from my memoir Solo Woman Traveler--
Copyright Kyi May Kaung
Last fortnight the food at Tea and Jungz was terrible.
The salmon bento was almost inedible and was accompanied by a slosh of over cooked spinach.
I don’t know what happened to them as all the food including salmon bento is excellent at their other location on Dupont Circle.
So I decided then that next time I would rather eat a dessert: The German chocolate cake, served with gelato. And I’d have one of their nice teas or tisanes. That should perk me up to write and it would not be too heavy in my stomach to sit and write for 2 hours, and also the tea would keep me nice and awake and my brain sharp.
But last week I missed the critique session, as I just had way too much to do, and I was not feeling that well.
Another writing group appeared on line in my consciousness, because someone else mentioned it, but it looked too complicated on the website, and there was also a lot of, to my mind, redundant discussion about writing.
I did not want to get caught up again in more things to read, at a time when I was trying to write more myself and trying to wean myself off Face About or About Face for the umpteenth time.
So I missed that session, and I also forgot how to upload my pieces for critiquing, even on this much simpler site, but now the group leader Gerald has sent me an email exactly how to do it, so next week I will go under the axe, and allow myself to be eviscerated as one of my fellow group writers says.
But I will not draw and quarter anyone—I have seen it done too often in groups and classes, and anyway it defeats the purpose of constructive criticism, even though some people would say some writers would do better never to write again for publication.
But I am straying from the point.
So this time, I came back at half past six for the 7 PM meeting and it has been going well and I am writing and so is everyone else.
I had the Austrian chocolate cake, a big chunk, and I had a choice of 3 flavors of gelato, so I asked for green tea gelato. And I ordered a jasmine tea, which smelled fragrantly of real jasmines, just like at home in Burma.
Was a bit of a juggling act when my number 999 was called, and I realized I could not take the tray loaded with tea pot, tea cup, dessert and a plastic cup of water downstairs to the writing area and also take down my computer in its carrying case, but I managed. I took down my luggage first and then took down my food.
I did not see the writers group sign at first, but ate my food, which was the general plan.
I started with the gelato with a spoon.
It was melting a bit but very tasty and the salty caramel strung on top while hot had solidified and was a nice stringy, toffee sweet, just perfect. The cake was also not too sweet and both had been strewn with real toasted coconut shreds, so all in all it was perfect. I could not even finish the cake and the tea proved too much after five Chinese-style small cups.
As I was enjoying this, I suddenly remembered the first time I splurged like this while on a trip overseas, in Berlin in 2005.
I thought, my group writers won’t know what I am writing, and I don’t need to tell them. Maybe now is the time to write up an account about the time in Berlin when Kanloan’s mother and the Philippine ambassador came to complain about her reading and her story, Mayor of the Roses, about the gang rape of a Philippina beauty queen.
Kanlaon has already given me her permission to write about it.
Ideas about where to take the plot of the speculative fiction long piece I am writing in the group also began to come to me as I was sitting on the Green Line Metro, after I changed from the Red Line and noticed that the people on the Metro changed perceptively after I changed from Red to Green.
I thought—somehow I am going to figure out how to get this Underground into my fiction. I don’t even have to invent anything, everything is already there.
So as soon as 7 PM came around and I joined the other group members at their table (six came today), I jotted down some of these plot points in another Word document in the correct file, and then I started work on this.
It is 8 PM now and if I go at this rate say 6 pages per week, then in 50 weeks I will have 300 pages.
So thinking, I left my laptop open as my group mates were all silently writing, and went to the ladies’.
When I got back, they were all taking a breather and discussing stalled novels, but we only chatted for about five minutes, then started to type again.
The invitation from Berlin House of World Culture in 2005 came in really unexpectedly.
It also came into the bulk mail, and since then my bulk mail has never had an auto delete put on.
When I got to Berlin, to the old—airport, which was about as small as the old Rangoon Airport, Mingaladone, all the other invities also told me their invitations had also come into their bulk mails, but after looking at the Hotel Spree Bogen on line, they had of course accepted, and so had I.
It was a great honor to be one of only 5 or 6 people invited as writers from Southeast Asia who dare to confront.
The conference organizers told me that they found us on the Internet.
The others were Goenawan Mohamad , founder and CEO of the Indonesian “Time” Magazine, Tempo; Vietnamese poets Linh Dinh and Chang (Chang from inside Vietnam), Rattawut-Lapcharoensap and film maker Prabda Yoon from Thailand, a writer for the Philippines who also wrote about Burma, and me, from Burma.
The good thing about these conferences is the organizers have already done the vetting and “interviewing”.
So once you get there, you are among a small select group of like-thinkers, usually liberal democrats and activists/dissidents, and so it is like a 3 or 4 day party, and you can have a talk fest.
It is however, hard to stay in touch after the heady time is over, but Kanlaon and I have managed to stay in touch for almost a decade now.
The readings went very well, and we did some extracurricular things together, such as going sightseeing on the River Spree, striking out on our own on the Berlin subway, and going to the Pergamon Museum , where I was greatly excited to see the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate at Miletus and the blue-tiled original Ishtar Gates and Processional Way of Babylon with their realistically-colored and depicted prowling, snarling, lion images.
Even Saddam Hussein could not get these back and had to build his own replicas.
When I kept reading “Pergamon Altar, Pergamon Altar” in my guide book, which I diligently studied before I left for Berlin, as is my custom, I visualized something like a Christian altar in a church, or a Chinese altar in a home, at most 6 x 18 feet x 4 feet.
I was truly surprised when I saw the Pergamon Altar was a hill-sized building of white marble, with a long flight of steps going up the front, and an open pavilion on top, and larger-than-life-size statues of a battle going all around it on 3 sides.
How I felt as a former colonial subject on how Western powers managed to bring back entire buildings to a museum is quite indescribeable.
I felt that same tight angry feeling when my Parsi friend Zarine and I first saw an Indian shrine inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“Somebody else’s religious building, imagine that!” Zarine exclaimed indignantly, even though she is a Parsi who worships fire, she told me, not a Hindu. I see now from the official website that that Hindu temple is from Madurai in Tamil Naidu and dated at c. 1550.
I “did” the Pergamon Museum and the Sony Center with Linh Dinh and his wife, and Chang and his lady friend. Our talk session in the Sony Center where we all ordered fatty dishes like pigs’ trotters and legs of duck, and realized after about 45 minutes that the waiter was ignoring us, is another story.
The day of the readings went pretty well.
As Kanlaon was about to read her short story Mayor of the Roses, about a beauty queen who was gang-raped, her boyfriend framed for the crime, “and they found 43 different types of semen in her body,”
I noticed a woman in the audience who did not look like a writing fan, or indeed like an arts lover at all. (add earlier portion on the Burmese men the evening before)
She looked Asian, but rather like an Asian business woman.
Earlier Chang had said his lady friend was a business person, but this woman looked much bigger and harsher, more rigid that Chang’s friend who was indeed very sweet and looked like an artist and an intellectual.
To this day I don’t know what Kanlaon’s mother looked like, but earlier she had told us that her mother was a renowned concert pianist.
I still do not know her name, as Kanlaon uses her married name.