Monday, April 30, 2007

My poem on global warming:

Photo "Beheaded tulip on gas burner" copyright Kyi May Kaung
All f-ed up –

It’s very hard convincing you.
As hard as convincing someone
who exports Burmese teak
that all the forests of Burma are
going, going, gone.
I tried so hard, showing him satellite photographs
of Burma, all brown.
But it made no difference
he wasn’t ready to believe it
though he himself told me once
the girth of the logs is getting smaller
and smaller.

Now you say:
How can there be global warming
it was so cold this year, today? I start to explain:
It isn’t how cold or how hot each day is
it’s the average mean temperature,
but you’ve already stopped
listening.
And someone who educates girls in Africa
says she loves it, this year summer is so early.

What to do?
If even those closest to me
some times talk like this?
The couple in Boulder
who are anti-globalization
say, as they put me on the shuttle bus
to Denver Stapleton Airport, in a major snow storm:
This is what will happen
Spring will get earlier and earlier and then disappear
altogether.

Already we shoot straight
from winter to summer --
I’ve noticed flowers getting confused
since ten years ago.
In 2004 the magnolias were frost bitten dark brown.
This year, the tulip petals are singed with heat.
See my illustration:
Beheaded tulip on a gas burner.


April 30th, 2007.

Copyright Kyi May Kaung








Gretchen Dunn's dance -- placeDISplace - at my Dr. Kaung's Salon, Silver Spring, MD, April 27, 2007.

Photos and words copyright Kyi M. Kaung.
Dance and costume Gretchen Dunn.



I met Gretchen Dunn, dancer/choreographer at a FieldWorks Multidisciplinary workshop run by Laura Schandelmier and Stephen Clapp, at Liz Lerman Dance Studio in Takoma Park last fall. The first version of her dance placeDISplace that I saw, there was a woman, walking in a parched landscape, I thought, contemplating her bundle of sticks one by one.
I was happy to invite Gretchen to Space 7-10 where I run a Salon. Amy Kincaid helped me find a suitable date, made posters and helped out with the other logistics.
The version Gretchen danced last night, which she says is probably her final version, is more concentrated.
Laura, a superb and highly capable dancer herself, calls it “finely etched.”
To the mesmerizing drone of the music, composed by contemporary Hungarian composer Balázs Temesvári (pronounced Bar-large Ta-mesh-var-rie), Gretchen again “worked with the sticks.”
At different points in the dance, she seemed to be running her hand around a pot or bowl of water, preparing food, greeting/recognizing members of the audience, lying down exhausted, being startled by a sudden sound off stage. Post traumatic stress, suffered by a refugee or displaced person?
The title “placeDisplace,” for me at least, seems a bit too clever and cute for such a serious piece. But of course, it is the artist’s choice, the naming.
The sticks themselves, which Gretchen said she collected over a period of time, are beautiful abstract pieces, seemingly possessed of great symbolic or religious value.
After the performance, the audience engaged Gretchen in a lively question and answer session.
Is there a narrative story line? In the studio performance in Takoma Park, as Gretchen walked more with her burden of sticks, (there was more space to walk,) it looked like there was more “linear or narrative story.”
At Space 7-10, which is so small, only 7 x10’ and already filled by about 20 members of the audience on chairs or sitting on the floor, Gretchen’s dance piece is both more intimate and more intense.
Gretchen was able to hold us in rapt attention throughout. It is truly a thought-provoking piece.
Thank you, Gretchen Dunn, for honoring our small space with your lovely performance.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Obituary -- U Kyaw Htun: Writer. Journalist.

