the Youth Movement of Malaysia in 1971 and was its president for 10 years. His wife, Dr. Wan Azizah, heads the Parti Keadilan Rakyat Party.
In 1998, Newsweek International named Mr. Ibrihim “Asian of the Year.” In 1998, he was imprisoned by Mahathir Mohammad’s government on trumped up charges which included sodomy. A Wikipedia article on-line gives details of his case. The prosecution was said to have alleged that the alleged sodomy took place in a building that did not exist at the time, and the judge Augustine Paul who first wrote the judgement was promoted after doing so. Wikipedia (p. 8 of 16) states that “The persecution . . . of Anwar has widely been considered to have homophobic overtones, although Anwar himself is married and has several children and no evidence indicates that he is gay.”
“In a speech during the proceedings against him, Anwar explained what he believed to be the primary motive behind his persecution. He told the court, ‘I objected to the use of massive public funds to rescue the failed businesses of his (Mahathir’s) children and cronies.
“Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch expressed some doubts about the fairness of the trials. A.I. subsequently designated Anwar as a prisoner of conscience.”

This was during the Asian financial crisis of 1997, for the countries which till then had been known as the Asian Tigers, but were now wounded and bandaged tigers, as depicted in a cartoon at the time. Anwar Ibrihim as Finance Minister supported the IMF plan for recovery which involved economic restructuring and opening up the economy to greater foreign investment and competition. Ibrihim instituted an austerity program that cut government spending, which affected some of Mahathir’s mega projects.
In 2004, an appeals court reversed the conviction and he was released.
In the gilt and mirrored upstairs room of the Cosmos Club, with its heavily baroque walls and ceilings, Mr. Ibrihim’s presentation after a buffet lunch deplored the retrogressions from democracy that he was seeing in S.E. Asia. The other 2 speakers, Jose Luis Gascon of the Philippines, and a political scientist from Thailand who requested anonymity, both seconded Mr. Ibrihim’s impressions that democracy is not doing well in S.E. Asia right now. The session was moderated by Catharin Dalpino, Visiting Associate Professor at the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Prof. Dalpino teaches S.E. Asian politics, security and international relations.
My question to Mr. Anwar Ibrihim, which I did not get to ask (because it was answered anyway) was – “If democracy is doing so badly in the other countries of S.E. Asia, what about Burma?”
John Brandon of the Asia Foundation also asked Mr. Ibrihim, “You spoke of the failure of ASEAN to take effective measures on Burma. What are those?”
Mr. Ibrihim replied, “Why don’t we at ASEAN condemn the (Burmese) junta for mistreating Aung San Suu Kyi? We need to take a strong position, and not allow a dictatorship to treat its own people as slaves.” He said that all the foreign investors doing business in Burma were “all cronies (of the Burmese junta) from the ASEAN countries.” He also added that in Burma, “tens of thousands of people are being treated as slaves, and there is mass abuse of human rights.”
He then went on to say that in S.E. Asia, “a soft democracy” with a consistent, coherent voice may be more important. In the case of Burma, he said, it is a failure of the governments in ASEAN, stuck as they are in the obsolete notion of constructive engagement.
Then, much to the amusement of the fifty or so seminar attendees, he added, “All that’s taking place (in Burma) is construction by the military government, there is no constructive engagement.” He said in the case of Burma there is no simple solution. It took the EU and the USA to compel ASEAN to use more courage. Mr. Ibrihim re-iterated that a new approach was needed “so that the Mahathirs and Lee Kuan Yews of this world will not say ‘democracy is bad for S.E. Asia.’”
Mr. Ibrihim said, “You can write anything I said,” when I asked him for permission to quote his remarks. He smiled broadly when I mentioned that our mutual mentor, Dr. Josef Silverstein, Professor Emeritus Rutgers University and recognized “Dean” of Burma Studies, often mentioned his name.
Mr. Anwar Ibrihim currently resides in Malaysia where he serves as advisor to the People’s Justice Party and is a prominent leader in the opposition.
See also an op-ed written by Mr. Ibrihim to the Asian Wall Street Journal.

Ibrihim, Anwar, “Destructive Engagement” Asian Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2005. Also on Burmanet.

Kyi May Kaung is a freelance writer and research analyst based in the greater Washington DC area. For the last 10 years she has regularly written commentaries on Burma and S.E. Asia.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Excellent overview of recent Cambodian history

Strangler fig (a kind of banyan) strangling silk cotton tree strangling ancient stone temple at Ta Prohm, Angkor. Photo copyright Kyi May Kaung.

has an excellent overview of recent Cambodian history.

Especially please read Bruce Sharp's The Banyan Tree.
"Ta Prohm was the temple chosen by the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient to be left in its 'natural state,' as an example of how Angkor looked on its discovery in the 19th century."
Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques, Ancient Angkor, River Book Guides, 1999, p. 136.
Except that the Cambodians never forgot their own monuments, just abandoned them.
"It is frequently said that Angkor 'was discovered by the Europeans,' but this is patently nonsense and reflects a Eurocentric view. The Khmers never forgot the existence of their monuments, and even if they neglected the majority of their temples, Angkor Wat always remained occupied and a place of worship."
Ibid, p. 40.
Anyone who has been to Angkor would recognise that by their sheer scale and beauty, as well as considering how many monuments there are, the ancient temples would be hard for anyone to forget.
It is more likely extreme poverty and the always changing politics, including the Khmer Rouge years, and the American bombing which preceded it, which caused "the Cambodians to neglect their monuments."
Life and surviving has to come first. Even then, Bruce Sharp writes that of 8 m. people, in the three and a half years of the Pol Pot regime, 2 m. or one fourth of the population died.
There is nothing to indicate that previous centuries were less brutal.
Copyright Kyi May Kaung.

Chiangmai -- without the hassle of the open red taxis and tuk tuk

Some familiar scenes.

Panic -- since I can't find my Wat U Mong, Chiangmai photos

It's on Suthep Road, not far from Chiangmai University.

Some women friends including Daw May Nyane, Burmese writer and novelist took me there.

The young lady who initiated the trip said -- mistakenly -- "It's named after a Burmese exile -- U Maung" -- and that seemed to recall in my mind that I had read somewhere that Burmese timber traders before World War II in Burma's British Colonial Period had settled in Chiangmai, Thailand (then Siam) and built some wat or chedi (sedi in Burmese).

But Wat U Mong was not built so recently by a Burmese named U Maung -- even though I found the story very charming.

It's a reference to u min hlaing gaung, caves or "gu" which are a feature of Buddhist architecture in Theravada Buddhist countries such as Burma and Thailand.

Daw May Nyane told me the damp/dank caves or tunnels were very like Kyanzithha's U Min in Bagan(formerly transliterated as Pagan) where she had been but I had not.

Wat U Mong was built in the 14th century.

My friends were able to make out "red and green circles" on the faded inner walls. Outside, I saw a computer recreated (?) pattern of the red, green and gold overall pattern -- like a hand-painted wall paper, that had once decorated those sloping walls. It must have been gorgeous and even now packs a punch.

The outside bricks with their filigree of ferns and moss was no less beautiful.

Maybe I took the photographs on my visit with my other camera, the one with film in it. Maybe they were all accidentally erased.

We will see, as I like to say.

Meanwhile, this can act as a memory jogger.

I highly recommend that you visit this very calm place in its lovely forest setting.

Thank you, Friends, for taking me there.


Burl Ives-Ave Maria