Two days ago I came back home after doing some chores such as food shopping and going to the post office, and found my answering machine blinking. It was Daw Khin Aye Tint of Columbia, MD. telling me that her husband U Kyaw Htun had passed away on April 11th (2007).
I knew he had been very unwell. Since the last 3 years or so, when he finally retired for good, Ma Ma (Elder Sister)Tint, used to call me on weekends and talk to me. I had the premonition that as a trained nurse and RN, and one of the most intelligent and gutsy women I have ever met, she realized that she might soon have to part with her beloved husband.
I never met a more loving couple than them. They were tolerant of each other’s small quirks, at the same time that they deeply appreciated each other’s admirable qualities.
For me, they were family friends of long standing, over half a century.
I realize that even for Burmese who are not of his generation, the name will not ring a bell. He did nothing political and was not a public figure. Though a writer and a connoisseur of fine literature (on one holiday visit I saw him reading John Updike), he never wrote a book, and he never gave interviews, though I asked him at least twice.
He was just a very decent and fine human being, who upheld his principles, was a good son, husband and father, and a good friend of great loyalty.
By any standard, he had a phenomenal career.
He studied at the University of Chicago during the U Nu regime in Burma, while my father was DPI or Director of Public Instruction. He was one of Burma’s first western trained journalists. He then returned to Burma and worked for the late U Thant, who later became Secretary General of the U.N., and was at the time U Nu’s Minister of Information.
I was six or seven when Uncle Kyaw Htun, as I called him then, came back from Chicago and brought dolls and party dresses for my sister and me.
I don’t know what happened later, probably the military coup of 1962, staged by Gen. Ne Win, that might have made it impossible for him to work in journalism.
When I was a teenager, U Kyaw Htun worked in hotel management, for the famous Aratoon brothers, who owned the Strand Hotel. On one memorable occasion, he invited all 6 of our siblings and first cousins to a formal dinner, no adults included, at the Strand. There we had a full course western meal, which an Indian waiter in white, with a white linen napkin draped over his arm, served. For dessert we had Baked Alaska. For days afterward, I puzzled over how a block of ice cream like a brick, with meringue in peaks around it, could be baked and served in slices. By then my father had already died in a car accident, and we were living with our aunt and uncle and their family.
It was during this time that he met and married Ma Ma Tint.
My mother was very fond of them both. She said that when my father died, the majority of his former students disappeared, but U Kyaw Htun was the most faithful friend of all, and always visited us regularly.
In the sixties he worked for USAID.
Then they migrated, and he worked at the Asian Development Bank in Manila and at the World Bank in Washington, DC.
When I got the Fulbright Fellowship in 1982, they helped me get settled into my on-campus apartment in Philadelphia and took me home to visit with them for Thanksgiving and other holidays.
I began to appreciate how hard life is for immigrants, even if the head of the family works at the World Bank.
Because he was a writer, and had a writer’s eye, and so did Ma Ma Tint, and because I was so homesick, I spent quite long periods of time at their house.
Ma Ma Tint baked bread by the dozens, and sewed, fixed the house, told me stories.
After my children arrived and after 1988, oddly after I moved to DC to work, I was able to visit them less, as they also had health problems and I did not drive.
But now and then we’d talk on the phone.
After retiring from the World Bank, U Kyaw Htun worked another 15 years as a copy editor at the Washington Times.
He once told me of going to visit Gen. Ne Win and Daw Kitty on one of their visits home, and of how he overheard Mrs. Ne Win telling the cook to go and buy some tea, as there was no tea in the house. Ko Kyaw Htun said, “Living well is the best revenge.”
As an immigrant myself, I think “living,” that is, surviving, is the best revenge.
U Kyaw Htun leaves behind his wife Daw Khin Aye Tint and 4 children.
R.I.P.
*
Writer’s/publisher’s note: I just realized I have 2-3 other obituaries on file that were never published, because I could find no one to publish them. I have decided now to publish these at a few day’s interval each on my personal blog, as a tribute to people I have greatly admired and cared about.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Poet Tim Seibles' Recent Class at Busboys and Poets

DC Poets Against War was so kind as to give me a scholarship, so I was able to attend poet Tim Seibles’ recent class at Busboys and Poets on “Getting out of your head,” that is, writing in personas other than one’s own.
As I mentioned to DC PAW’s Sarah Browning (lovely name for a poet – think of Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love Thee, let me count the ways”) I have only once, or maybe twice, tried being in someone else’s head in a poem. The one poem I remember writing, is trying to think like a dictator who hates women.
This was so very unpleasant, I told Sarah, I popped right out again.
In my short and long fiction, I am often able to inhabit male characters. Black Rice is one.
Seibles’ class was a great chance to also visit Busboys and Poets. That was my first time there. I always feel I benefit greatly from classes, and I now prefer one day classes.
I was surprised at how busy it was at Busboys and Poets, and the hordes of liberals there – I assume they are liberal, and the stacks of activist and anti-war, environmental books.
My activist and Burmese friends, make sure you go there at least once. There is talk that it will be moving from its current location.
One of Tim Seibles’ reasons for getting out of your own head now and then, all very good reasons, are:
“As writers, we become too enamored of our own voices. After all, we hear our own voices in our heads all the time. So it is good to go away and then when we come back, it is fresh again.”
I found the writing exercises we did in class extremely useful.
Imagine oneself an animal: I imagined myself the cockerel belonging to the Siamese prince – known as The Black Prince, Narasuan. As a boy, Narasuan was taken to Burma (Hanthawaddy) by the Burmese warrior King Bayinnaung, as a hostage after Bayinnaung successfully laid siege to Ayuthia. The Siamese boy and the Burmese crown prince set their pet cockerels to fighting each other, and the Siamese boy’s pet won.
You know that our domestic chicken is inherited from the colorful S.E. Asian jungle fowl. In Bali, in Ubud in the evenings, the fighter cocks are set in bamboo cages by the lanes, to get some stimulation. I tried to photograph their amazing colors through the bamboo. There were purplish reds, black and white feathers. Deep golds.
No wonder I saw toys of jungle fowl in the bazaar at Ayuthia and at Narasuan’s shrine. The cock fight was an omen that Prince Narasuan would later return to Siam and throw the Burmese out.
Tim Seibles’ other writing exercises were equally effective.
Then we all went to dinner. The (Thai) food we had was more visual than tasty. It was high on “verticality,” the food constructed on the plate like tents and skyscrapers. And it was a bit too pricey for someone like me, almost entirely educated on scholarships.
But the company was Great.
I can’t recommend more highly going to dinner with other poets.
For pictures, of the reading the next day, photos by Dave Phillips, (DC PAW’s Melissa Tuckey’s husband,) and photos taken at the dinner, by Ben Browning, Sarah’s son --
See http://picasaweb.google.com/Philucky/TimSeibelsFriends--

Take a Poet to Dinner! The real French fries, from real potatoes, at Busboys and Poets are superb.

© KMK

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My one day arts and crafts show at Mayorga Coffee Factory, Silver Spring, MD. April 21, 2007.

One of my tabletop landscapes -- crafts, photo, all words copyright Kyi M. Kaung.
A portion of the exhibit. Painting second from left by other artist, Susan.

Photo by Kyi M. Kaung.



Looking out onto Georgia Av. from interior of Mayorga Coffee Factory.


Photo copyright Kyi M. Kaung



I never realized before that painting and exhibiting requires so much physical labor.
And it would all be impossible for me to do, except that I get so much help from my friends.
This time, Alexis from American University called me months ahead. Then she checked closer to the date to see if I am still available.
It gets easier as one has “sets” on different themes or in different styles, ready to show. But I don’t like to show the same things over and over, it’s boring. A friend once told me she recognized “that painting of X’s, you know which one I mean, it’s been there since 2001.” Sometimes, in area galleries, I recognize works I have seen exhibited elsewhere before, but in certain cases I am happy the work is not sold yet. Maybe one day I will buy it. Meantime, I enjoy seeing that sculpture in a catalog.
I met up with Alexis at the Mayorga Coffee Factory, it is of course a Café, selling fair trade coffee, on Georgia Av. in Silver Spring.
Kandi, the manager, was really helpful and said she would provide tables and the white tablecloths. She was also understanding, when I said I might have to drive more nails into the walls, to hang pictures. The wire and hook arrangement is very difficult for someone like me, who can’t cut mats straight and can’t drill holes in frames and twist on wires. I hang my oils on canvas inadvisably by their stretchers. I am not the only artist who worries about the price of professional frames.
I barely slept Friday night. I am the last minute type.
I found out taking about 20 paintings, 20 pieces of wearable art and maybe 20 pieces of ceramics across town for an exhibition, is quite a job, packing and pricing. Setting up, then taking down, packing and transporting back home.
I like to have it all ready by my front door for pickup in the morning.
Wow! Was I glad to see the 2 strong young men in Festival T-shirts who came to pick me up in a van.
One of them also helped me with set up and artists’ relations at Mayorga.
Even then, on the drive back, they told me they were ready to take showers and go to sleep, and I was as tired.
I dither between “going commercial” and “going non-profit” like this.
In cases like this for a good cause – this event was sponsored by International Rescue Committee and other non-profits helping refugees and asylees -- the people I meet and the connections I make are as important, if not more so, than selling art.
I’ve been looking for a long time for organizations that help victims of torture, and so was so pleased when Elise Pierce of ASTT (Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma) walked up to my table.
Wow! Have I met many walking wounded!
Sometimes, just looking at brochures give me story ideas.
I want to thank Mayorga, Alexis, Tom, Er-San, who helped me.
My friends who came by to see my collages.
At 7 PM, I fell asleep on my couch, wondering if I should get up and take a photo of the sun shining on my papaya plant and one of my panel paintings. The next thing I knew it was 5 AM Sunday.
I took the photo at sundown the same time today. My Burmese relatives, when they visit me infrequently from Burma, maybe once in 25 years, can’t understand why I have so many plants in my apartment, but then, few of them have endured winters in the west. I explain, but I doubt they understand.



I doubt they understand either why I paint and write so compulsively.



Only another artist or writer would understand.
*

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Letter to Irrawaddy Magazine -- April 18, 2007

"Woman" -- pencil drawing copyright Kyi May Kaung
4-15-07

Dear Irrawaddy,

I am writing to commend you on your recent cover issue of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi: The Face of Resistance, in your print edition.

Between 2001 and now, I have been to very many international academic conferences on Burma, and sad to say, the majority of them seem to be dominated by the pro-junta, anti-sanctions lobby -- "The Steinberg Cabal."

So it is refreshing, as well as truthful and energizing, to see your Tribute Edition for "Suu Kyi," as your magazine insists on calling her.

I am also glad to see that the direct "eye-witness" accounts by Razali Ismail and Thierry Falise, give the lie to the malicious rumor we were hearing around that time, before the Depayin Massacre in 2003, that "Daw Suu is stubborn." In fact, Ismail writes that she was willing to engage in meaningful dialogue with the generals, and Falise (p.33) writes that she realized the thin line Lt.Gen. Khin Nyunt had to walk, and "advised international diplomats not to expose (him) too much, for fear of undermining any progress he might make."

As it turned out, her fears were justified when Khin Nyunt and his coterie were all deposed and arrested in an internal purge within the junta in the fall of 2004.

Of course, she was absolutely right in saying it had to be real dialogue.

Not just "How are you? And "How's the weather?" In fact, Ismail says she told him that the much vaunted dinner with the generals (photo in Irrawaddy) was just the occasion for a "monologue with the senior general doing all the talking."

I also wish to draw your attention to the fact that on April 5, Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago conducted a Burma and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Focus Day.

Barbara Victor, author of The Lady, a biography of Daw Suu, was the keynote speaker and Prof. Emeritus Clark Neher, Activist Maura Stephens and I were on a panel "Burma: Internationalism and Solidarity: Global Perspectives" moderated by Danny Postel, Writer and Sr. Editor, Open Democracy and introduced by David Leaman, Assoc. Professor, Political Science, NEIU.

For a more detailed write up, please see my blog http://kyimaykaung.blogspot.com/

I hope you will publish this letter, so that people inside Burma and hopefully even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, will know that she still has our love and support.

Kyi May Kaung (Ph.D.)
Writer and Analyst
Washington, DC.






Monday, April 16, 2007

My Trunk Show on March 30th, 2007.

M. in traditional Burmese ensemble Golden Sunset -- (not for sale.)
A. in my hand-painted linen scarf -- Archipelago -- go to Alchemy to buy!

E. in Light Pink Linen-Lined Indian Silk -- My Valentine.


A. in Rainbow Coalition Scarf.



L. in faux vest/scarf -- held together with -- a chopstick!




E. in Black Chrysanthemum (SOLD)





W.M. in long thin fuzzy scarf.






A. in brown handmade batik

A Fun Time was had by all.

Thank you Gorgeous Models, you made my clothes look so good.

All photos and clothes, and paintings on walls, copyright Kyi M. Kaung

Till the end of April, five select items are at Alchemy, 8025 Georgia Av. Silver Spring, MD 20910 -- 301 565 2262
Contact Brenda.

Snap 'em up before someone else does.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Who am I?" at Dr. Kaung's Salon, April 6, 2007










On April 6, 2007, I had the great pleasure of hosting historian Bijan C. Bayne and cultural anthropologist Tomiko Anders with their presentation of “Who am I?” -- about cultural, racial, national and personal identities and identifiers, at my Dr. Kaung’s Salon at Space 7-10, Kefa Café, Silver Spring, MD.

Both Anders and Bayne are working on their own video documentary projects. Anders described her project consisting of interviews of people of “three or more mixed racial identities.” Bayne spoke of his project about people from other countries who were exhibited as “exotics” in America and Europe in the 19th century. He was not “blaming” about this practice, in the days before photography or TV, even while recognizing that the feelings of the “exhibited” have never been recorded, and most probably was extremely painful emotionally and even physically damaging.

Both Bayne and Anders have previously given talks at Space 7-10, Bayne about his project “Show People” and Anders, about her project, tentatively titled “Mergence.”

I see in my mind’s eye the extremely beautiful faces of such highly talented, racially mixed persons as Tiger Woods and Angelina Jolie, as I write this. It’s fashionable these days, but Bayne says, “There are ugly people too.”

Our Kefa - Space 7-10 co-ordinator and director Amy Kincaid, whom I always thought of as “Irish” due to her name, (or is “Kincaid” a Scottish name?) brought up the modern concept of color blindness. How we should all strive to be color blind in our friendships and associations.
{Remember the scene in the movie about Idi Amin, The Last King of Scotland, 2006, when Forest Whitaker (who won an Oscar for this role) playing the “murderous, charming” Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, accuses his personal physician of “being English.” To which the doctor says, “But I’m not English, I’m Scottish!”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?”
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0455590/ }

My father gave me a black doll when I was a child in England in the early fifties. I distinctly remember running downstairs to fetch it before bedtime, while my parents were in Paris on a short vacation, and a young couple was staying with us, “to look after us.” They were newly married and hugging and kissing each other on the sofa, when, at 5 years old, I rushed in, grabbed my doll from under the Christmas tree, and rushed out again. I know now that “golliwog” which was the name for such dolls in those days, is derogatory. I found this out in the 90s when someone called Indian-born, British writer Salman Rushdie “a wog” at the time when Khomeini put the fatwah on him for his novel The Satanic Verses.

Some of the salon attendees at “Who am I?” shared some of their personal experiences with race issues. What I forgot to share (I was so tired from getting back from the airport a few hours earlier) were some “racial episodes” that others have related to me. A young Burmese women told me that in elementary school in L.A. a classmate spat directly in her face. She had to wipe the spittle off. She said she was so ashamed, she had never even told her parents. I see no reason why a victim should “feel ashamed.” It’s something for a perpetrator to feel ashamed of.

Another acquaintance, an amateur Burmese pop singer whom I am no longer in touch with, said he loves San Francisco and was driving in his car with the top down, when another car with two Indians in it, stopped with a squeal of brakes right next to him at a red light.

He said he cussed them – “Khwe kalar tway,” in Burmese. (“Damned Indians.”)

At which “the Indian” in the next car turned to him and said in perfect Burmese, “Ah Ko Gyi (Elder Brother), please watch your language.”

At the Salon, you’ll see from my pictures that the attendees were rapt, and everyone said to me afterwards, “That was a good one.”

They also talked about their reactions to my “Mostly Burmese Mugs,” that is, “mugshots” or portraits show, then on the walls at the time.

I’d like to refer you to two other artists who share my fascination with the human face, emotions, national or culture of origin, (in my case “Burmese” -- whatever that is) and art and impressionism.

Please see:
1. Rachel Kent: The Many Faces of Cherry Hood,
2. Claire Roberts: The Slow Art of Ah Xian
In Art in Australia http://www.australia.com/article


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Focus on Burma and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at NEIU, April 5, 2007.













Sometimes out of the dull gray of Burmese politics and cold weather in exile, a spark of light and joy shines.
And sometimes it comes very unexpectedly, this finding of people of like mind. Sometimes, as now, the invitations actually come by email, and almost look like spam, except that spammers can’t spell and have no imagination.

Those of you who know something about Burma, will know that the pro-democracy struggle, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Daw=Ms. in Burmese), has been going on now since the mass demonstrations of 1988.
Daw Suu (or Aunty Suu) as she is affectionately known inside and outside the country of Burma, which the junta which rules it insists on calling “Myanmar,” – has been in and out of house arrest for a cumulative total of 13 years now.
At the beginning of her first house arrest, in spite of being incarcerated at the time of the elections, her party, The National League for Democracy, won an overwhelming majority.
The military junta which still rules Burma has never honored the results of the election, and has continued to harass and oppress the NLD, as well as the people of Burma. “It’s equal opportunity oppression,” as the late dissident, Dr. Chao Tzang Yawngwe, once said at an international meeting in Gottenberg, in 2002.
As a Burma expert I am often invited to international meetings, but disappointingly, the majority are now dominated by people who are willing to dis Daw Suu, in return for promoting pro-trade policies with the junta. I consider this reprehensible.
At the beginning of this year, I wrote a number of foreign policy articles for Open Democracy on line, as well as Foreign Policy in Focus.
As a result of these articles, I was invited to be on a panel about Burma by Northeastern Illinois University, which was co-sponsoring the Conference together with Open Democracy.
I happily accepted when the invitation came by email.
Barbara Victor, who wrote The Lady, a biography of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was the keynote speaker. On April 5th, Ms. Victor spoke of how she came to go to Burma to interview Daw Suu. Ms. Victor is a journalist with a very impressive resume who normally writes about the Middle East. She has interviewed such notable people as President George W. Bush and Gaddaffi.
She described how her publisher asked her to write the book, and she went to Burma with the help of a business woman Miriam Marshall Segal, then “friendly” with Gen, Saw Maung, whom she called “Mon General” according to newspaper accounts at the time. In 1998, with the collapse of the Asian Tiger economies, Ms. Segal’s business Peregrine Inc., also crashed. I distinctly remember using a falcon’s shrill cries as a mini-sound byte in my on air political and economic analysis column, Reading between the Lines, at that time.
Barbara Victor movingly described an overwhelming atmosphere of fear in Burma which she said she had never experienced before, even though she has covered many major wars. She said, the MI or Military Intelligence, followed her everywhere and insisted she stay the three months she was in Rangoon, in the government guest house, not in an hotel. She told me that Col. Hla Min, included in internal purge together with his boss Lt.Col. Khin Nyunt in 2004, was her “handler” in Rangoon.
During Ms. Victor’s presentation, we were treated to a slide show of photographs of Daw Suu and her father, the founding father of Burma’s Independence (from Great Britain in 1948) – Bogyoke (General) Aung San.
It is sobering to think that this beautiful and frail looking woman is so strong, and has suffered so much, for freedom for Burma. Though of course, she herself has always said, her suffering and sacrifice is nothing compared to that of all the people of Burma.
The Conference was organized by Dr Hamid Akbari of NEIU, Danny Postel of Open Democracy, Dean Murrell Duster and Assistant Dean, Yasmin Ranney. It was also co-sponsored by the Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh Leadership Fund at NEIU. Since Dr. Mossadegh was the democratically elected leader of Iran, who was also not allowed to assume power, we see the parallels with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD in Burma.
The morning panel was chaired ably by Danny Postel. Prof. Emeritus Clark Neher, Northern Illinois University, and Maura Stephens, U.S. spokesperson for the International Campaign for Freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma, were also on the panel with me.
I gave an opening short summary in 20 minutes of the important events, regime changes, economic and political systems in Burma from the late 19th century and colonization by Great Britain, to World War II and the Japanese Occupation, Independence and then the military coup of 1962 – and the various dates between 1962 and 1988 when the military shot at Burmese citizens who were un-armed and demonstrating peacefully. I emphasized the importance of 1988 as the watershed event which has impacted and shaped all of our lives. Prof. Neher, I found, also shared some of my revulsion with the junta. Maura Stephens related how she met a Burmese dissident who was on hunger strike to the death to lobby the U.N., how she became involved in the Free Burma Movement, and she also described the current work that she does helping Burmese refugees.
In the afternoon, we saw 2 films about Burma: John Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon, and the recent Frontline documentary by Evan Williams.
There was also a moving Prayer Circle during which Prof. Dan Creely described the sacred fire that had been brought to NEIU from a Native American traditional Healer. We then sat in a circle and shared whatever we wished to share as we were each given the “peace totem” in turn. Most moving were what a young man who had been an NLD member told us. A journalist who was imprisoned and tortured in Burma and his family were also there.
I’d like to thank everyone at NEIU and Open Democracy, for bringing us all together. There is indeed good energy emanating from this place.
I pray for Daw Suu and all the people of Burma and hope this darkness in our lives will soon be over.
--

Photos from my art show Mostly Burmese Mugs - March 13-April 7, 2007





I had another very rewarding experience at Space 7-10 at Kefa Café, 963 Bonifant St. in Silver Spring, MD. (Two blocks from Silver Spring Metro).
Here are some photos that I took midway through the show.
I love best – Lady Vanda on the wall next to the door,
and the impromptu “painting” made when I lifted my camera just as a delivery truck parked outside.
The captions by Bijan C. Bayne were also a great success.
Ababe, joint owner of Kefa together with her sister Lene, said, “The captions make you wish to go on to the next painting, and see what (it) says.” She also added, “They make you look at the painting, and then think, and then look at the painting again.”
To be truthful, they were a great surprise to me. After I invited Bijan to write the captions about three months ago, I purposely tried not to talk about the portraits. Nor did I think about them much until Audrey Dutton at The Gazette and Ying-Ju Lai at Asian Fortune interviewed me about the show. Both correspondents, interestingly, look on them as “human rights portraits” – and so did some of my Burma and arts colleagues.
To me, they are fictional creations, much like the fictional characters in my novels, short stories and, sometimes, in my poetry. I’d like them to be seen as human and humane, and then of course as having something to do with human rights. I am surprised that no one up till now has seen that “Min Gun, Revolutionary,” whom I named after the big bell at Mingun in N. Burma, has no arms inside the empty short sleeves of his light blue shirt and so could be a land mine victim. I only noticed it myself a while ago.
So it should not have surprised me when Bijan came up with serious one liners, that seem to bore into the soul of the “people” depicted on canvas. I had expected him to write funny, somewhat longer captions, perhaps to offset the seriousness of all the portraits. For instance, none of them smile, and a friend in Thailand who gave me permission to paint from her photograph, did not recognize herself. I seem to have taken everyone’s smile away, but that may be because I can’t paint teeth. J In all the stone friezes portraying apsaras or heavenly spirits (nats in Burmese) at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, there is said to be only one apsara who is smiling and showing her even little teeth.
Amy Kincaid, who directs Space 7-10 said, “Kyi is funny as well as serious,” and Mary Thomas, who with her husband Tom Thomas, regularly attends my Salon there, said, “”But there’s nothing funny about the portraits.”
And indeed there isn’t.
Bijan with his characteristic modesty, shrugs and says, “It’s just a reaction to the paintings. If someone else had written them, they would be different.”
“It’s all perception,” Tom Thomas says.
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We Burmese, on the other hand, are known for our insouciance. We are always laughing and smiling, which has caused some reporters to conclude that we must be happy people and there are no human rights abuses in Burma. I myself think we laugh and smile and tell jokes, the more nervous and afraid we get. I remember my aunt’s husband, Uncle U Tint, telling jokes frantically the night after my father’s funeral, in an attempt, I think, to cheer me up. So as to appreciate the all out-effort he was making, I laughed.
My aunt then said, “She’s so young, she doesn’t understand.”
But of course I did.
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